January 3, 2002
19 Tevet, 5762
Finestone to retire from Senate
By JANICE ARNOLD
MONTREAL - Sheila Finestone's 18-year political career will end Jan. 28 when she reaches the Senate's mandatory retirement age of 75.
In her farewell address to her colleagues, Finestone was her usual outspoken self, summing up her years in the House of Commons and the upper chamber thus:
"I fought my own battles based on my convictions and never exempted myself from the spirit of hope, liberty and justice." She quoted a friend as saying she has "an uncanny knack of always calling a spade a spade."
Finestone, who described herself as "a mother, a politician, a Canadian, a Québécoise and a Jewish woman," spoke first of her "ancestral land," Israel and her hope that the current conflict can be resolved through dialogue.
In an interview, Finestone said she has regarded bringing the concerns of the Jewish community, including ensuring fair representation of Israel's cause, as fundamental to her role as a parliamentarian - in caucus, in government, and internationally.
"I have a strong sense of Jewish responsibility and the need to ensure respect and fair play for Israel. I believe I have been effective," said Finestone, one of six Jewish senators.
One of her last speeches in the Senate outlined her vision for the resolution of the Middle East conflict.
In her farewell, she paid tribute to her parents, the late Minnie and Monroe Abbey, community leaders who taught her the values tolerance and compassion. Before entering politics in 1984, as the Liberal MP for Mount Royal, Finestone had distinguished herself as a volunteer and social activist both within the Jewish community and beyond. She held, among other positions, the vice-presidency of Allied Jewish Community Services and the presidency of the Fédération des Femmes du Québec.
It was the wisdom of her maternal grandmother, however, whom she quoted: "Grandmother often repeated to me: 'Remember, to succeed in life you got to have mazelŠ However, in order to succeed, she said, one must be ready with eyes open and a great sense of adventure, curiosity, preparation and willingness to take risks. Honourable senators, my road was paved with mazel."
Finestone said in an interview that back in 1984 she never would have believed she would stay in Ottawa for 18 years. Although Mount Royal is one of the safest Liberal seats in the country, getting the party's nomination was a tough battle. Her main opponent, William Dery, a Sephardi leader, put up a good fight and the riding's nomination convention was the largest in the party's history, she said.
The 1984 election was also no cakewalk against Conservative Sharon Wolfe. Yet, in 1988 and '93, Finestone had the highest popular vote in Canada.
Finestone, appointed to the Senate in August,1999 during her fourth term as MP, said she entered federal politics because of the reforms made by her predecessor, Pierre Trudeau, who had represented the largely Jewish Mount Royal for 19 years.
"Mr. Trudeau, looking at me through those sharp blue piercing eyes, asked why I agreed to run for office; did I know what a terrible life it could be?
"I told him it was all his doing, his fault, because he had brought in multicultural rights and women's rights, under the umbrella of human rights, though the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"It struck a profound chord with me. I sincerely believed that with this exciting new charter, a charter for democracy, real democracy, that Canada would be strengthened and thus become a better, more equitable and fairer country."
After sitting in opposition until Jean Chrtien's first election in 1993, Finestone was secretary of state for multiculturalism and the status of women until January, 1996.
Her most memorable political accomplishment precedes her election to office.
Finestone, a member of the 'No' side's executive during the 1980 referendum on Quebec sovereignty, helped organize the "Yvette" rally of over 15,000 women, which Finestone believes helped turn the tide in the federalists' favour.
Among other career highlights, Finestone recalled working on amendments to the Indian Act that improved the status of women and, as secretary of state, leading the Canadian delegation to the third United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing.
More recently, Finestone has taken a keen interest in the campaign to eliminate land mines, serving as special adviser to Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley. In Cambodia and Mozambique, she even joined in land mine clearing operations.
One of her last official functions was attending a celebration of the fourth anniversary of the Ottawa Convention on Anti-Personnel Land Mines, held at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., and meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Queen Noor of Jordan.
Finestone cited two especially meaningful personal legislative projects. The first was an amendment to the Broadcasting Act that would allow individuals to have an equitable say in decisions regarding television and radio. The bill, passed by the Senate, was given third reading in the Commons in June.
But Finestone's pet project is her privacy rights charter, now awaiting third reading in the Commons. It would provide legal protection to individuals from such invasions of privacy as surveillance, interception of private communications and the disclosure of personal information.
"I believe privacy is a fundamental human right and, once lost, is unlikely to be regained," she said. "Without adequate protection of privacy, many other rights integral to a democratic society are also lost."
Finestone has been an active member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) which brings together elected officials of 144 countries - including many that are not true democracies. (The group has not granted Israel full membership.) She serves as Canadian chair and is on its 12-member executive committee.
"That election was remarkable because I have taken my share of taunts for making representations for Israel. I've been call an Israeli agent and Mrs. Israel, but I'm proud to be acknowledged as a concerned member of the Jewish people."
During this parliamentary session, she was vice-chair of the new Senate human rights committee. She also participated in the the Senate's pre-study committee on terrorism, which recommended the inclusion a sunset clause and parliamentary oversight in the anti-terrorism bill, recently passed into law.
Finestone said she hasn't "even thought about what I will do in retirement, but I have a number of offers." She says she is in good health and has a lot of energy, and won't be idle. One immediate project is to encourage another Jewish woman from Quebec to take her seat.
Before leaving at the end of January, she will be traveling to Oslo and Geneva for IPU meetings and to Israel for a Jewish parliamentarians' mission.
She will live in Ottawa because two of her four sons and four of her seven grandchildren live there. Two other sons are in Toronto and Chicago.