OTTAWA – The first day back in the House of Commons took on a sombre hue Monday as MPs paid tribute to Liberal backbencher Arnold Chan, remembering him as a man of courage and humility who made a difference for his country.
The Toronto-area MP died last week of cancer at the age of 50. On the day the House returned from its summer recess, his colleagues took time out from lobbing political brickbats to fondly recall Chan’s democratic ideals.
In one of his last appearances in the House before the summer break, Chan delivered a riveting, heartfelt plea for MPs to ditch their canned “talking points” in favour of listening to each other and showing common civility.
“That day, Arnold advised us to listen to one another, for he believed that listening ought to be the guiding principle of our democracy,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in his tribute.
“For a moment, every single member of this place obliged. We listened carefully to our colleague’s every word, knowing just like he did that they might be his last.
“Arnold was counting on all of us to do much more than that.”
The prime minister remembered his colleague as inspiring MPs of all stripes “to do better so we could be better,” and told the story of how Chan once lamented that his illness would prevent him from leaving a mark on Parliament.
“I’m afraid,” Trudeau said, “I am going to have to disagree with the member’s view of his own legacy.”
The prime minister offered condolences to Chan’s wife, Jean Yip and their three sons, Nathaniel, Ethan and Theodore, who were seated in the public gallery.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer recalled Chan’s “quiet courage and dignity in his struggle with cancer. “
“His call to us when he was last here with us before the summer should give inspiration to members and all Canadians who have joined public life in our country.”
New Democrat David Christopherson called him a man of sincerity and humility who was not interested in political games.
He called Chan “a remarkable man, a good man and he made a difference in this Parliament and he made our country a better place.”
Elizabeth May, leader of the Green party, has long campaigned for more collegial behaviour in the Commons and she thanked Chan for his efforts to promote the cause.
“He set a standard,” she said. “He set an example. He was living embodiment of commitment to democracy and love of country and he exemplified it every single day.
“Let’s try harder for Arnold’s sake.”
Chan first learned he had nasopharyngeal carcinoma not long after he won the Toronto-area seat of Scarborough-Agincourt in a 2014 byelection. The deputy government House leader began a difficult treatment regime of radiation and chemotherapy, but revealed in March 2016 the cancer had returned.
His funeral is scheduled for Saturday in Toronto.