On March 13, 2020 I arrived home from Ottawa — on what would be the last flight I have taken in a year. We had decided to shut down Parliament and hoped we’d be able to return in late April.
We had our annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration booked for that Sunday and struggled with whether we would should cancel. I remember reading the guidelines — avoid spaces where one couldn’t physically distance, avoid sharing food, singing — so it was three strikes and we were out.
After my first summer caucus as an MP, I visited Grosse Iles and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site, the gravesites honouring all those who had boarded ships to come to Canada hoping for a better life. Stories of disease and quarantine ships. A monument reflecting the green luscious terrain of Ireland they had left and the rocky inhospitable land they had chosen. The stories of the hardship and the resilience were heartbreaking and inspiring.
The following March we hosted our first St. Patrick’s Day celebration, celebrating the little Irish in all of us but more importantly how the celebration brings us all together: Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Muslims. Differences disappear. We can all sing the songs: some happy — “When Irish Eyes are Shining,” “My Wild Irish Rose” — some sad – “Danny Boy” and “Molly Malone.” In past years, Don Valley MP Rob Oliphant and Toronto-St. Paul’s councillor Josh Matlow have joined us as we sang to sweet Molly MATLOW.
Never take community for granted
I think the sadness, and stress of this past year will ensure that when we are finally are able to share food together, and sing together and just be together with friends and families and neighbours, we will really feel how important it has been for our communities to come together while apart, helping those in most need, supporting our local businesses and expressing gratitude for our essential workers.
We will never take these elements of our vibrant community for granted again.
We will build back better. We will never again be complacent.
As living through the Depression and the Second World War shaped the attitudes of my parents, the lived experience of COVID-19, the soaring performance of science and experts, and the new awareness of the role government must play to fill the gaps when the private sector and the charitable sectors are challenged at the same time will shape the attitudes of all of us Covidians.
The she-cession is real
I believe the recovery will need to focus on women and youth. The she-cession is real. We cannot lose a generation because COVID erased so many opportunities for young people. Please join our neighbouring MP’s Oliphant and Mendicino next week to share your ideas to ensure that the recovery from COVID-19 will benefit the most people and those that will need our help the most.
So let’s stay well. As the vaccines rollout, we can’t let down our guard. We’ll still have to heed public health measures: wash our hands, physically distance, wear our masks, stay home when sick.
It’s been a long and difficult year. I am so proud to represent Toronto-St.Paul’s. You have demonstrated the neighbourliness that Jane Jacobs described as the essential ingredient in building strong communities.
Thank you. It won’t be long till we can be together again.
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