By Irwin Block
For the Quebec Community Groups Network
Activists and supporters of Quebec’s English-speaking community, including politicians from three levels of government, gathered Thursday evening to pay tribute to five people for their extraordinary contributions to improving the lives of community members and the broader society.
Clifford Lincoln, Sid Stevens and Earl De La Perralle, and James Carter are the winners of this year’s Victor and Sheila Goldbloom Distinguished Community Service awards. They, and Claudia Di Iorio, winner of the Young Quebecers Leading the Way Award, were feted at a banquet at Montreal’s Club Saint James.
Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) President James Shea praised this year’s winners as “extraordinary leaders who have made exceptional contributions to our community of communities. All are devoted visionaries who have served their community and their causes.”
The main award was created by the QCGN nine years ago and named for the late physician and political leader Victor Goldbloom and his wife Sheila, a social worker and tireless community volunteer. Speaking at the ceremony, Mrs. Goldbloom singled out two of the award winners for a personal connection: Jim Carter, who had been her student at McGill’s School of Social Work, and Clifford Lincoln, a cabinet colleague of her husband while Robert Bourassa was premier in the late 1980s.
Goldbloom thanked all the winners for “how you have helped Quebec and Canada.”
Kathleen Weil, the newly named provincial Minister responsible for Relations with English-Speaking Quebecers, said she knows first-hand “the enormous impact dedicated volunteers have on society.”
Weil said the creation of a secretariat to deal with issues affecting Quebec’s English-speaking community has “enormous potential” and shows the Liberal government is ready “to bolster our sense of belonging here in Quebec … that everyone should feel that they are part of this great society, part of its future
Emcee Mutsumi Takahashi said she has enormous respect for Clifford Lincoln, and cannot forget the moment when he resigned from cabinet in 1989 over his government’s refusal to accept a Supreme Court ruling on the language of commercial signs. “I still can see him standing in the National Assembly, when he said there is no such thing as inside rights and outside rights, rights are rights are rights.”
“He is a man with an unwavering sense of justice, a master in balancing the needs and aspirations of this community,” Takahashi added. “He has made an continues to make a real difference in areas such as English language rights, the environment, education, public transit, health and social services, and the rights of the intellectually handicapped.”
In response, Lincoln expressed his love for Montreal and Quebec, adding “we are really true Canadians if we are good Quebecers, and good citizens of Montreal.”
Lincoln paid tribute to both Goldblooms, and the late Gretta Chambers, whose recent passing was marked during ceremony. “They are people who crossed thresholds between one community and the other, that believe English and French speaking communities belong to each other. There is no way that we should divide ourselves in sterile conflicts.”
Lincoln said he hoped “the young generation will take over from us the old ones, that they will stay here … and show that it is possible to live here, in English, defend our culture and be proud of it, and at the same time be also Québécois, Montréalais, et Canadiens.”
Sid Stevens accepted the award for himself Sun Youth co-founder Earl De La Perralle, who built and developed the organization since its founding as a community newspaper in 1954.
“The best testimony on how effective Sun Youth is, is the number of people who return as adult volunteers,” said Emcee Takahashi. “They were once helped by Sun Youth, they now want to give back.”
Stevens thanked Sun Youth’s 1,500 volunteers and all levels of governments for their support, which he noted was a crucial element in the success of the organization.
The key to its success, he said, is “dedication, determination, pride, teamwork, and discipline” and people ready to make sacrifices to improve the lives of others.
“There are three types of people: those who watch things happen, those who are wondering what’s happening, and the people in this room who have made things happen,” he said, thanking the QCGN for the award.
James Carter, recognized for a lifetime of advocacy for improved access to health and social services in English, was credited for his “determination, vision, patience, and talent as a negotiator over many years. “He has the ability to harness the talent and the dedication of individuals within diverse organizations and with a very steady hand empowered them to tackle and assume a leading leadership role,” the QCGN said.
Carter was described as second only to lawyer Eric Maldoff in his knowledge of the legislation and various regulations and practices governing access in English to health and social services in Quebec.
Carter said his credo is “community action for social change. For me this is a celebration of that credo,” he said, underlining that Sheila Goldbloom was an important influence in his development.
The QCGN praised Claudia Di Iorio, winner of the Young Quebecers Leading the Way Award. The QCGN noted the second-year McGill law student, was “brilliant, resilient, courageous, a young woman who has overcome so much to become a highly visible and influential advocate of safe driving.”
Di Iorio recovered from a month-long coma and severe injuries from a car accident seven year ago at the age of 16. She noted that though traffic fatalities in Quebec have been decreasing, almost one person a day dies in a car accident, and that is “one too many.”
Di Iorio described her award as “a symbol of hope, strength, unity, and innovation,” and urged audience members to “be careful on the way home, drive safely, but most importantly, have fun!”