Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Foothills for his incredible speech. It says something about his quality as a shadow minister of agriculture that he can speak on Latin American heritage month and tie in agriculture and the importance of that community and its product to Alberta.
I am very happy to speak in support of Bill S-218, to establish the month of October as Latin American heritage month.
I am the 19th Conservative speaking in support of this bill, and I express my disappointment that not a single Liberal has decided to stand up to support this bill or to recognize the importance of this community to Canada. Liberals choose not to participate in the debate to recognize all that this community has contributed to our country.
Before I address this bill, I want to honour the memory of my good friend, the late Senator Tobias Enverga, also known as “Jun”, who first brought this bill forward in the Senate.
Born in the Philippines, Tobias Enverga became the first Canadian senator of Filipino descent. He was appointed to the Senate by previous prime minister Stephen Harper. As an immigrant, Senator Enverga was not shy about his love for Canada, and he was a hard-working parliamentarian who carried unparalleled influence within his community.
Prior to entering politics, Senator Enverga served as a Catholic school board trustee in Toronto, and he became known in the Toronto region for launching the Philippine Canadian Charitable Foundation. He was co-chair of the Canada-Philippines Interparliamentary Group and initiated the annual Filipino independence day flag raising on Parliament Hill, an event we just celebrated a couple of days ago, and one I was very happy to take part in last year, when I was not in committee. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I remember being with Senator Enverga, unrolling this massive Filipino flag in front of many hundreds of Canadians of Filipino descent who were celebrating as well.
Senator Enverga was also an executive member of the ParlAmericas group and worked hard to forge closer ties with parliamentarians throughout Latin America. He aimed to help them strengthen democracy and governance through international co-operation and productive dialogue. He was most notably known for his fierce advocacy for immigrants, the poor, and especially those with special needs, like his daughter Rocel, who has Down syndrome.
I first met Senator Enverga a few years ago, and I knew him as a devoted husband to his wife Rose, and a devoted father. He was also devoted to his faith. He was a Catholic and a fourth degree Knight of Columbus. I am a mere first degree Knight of Columbus, as I have not had time to attend because of my parliamentary duties, and my church constantly reminds me of that. Senator Enverga constantly reminded me that he was a fourth degree and I was just a first degree. I appreciate his commitment to his faith and to his church as well.
In the spirit of multiculturalism, Senator Enverga sponsored Bill S-218, designating the month of October as Latin American heritage month. This is important to me as the member for Edmonton West, as there are over 55,000 Canadians of Latin American heritage living in Alberta alone. This vibrant demographic is growing every year, and we should embrace the growing rate of Latin Americans coming to our beautiful country.
During the 1970s, Edmonton gave a warm welcome to a wave of Chilean and Argentinean refugees, following the military dictatorships that devastated these countries during that period. During the 1980s, the armed conflicts in Central America resulted in a wave of Salvadorian, Guatemalan, and Nicaraguan refugees coming to Edmonton, and there was also one refugee from Toronto during that time: me.
The Latin American community in Alberta is diverse and multi-ethnic, coming from several different areas, such as Mexico, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and even Africa and Europe. This legislation would recognize the many significant contributions to Canada's social, economic, cultural, and political fabric made by our dynamic Latin American community.
Latin American heritage month would join several other months that we celebrate, such as German Heritage Month, Asian Heritage Month, Italian Heritage Month, and all the other months, weeks, and days we celebrate in the House. Canadians of Latin American origin, like Canadians of other cultural origins, want to celebrate and maintain all of the best of their individual cultures and languages, as well as share them to enable all Canadians to join in the celebrations. In this case, celebrations would take place during the month of October.
As Bill S-218 honours Latin American culture and history, I want to highlight the outstanding achievements of a member of my own community, Alberta's own Victor Fernandez. After I tell members about everything he has contributed to Edmonton, to Alberta, and to all of Canada, it would not surprise me if someone suggested that we have a month just to honour him.
After immigrating to Canada from Chile, Mr. Fernandez joined St. Albert's fire and EMS services and had a remarkable 32-year career as a firefighter.
Mr. Fernandez is a hero to all Canadians and has dedicated his life to putting the safety of others ahead of his own in St. Albert and the surrounding areas.
In 1999, he made a significant contribution to his community by founding the Canadian Aid for Fire Services Abroad, CAFSA. His organization provides much-needed equipment and training to first responders in developing countries all over the world. Under his leadership, the CAFSA has received more than $6 million in donations, including 45 tonnes of firefighter and paramedic equipment and 15 fire trucks.
Mr. Fernandez never tires in his endless quest to better the world and help in any way he can. He has led missions to countless countries such as Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Cuba, and Paraguay. His motto is to “work for the citizens” and “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” He is truly a role model for all Canadians.
Mr. Fernandez's fantastic contributions have earned him the Cross of Fire from Ecuador's fire department. He was the first non-Ecuadorian in history to receive this honour.
In 2015, the Canadian Hispanic Congress and the Hispanic Business Alliance presented Mr. Fernandez with an award for being one of the 10 most influential Hispanic Canadians. The city of St. Albert also declared him Citizen of the Year.
But wait, there is more.
Victor Fernandez has been the recipient of the Alberta Centennial Medal, the Alberta Emergency Services Medal, the Outstanding Service Award by the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the St. Albert Community Recognition Pillar of the Community Award. He represents what it means to be a steward of his community.
Mr. Fernandez's tireless work in the Alberta community is greatly appreciated and we cannot thank him enough for everything he has done at home and abroad to make the world a better place.
Bill S-218 and Latin American heritage month will honour people like Victor and recognize the outstanding achievements of Latin Americans throughout Canadian history.
There are many Canadians of Latin American heritage who have made substantial contributions to science, sports, photography, entertainment, music, the clergy, and politics, so with my limited time left I would like to highlight just a couple tonight.
Our very own Hon. Vic Toews, who served Canadians in the House for 13 years, was born in Paraguay in 1952. The Hon. Vic Toews had an illustrious career in both provincial and federal politics, holding positions as minister of labour and justice in Manitoba, as well as federal minister of public safety, justice, and president of the Treasury Board.
During his time as a politician, he was a major advocate for building long-term economic security in Canada and creating jobs in his community.
As public safety minister, the Hon. Vic Toews supported the former prime minister's efforts to implement Canada's first counterterrorism and cybersecurity strategies as well as a human trafficking action plan.
He was known for being tough on crime because he valued the safety of the citizens in his community above all else.
Mr. Toews is a proud Manitoban and had the privilege of serving his community as the regional minister for the province. He represented the people with integrity, courage, and always ensured their voices were heard.
Another notable Latin American Canadian is Rafael Cruz, a Cuban American Christian preacher, public speaker, and father of Texas U.S. senator and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz. Rafael Cruz lived in Alberta for four years, albeit in Calgary but we cannot all be perfect, where he also witnessed the birth of his son. Cruz senior is a staple of the U.S. political and religious realms.
This legislation is an important step in recognizing the richness and diversity of Latin American languages and cultures while enabling future generations to learn about Latin American heritage.
By passing Bill S-218, the month of October will be dedicated to honouring the significant contributions of Latin Americans in this country. In doing so, we can thank them for all they have done to help make Canada the great country it is.
Bill S-218 will also stand as a major element of Senator Enverga's political legacy. As this legislation is one of his final pieces of unfinished business, it is my tremendous honour to support the bill in his memory.