Death of a Senator

Editorial, Sunday, July 13, 1986

See also: Paul Yuzyk dead at 73

For 23 years he had been a familiar figure in the corridors of Parliament Buildings, moving purposefully up and down the marble staircases, on his way to the next silting of the Senate or another Ukrainian community meeting ready to unleash his professional bonhomie.

Whatever issue it was that caught his attention whether the plight of Canada's unemployed youth, discriminating policies against ethnocultural groups, the persecution of a Ukrainian dissident, or simply a young job-seeker looking for a recommendation from a member of Canada's upper chamber Sen. Paul Yuzyk, who died after a brief but fierce battle with cancer last week, performed every task with the zest of a restless warrior and with the predilection for putting the best face on every situation.

He loved having the title of senator and he used it constantly in his daily life. "I'm Sen, Yuzyk," he would say to groups of students and they would listen to what he had to say with rapt attention. Members of Ukrainian organizations who met him for the very first time would leap to greet him when he came into the many conferences and seminars which he presided.

Paul Yuzyk had been a senator for more than two decades and a community activist for longer than anyone can remember. At the time of his death, he was still a dominant figure in the political arena and the Ukrainian community, despite grumblings heard from his doctor about the deteriorating state of his health.

Surely, few of those who knew him can imagine the senator out of commission; when we think of the senator we envision him commanding the'-i attention of a crowd in a capacity-filled conference room, or bounding up the stairs of an airplane en route to another international parley.

The man who was born on the Canadian prairies, as the son of a coal miner, the pinnacle of his career in the early 1970s when the federal agreed with him that something needed to be done to accommodate the one-third of Canadians who were of neither British nor French origin.

Perhaps it was his exposure to the tireless efforts of newly arrived immigrants opening up the Canadian west, and then later to a seemingly merciless and faceless bureaucracy that labelled him persona non grata in Saskatchewan's public school system, that Sen. Yuzyk learned that imperfections in society can only be changed through the application of and hard work.

We're not sure what possessed the young Paul Yuzyk to. become the voice

Canada's once oppressed ethnocultural groups; what we know is that his helped build a society that has nurtured a mosaic of people from all corners of the globe.

"In an enlightened federal Canada there is scope for the fullest expression of cultural and linguistic heritage," said Governor General Edward Schreyer at his installation in !979.

Added Mr. Schreyer, who is of Ukrainian and German heritage and a former premier of Manitoba: "The ethnic mosaic has made for a more colorful and interesting Canadian way of life."

Sen. Yuzyk was a man who subscribed to such a belief when he crossed the country from sea-to-sea voicing an unabashed pride in the contributions of Canada's ethnocultural groups.

In those days, and arguably up until the last weeks of his life. Sen. Yuzyk was a believer. He thought Parliament was an instrument of reform that would fulfill the heady expectations of thousands of immigrants who were promised equality, justice and equal access to the institutions that shape their lives.

He considered Canada the best country to live in, a place where anything was possible equality of opportunity, a humane immigration policy, high-quality education and an aggressive foreign policy that would hold states such as the Soviet Union accountable for their violations of international human-rights instruments.

In brief, Sen. Yuzyk's vision of a better Canada closely paralled the thoughts of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau the man who announced the government's decision to introduce a multiculturalism policy who said in a 1983 Toronto address: "A country is not strong because of the size of its armies and it is not powerful because of its great balance sheet. A country can be influential in the world by the size of its heart and the breadth of its mind, and that is the role Canada can play."

Indeed, tenets of a proposed multiculturalism policy espoused by Sen. Yuzyk during the late 1960s and early 1970s have recently been adopted by-Australia, a country of diverse ethnic groups eager to embark upon the same course of tolerance and understanding charted by Canada.

It is abundantly clear that Sen. Yuzyk's death is a great loss not only to Canada, but to the Ukrainian community as a whole, which he served through various organizations, including the World Congress of Free Ukrainians and the Ukrainian National Association. The Canadian politician devoted a considerable amount of energy to weave consensus out of conflict in a divided community. Early in his political career, he helped Ukrainian youth and students organize themselves into groups of responsible leaders. Later, he took on even the mosl intransigent boars in the Ukrainian community, convincing them of the crying need to redirect some of their efforts from fighting an oversees revolution to developing a vibrant Ukrainian Canadian community.

Sen. Yuzyk was one of the few community leaders intrepid enough and possessed of enough organizational savvy to tear down the barriers separate what a community is from what it can become.

Sen. Yuzyk's departure leaves a monumental gap on Parliament Hill where for years he represented the concerns of the Ukrainian community, in addition to the regional concerns of his beloved western Canada.