A clear majority of attendees enjoyed themselves at a lovely soirée held at the official residence of the British high commissioner on Tuesday in support of the Parliamentary Centre, a non-profit organization working to strengthen global democracy at a time when autocratic governments have been on the rise.
Roughly 150 guests, including business sponsors, MPs and senators, journalists, and members of the judiciary and foreign diplomacy were welcomed to Do It For Democracy by High Commissioner Susannah Goshko, Parliamentary Centre chair Maureen Boyd and its president and CEO, Tom Cormier. The special event was held beneath a large party tent located on the front lawn of historic residence Earnscliffe. A handful of embassies, many of them European, sponsored the wine. There was also a silent auction that featured a Philip Craig oil painting, embassy dinners and more.
“When the wonderful Maureen Boyd first approached me about hosting the event this evening, it was an easy and a quick ‘yes’,” Goshko told guests. “Not only is the Parliamentary Centre a fantastic organization that we are delighted to partner with but the cause that we’re here to celebrate this evening is one that goes to the very core of what Britain and Canada hold dear.”
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On the minds of many that night was the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Former governor general David Johnston, who’s honourary patron of the Parliamentary Centre, had just returned from the state funeral service in London, at Westminster Abbey.
“If I had one word, and there are many, to describe my sense of Her Majesty it would be ‘gratitude’ for what she gave us by way of helping our democracy function in a more civilized and ordered and thoughtful and inclusive way,” Johnston told the room.
Johnston spoke about the concept of ‘leader as servant’ and how Her Majesty was one of those leaders who truly served others. “I don’t think there is anyone in our time of history that has demonstrated that so well, our Queen,” said Johnston.
“How much we owe to this remarkable person who has contributed so much to making us a more civic, democratic and functioning society. We shall not see her like again.”
The gifted storyteller also recounted the time he broke protocol by lightly taking hold of the Queen’s elbow to prevent her from tripping over some wrinkled red carpet on a set of stairs they were descending. “The next morning the British tabloids were, of course, all over this colonial bumpkin from Canada grabbing the Queen,” he recalled while chuckling along with the crowd. “About an hour later, we received a message from her private secretary that the Queen wishes to advise the governor general to Canada that it’s wonderful that chivalry is alive and well in the United Kingdom.”
Impressive efforts were made by Johnston to attend Do It For Democracy. He arrived back from London at 3 a.m. that day. He was commended for being “so dedicated” by Robert Ghiz, CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which was one of the major sponsors. “Thank you so much for your great service to Canada,” said Ghiz, who’s also a former premier of Prince Edward Island.
The evening honoured Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, with the inaugural Because Democracy Matters Award for his sustained and significant global commitment to democratic development efforts. He was unable to attend in person but accepted his award via video link.
“The work of the Parliamentary Centre has been very close to my heart for a very long time,” said Rae in his brief remarks.
He also said: “Perhaps the passing of the Queen allows us to reflect a bit on our institutions and the important role that all of our institutions play in advancing the rule of law, in recognizing the limits of arbitrary power, and how we have to work together to build support for minorities, for pluralism, so that we get over this notion that democracy is somehow a simplistic idea of what happens in an election or what happens on one vote or one issue at one time.”
Rae agreed to tour the highest silent auction bidder and their guest around the New York City-based UN and to treat them to lunch.
Attendees included Treasury Board President Mona Fortier, Supreme Court of Canada Justice Russell Brown, Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee and Ukrainian Ambassador Yuliya Kovaliv, whose homeland has been fighting off Russia since it first invaded in February. The UK and Canada are among the countries standing up in support of Ukraine.
Kovaliv spoke about the importance of democracy — a system we sometimes take for granted. “We are fighting for our country but this fight for all of us (is) much bigger, because we see Russia with no free press, with no civil society, with no fair political process, with no opposition, or the opposition in jail or in exile. This is how important to build the democracy in each and every country is.”
The ambassador’s microphone cut out briefly just as she was wrapping up but she waited patiently until it was working again because she had one final but important thing to tell everyone: “I just wanted to say thank you.”