Way back on June 4, I looked at a man named Daniel Duncan McKenzie. Why am I mentioning him? He was the second episode of the third season, and we are well past that now.
Well, he was a Liberal and for the next 90 years, no other Liberal would serve as the Leader of the Opposition and not become prime minister or have served as prime minister. That all changed with our next subject, Bill Graham, who served as the Leader of the Opposition in 2006. His time as Leader of the Opposition was short, but his career in Parliament greatly overshadows that.
Born in Montreal on March 17, 1939, to Ron and Helen Graham, Graham was raised in the city, as well as Vancouver. His family was quite wealthy as his father was a business magnate. His parent’s home, where he and his 10 siblings grew up along English Bay in British Columbia, was a place known for its lively parties. Guests would include movie stars, the entire New Zealand rugby team and even Prince Philip, who skinned his nose when he dived too deeply into the family pool.
For a time, Graham would spend time at a boarding school in Toronto with his brothers.
After high school, Graham would attend Trinity College and the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. At that law school, he would become friends with someone who would have an impact on his later life, Paul Martin. After graduating from law school, Graham went to the University of Paris to earn a doctorate in law and improve his French. During his time in Paris, he would also travel through Europe and the Middle East. This included taking a Land Rover from England to Pakistan and back.
Beginning 1960, Graham would also join the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve, obtaining the rank of sub-lieutenant.
In 1962, he would marry Catherine Curry and together they would have two children, Katherine born in 1964 and Patrick born in 1965.
One year later, his father died and left the family house to the University of British Columbia where it would serve as a dining hall, and host academic lectures.
In 1968, he would join the Toronto law firm of Fasken and Calvin, where he would remain until 1982 until he set up his own international trade and commercial law practice.
By the late 1970s, Graham began to develop an interest in civic affairs, especially in the area of promoting bilingualism. From 1979 to 1987, he served as the president of the Alliance Francaise de Toronto.
In 1984, Graham would run as a Liberal for the House of Commons and on his campaign was Michael Turner, the eldest son of the current prime minister, John Turner.
He would end up losing to his Progressive Conservative opponent, former Toronto mayor, David Crombie, in the massive majority win for Brian Mulroney in that year’s election. Graham would lose by 12,000 votes in that election.
Graham would also make the move around this time to academia, taking a position at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, where he taught international law and international trade law until 1993.
Graham would say of living so close to where he worked, and in the small riding he would one day represent, quote:
In 1988, he again ran against a Progressive Conservative opponent but this time, only lost by 68 votes initially. Due to the close nature of the election, Graham would ask for a judicial recount. When the recount was finished, Graham had lost by 80 votes.
In 1993, he run against his 1988 opponent David MacDonald, but this time, Graham was victorious, with 15,000 more votes, and now found himself heading to Ottawa to serve in Parliament.
During his first years as a Member of Parliament, Graham primarily focused on foreign affairs, including serving as the Chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Law. In that position, the committee would produce reports on the role of nuclear weapons in world politics, Canada and the circumpolar world and the future of the World Trade Organization.
As a Member of Parliament, Graham would also strongly promote same-sex rights. His riding actually contained the largest gay neighbourhood in Canada, and he would support same-sex pensions and the admission to Canada of LGBTQ refugees who faced prosecution in their home countries for their sexual identity.
In 1995, Graham would state regarding the Ontario government’s lack of recognition of same sex rights, while attending the Toronto Gay Pride Parade, quote:
“The genie is out of the bottle. The people are not going to accept going back. Look at this crowd of people. They’re not going to accept this. That’s just ridiculous.”
He would also lend his support to the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. In 2002, he came out on record stating he supported same sex marriage, becoming only the second federal cabinet minister to do so after Allan Rock.
He would also host an annual gay pride party, which was attended by not only his Liberal friends, but LGBTQ supporting MPs from the Conservatives and the NDP.
For his work in promoting LGBTQ rights, he was presented with the Pride Toronto lifetime achievement award in 2007.
At the ceremony for the award, the band played the theme song to Spider-Man as Graham collected the award.
He was also voted Toronto’s best MP several times by the readers of NOW magazine.
In January of 2002, Graham was made the Minister of Foreign Affairs, taking over the position at the beginning of the post-9/11 world in a move that surprised nearly everyone in political circles.
Many critics questioned his choice as he was seen as a Member of Parliament with little experience, despite being elected nine years previous. Through those nine years, he had only served as a backbencher.
Graham was actually sworn in a day late because he had been in Mexico with his wife when he received the call of his promotion, and he had to hurry back to Ottawa to be sworn in. The person swearing in, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, also happened to be the best friend of his wife Cathy. It was Cathy who introduced Clarkson to her husband John Saul.
John Godfrey, a fellow Toronto Member of Parliament would say of the appointment quote:
Even his political opponents, like former prime minister Joe Clark, would praise him stating quote:
“Bill Graham is an intelligent, informed and sensitive expert on international affairs and an honest man.”
Of course, Clark would also raise a point about the inexperience in cabinet of Graham, stating quote:
“He is the most junior minister in the history of Canada to serve as foreign minister. He has no strength in cabinet. He has no strength in the caucus. He has no strength in the country.”
It was pointed out by many that Clark, when he was prime minister, appointed Flora Macdonald, a backbencher, as Minister of Foreign Affairs as well and that Clark had no cabinet experience before he became prime minister in 1979.
Graham would state quote:
“I think that’s an interesting observation coming from the opposition who have talked about the importance of Parliament.”
Graham would state that his main concern would be Canada-US relations and he would speak of the cooperative nature of foreign affairs. He would state quote:
“Foreign affairs in this country is teamwork. Cabinet is a collaborative effort. I think I’ll be able to bring my own perspective because I’ve had a great deal of experience in this area.”
Prime Minister Chretien would also defend Graham, stating quote:
“He can teach to all these guys in the opposition a lot of things in foreign affairs. I will put any guys on the other side in front of Mr. Graham in foreign affairs any day in both official languages, and in Spanish on top.”
In his first speech as Foreign Affairs Minister he immediately garnered controversy. In his speech at a meeting held by the Canada-Israel Committee, he would say quote:
“Innocent civilian casualties, regardless of their background or religion, are not justifiable, and ultimately compromise Israel’s image as a vital and compassionate nation, as well as undermining the hopes of Palestinians and instilling bitterness-prejudicing the prospects for fair-minded peace.”
The chair of the Canada Israel Committee would respond by stating quote:
“The Israelis have never targeted civilians.”
Graham, along with Prime Minister Jean Chretien, would oppose any involvement of Canada in the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 without clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction in the country. Graham and Chretien would commit Canada to assuming a lead role in the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
Graham would go through another election in June, easily taking his riding with 56 per cent of the vote and he would express optimism for the future of the Liberals leading Canada despite anger towards the party in recent years. He would say quote:
In June of 2004, new prime minister Paul Martin would appoint Graham as the Minister of National Defence. Martin would promise Graham his support in rebuilding the Canadian military after the cutbacks of the 1990s.
Upon his appointment, Graham would attend the NATO summit soon after and received a round of applause from NATO members. Graham would say quote:
“They applauded. It was fun. They were very, very nice.”
He would also be congratulated by President George W. Bush at the meeting for his recent election win on June 28. Bush would state to him quote:
“I hear you’ve won your election. Congratulations.”
One of the first issues for Graham in his new role was the invitation of President George W. Bush for Canada to take part in the Ballistic Missile Defence Program. This program was highly unpopular in Canada and Martin did not provide support for it despite Graham offering qualified support to Canada’s participation. Eventually, Graham would tell Donald Rumsfeld that Canada could not participate.
In July of 2005, Graham would tour the defence installations of the Canadian Arctic, and he would visit Hans Island. The island is claimed by both Canada and Denmark and the visit was protested by Denmark, but it would enter into negotiations over the island’s status soon after.
Graham would say quote:
“I can assure this House this government will not surrender any sovereignty of any of Canada’s lands in the Arctic or anywhere else in the world.”
As defence minister, Graham was able to implement a new budgetary framework for Canadian defence policy, creating a $13 billion increase in defence spending, the largest in a generation.
After the 2006 election, in which Graham won his riding by 16,000 votes, the Liberals were moved into Opposition status and Paul Martin soon resigned as the leader of the party. On Feb. 7, 2006, Graham officially became the interim Leader of the Opposition, but not the interim leader of the party. Martin would remain the leader of the party for the time being.
Graham would say quote:
“He has made it very clear that he expects me to be the complete leader of the Opposition.”
Then, on March 18, 2006, he became the interim Leader of the Liberal Party. Graham was chosen over the younger Scott Brison.
New prime minister Stephen Harper would say of the appointment, quote:
He would serve for the rest of the year in both capacities and would take part in two highly contentious issues in Parliament. The first was the recognizing of Quebec as a nation within Canada, and the second was the extension of the Afghanistan mission until 2011.
In the Liberal leadership race, Graham remained neutral. After Stephane Dion was chosen as the new leader, Graham spent the last few months of his Parliamentary career quietly in the opposition. On Feb. 22, 2007, he would announced he would not be a candidate for re-election in the next federal election.
On June 19 of that year, he stepped down as an MP, effective July 2.
Graham would say in the House of Commons, quote:
“It is an enormous privilege to sit in this House. It is very difficult to think that I will no longer have access to a place that is so sacred to all of us. Let us respect one another and in doing so, I believe that our fellow countrymen will respect this institution and respect us.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper would state quote:
“He conducted himself with great intelligence, great passion and great integrity.”
Graham was then given a standing ovation in the House of Commons.
The retirement did not come as a surprise as many had heard rumours of his retirement over the course of the past two election campaigns. While it was not known who would replace Graham in the riding, he would state quote:
“Whoever we nominate, I’ll be with you to ensure this riding stays Liberal.”
In the end, former premier of Ontario Bob Rae would run in the riding and would take the seat, serving until 2013 when he was replaced by Chrystia Freeland.
After leaving politics, Graham became the Chancellor of Trinity College in 2007. He would be named Visitor at Green College and an Honorary Life Fellow there. He would also serve as the Chair of the Atlantic Council of Canada from 2007 to 2012, and the Chair of the Canadian International Council. From 2009 to 2018, he served as the Honorary Colonel of the Governor General’s Horse Guards and in 2010 received an honorary doctorate from the Royal Military College of Canada.
Graham has been honoured heavily for his political career. He would receive the Legion of Honour from the French government, the Jean-Baptiste Rosseau Prize, the Order of Canada, the St. Laurent Award and the Vimy Award.
In 2016, he would publish his autobiography, Call of the World: A Political Memoir
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