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Honorary degree citation - Stephen Lewis

By: John Relton, June 1985

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you His Excellency, Mr. Stephen Lewis, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations. When first asked to introduce Mr. Lewis, I realized what a great honour this was. As a follower of his political career, and later a devoted fan of his weekly appearances on CBC radio (with Messieurs Kierans and Camp), I will admit that I had never heard Mr. Lewis speak in person. This was rectified a few weeks ago, when I had the opportunity of hearing Mr. Lewis address a group of students at a model U.N. held here in Montreal. He started by admitting that his career in politics had been described as "maniacal spasms of the left". Obviously, this introduction was going to be more difficult than I had at first realized. It was mentioned, in passing, that on one occasion while travelling through western Canada, he had been called on to make 49 speeches in 10 days. Clearly, this shaded that as a speaker Mr. Lewis had been in high demand; or, was it rather that as a socialist speaking in Alberta and British Columbia it was necessary to move on quickly after speaking. Needless to say, I was becoming worried about my task. Certainly then his appointment to his current position at the U.N. was a clear and definite statement by the government of Mr. Lewis' capabilities. "Not so," he informed a young questioner, "more likely, it was an attempt by the government to soften criticism of its own party's appointments with a few less questionable. What then in Mr. Lewis' past had led to his being chosen.

Fils de l'ancien chef du parti NPD, Monsieur Lewis fut élu à la législature d'Ontario en 1963, à l'âge de 25 ans. En 1970, il devint chef du NPD Ontarien et cinq ans plus tard de l'opposition officielle. En Novembre 1978, il prit la décision d'abandonner la politique. Poursuivant sa quête d'excellence, il occupa les positions de conférencier, commentateur politique et journaliste.

His contributions have been widely acknowledged and applauded. A recipient of the Gordon Sinclair ACTRA Award in broadcasting, he was made a Fellow of the Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in 1981, "in recognition of outstanding work in the development of public policy"; as well, he holds honorary degrees from McMaster and York Universities.

Mr. Lewis had given me the answer. I now understood both why he had been chosen as our representative to the U.N. and why he is here today to be accepted as a distinguished member of our community. What he had left unsaid in his modest response to the student was that his dedication throughout his life to world development and peace placed his appointment beyond question and worthy of enthusiastic acclaim by Canadians, east and west. The praise for the Prime Minister was not because he had not chosen a Conservative, and not because he had chosen a member of the NDP, but because he had chosen Stephen Lewis.

As a new member of our academic community, Mr. Lewis may wonder what we expect of him. Our expectations are not that different than those of the majority of Canadians. In his recent speech, he stated that if you try hard enough, you can succeed at anything. This reminded me of a story told by Malcolm Muggeridge in his biography of Mother Teresa, which I thought pertinent, as the United Nations struggles with the foundations of our common heritage. An American Senator, used to dealing with the 'bottom line', approving or rejecting projects based on the guarantees they offered, asked Mother Teresa how she ever expected to succeed with such a massive problem before her. Their cultures so different, their worlds so far apart, she could not understand his criteria of success. Looking at him in amazement she responded that she was not called upon to succeed, but only to try. In this dangerous time for world peace, Mr. Ambassador, we ask no more, and will accept no less. We ask that on our behalf, you try.

Mr. Chancellor, it is a privilege to present to you, on behalf of the Senate and by the authority of the Board of Governors, His Excellency, Mr. Stephen Lewis, that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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