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Tribute to Donald Cousens

Ontario Legislature October 18, 2017

It was my privelege to offer a tribute to the late Don Cousens, MPP and Mayor of Markham, in the Ontario Legislature October 18th, 2017.  The transcript of my remarks are below and the video is posted on this website.

Hon. Helena Jaczek: I’m truly honoured to pay tribute to Don Cousens, member of provincial Parliament from 1981 until 1994, first for York Centre and then for Markham.

I, like so many others, was fortunate enough to know Don and to consider him a friend—someone with whom you could have a real conversation, who always took the time to listen, and someone on whose advice and support you could rely.

Born in Vankleek Hill in eastern Ontario, Don grew up in Brockville, the son of a Presbyterian minister, in whose footsteps he followed, getting his undergraduate degree from Queen’s and his master’s in divinity from Knox College at the University of Toronto. After a stint as a minister in Penetanguishene, he switched gears and worked in the high-tech industry, in sales and marketing.

After marrying his beloved wife, Aline, a physiotherapist, the family settled in Markham. Don followed his passion for public education and was elected to the York county board of education in 1972, where he remained as a trustee until becoming chair of the York Region District School Board in 1978.

In 1981, Don was elected to this House. After being re-elected in 1985, he served briefly in Premier Frank Miller’s minority government as Minister of Correctional Services. Of course, even though his tenure was brief, Don threw himself into his job, visiting prisons all over the province, including in his hometown of Brockville.

Re-elected in 1987 and 1990, he had the unusual experience of serving during the majority governments of all three parties and the minorities of two. He was Deputy Speaker and was most proud of the private member’s bill he introduced to control smoking in Ontario.

I believe his respect for this Legislature was evidenced by his children, Mary and Paul, both becoming pages in this place.

When I asked the dean of the House, the member for St. Catharines, about his memory of Don in this place, he said immediately, “He was one of the good guys.” As we all know, the member always speaks his mind, and so this is high praise indeed.

After deciding not to run again provincially, Don was elected mayor of Markham in 1994. Re-elected three more times, he established Markham as a high-tech business hub. The first race relations committee was formed, and Markham won the Prince of Wales Prize for exemplary commitment to the preservation of built heritage within its boundaries. Don likened this to winning the Stanley Cup.

Following up on his anti-smoking legislation, Don and I, in my capacity as medical officer of health, worked together on a no-smoking bylaw for York region. It took us six years to get the required triple majority. I got discouraged many times, but Don always told me we would win in the end, and we did, in October 2000, just before that year’s municipal election.

Don served on innumerable community organizations, including as chair of World Vision Canada, but his commitment to public education was always paramount. He spearheaded the Character Matters initiative that was adopted by the York Region District School Board and that remains in place today. A new public elementary school in my riding was named after him, and he told his family it was the greatest honour he could have hoped to receive.

Needing another kidney transplant in 2006, Don decided to retire. Throughout the health challenges he faced in his later years, Don impressed everyone with his fortitude. Aline ensured they maintained a healthy lifestyle. They travelled and continued to attend events supporting charities they favoured.

There was always something interesting to talk about with Don. After my first election as an MPP in 2007, Don phoned me at home to give me some advice. First, not surprisingly, was to always look after your constituents. Next was that legislative committees were enjoyable and useful and where the real work was done. And then finally, after a short pause, he said, “You’re a rather impatient person, so you’ll probably find the debates in the House tedious, but hang in there.” Of course, he was right. This was so typical of Don: very candid in his assessment but wanting to provide guidance and support.

So to Mary, Kevin and Suse, and to Paul, Lesley, Charlotte and Drew, and to the extended family and friends, very sincere condolences on the loss of Don, but rest assured that his legacy lives on in all the work he did in this House and in Markham to benefit the people of Ontario.

 

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