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Sen. Enverga ‘embodied the Canadian dream’: ex-PM, colleagues remember country’s first Filipino-Canadian Senator

Ontario Senator Tobias Enverga’s sudden death in Colombia shocked and saddened colleagues who remember him as warm, funny, and dedicated to his community.

Conservative Senator Tobias Enverga was the first Filipino-Canadian to be appointed to the Canadian Senate. He was appointed by prime minister Stephen Harper in 2012 and died suddenly Thursday morning at the age of 61. Photograph courtesy of Ulle Baum

PUBLISHED :Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 6:51 PM

“The guy never stopped.” Conservative Senator David Tkachuk was still processing the news Friday morning that colleague Tobias Enverga wasn’t going to be in the Red Chamber when the Senate reconvened on Nov. 21.

Sen. Tkachuk (Saskatchewan) described the news that fellow Conservative Senator Enverga had died suddenly Thursday morning in Medellin, Colombia, while attending the interparliamentary group ParlAmericas’ annual plenary assembly as a member of the Canadian delegation, as “unfortunate, surprising, shocking.”

Appointed to the Senate in 2012 by Stephen Harper, Sen. Enverga—also known as Jun—was 61 years old. He is survived by his wife Rosemer, who was in Colombia with him when he died, and three daughters.

“We’re going to miss him,” said Conservative Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu (La Salle, Que.). “I will always remember his voice, because he had this loud voice. And when he speaks at Question Period or in the caucus, he was very dynamic, he was very engaging in his mission as a Senator.”

  

In a statement online, former prime minister Stephen Harper, pictured here with wife Laureen and Sen. Enverga in an undated photo, called the late Senator a ‘kind, thoughtful man.’ Photograph courtesy of Stephen Harper’s Twitter

The nearly six years Sen. Boisvenu spent as Sen. Enverga’s seatmate were “long and short at the same time, because we never know what each day will bring to us. Six years, when you’ve lost a friend like that, it’s a very short time because you would like to have them for life.”

Described as warm and funny by those who knew him, Conservative Senator Claude Carignan (Mille Isles, Que.) also said Sen. Enverga was “very authentic.”

Conservative Senator Victor Oh (Mississauga, Ont.), said in a statement Thursday he was “deeply saddened” by Sen. Enverga’s death.

“While being away from our families in Ottawa, the two of us spent many days together inside and outside of the Chamber,” he said. “I will forever cherish the memories we shared and the joy and laughter he brought to my life.”

  

Conservative Sen. Victor Oh said he was ‘deeply saddened’ by the loss of his friend. The Hill Times file photograph

Representing Ontario, Sen. Enverga “embodied the Canadian dream, the first Filipino-Canadian to be appointed to the Senate of Canada, he worked tirelessly for his community & our nation,” Mr. Harper said in a tweet Thursday.

Those who knew him all pointed to Sen. Enverga’s engagement with his community, proudly wearing the mantle of the first Filipino-Canadian to serve in the Senate.

Prior to being appointed to the Senate, Sen. Enverga also made history as the first Filipino-Canadian to be elected to public office in the city of Toronto when he joined the Toronto Catholic District School Board in 2010. He was also the first visible minority to be elected to the board.

“But it was in his advocacy for the Filipino community that he truly left his mark,” Conservative leader Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) said in a statement Thursday. “The founder of the Philippine Canadian Charitable Foundation, Sen. Enverga received several awards from both Canada and the Philippines as a result of his charitable work.”

  

This included the Lingkod sa Kapwa Pilipino presidential award, given to him in 2008 by then-president of the Philippines Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Lita Leano, the executive secretary of the charitable foundation he founded, PCCF, said in a statement that Sen. Enverga “was an extraordinary example of a man with a strong sense of involvement and service to others.”

In a statement Thursday, Senate Speaker George Furey (Newfoundland and Labrador) said that of Sen. Enverga’s numerous contributions, he would “be most remembered as a fierce advocate for persons with disabilities and a tireless champion for multiculturalism.”

One of Sen. Enverga’s daughters has Down syndrome.

In February 2016, Sen. Enverga introduced a public bill to designate October as Latin American Heritage Month.

“Coming to Canada as an immigrant, I am one of many in this Chamber who has been fortunate to be welcomed here to contribute to our society. There are few countries in the world that are as open and accepting as Canada to immigrants seeking to make a new life for themselves,” Sen. Enverga said in the Senate on Nov. 7 as he moved third reading of Bill S-218. “The Canadian policy of multiculturalism is a great success when it comes to allowing for and celebrating the various cultural backgrounds and languages we have.”

 

‘It was a pretty tough day,’ says MP Nault

Liberal MP Bob Nault is the chair of the Canadian section of ParlAmericas, which was meeting in Colombia when Sen. Enverga died Thursday morning. The Hill Times file photograph

Sen. Enverga’s final days were spent in service to his country, as he made up one-fifth of the Canadian delegation to a two-day meeting of ParlAmericas, the interparliamentary group that features Parliamentarians from North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean. The Canadian delegation, chaired by Liberal MP Bob Nault (Kenora, Ont.), also includes Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault (Edmonton Centre, Alta.), Conservative MP Bev Shipley (Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, Ont.), and NDP MP Richard Cannings (South Okanagan-West Kootenay, B.C.).

Sen. Enverga joined the Canadian section of ParlAmericas after being appointed to the Senate in 2012, and had been on the group’s executive when Mr. Nault joined after his election in 2015.

“If he has any partisan bones in his body, I never found any,” Mr. Nault said, noting that when travelling abroad with the group, Sen. Enverga was always a team player. “There’s no doubt he was seized with his role for Canada.”

On Wednesday night the group, with the exception of Mr. Cannings, had dinner in Colombia with Marcel Lebleu, the Canadian ambassador to the country, on the eve of the official start of the plenary, Mr. Nault told The Hill Times on the phone from Colombia, which he was scheduled to leave early Saturday.

The next morning, as he left his room at around 7:30 to grab breakfast before the plenary’s opening session at 8:30 a.m., Mr. Nault said he was informed by a member of the delegation’s staff that “something had happened” and that CPR was being performed on Sen. Enverga.

In the aftermath, Mr. Nault said the focus was on ensuring Ms. Enverga was supported and that she was never left alone as officials worked to help repatriate Sen. Enverga’s body as quickly as possible. Ms. Enverga and her husband’s body were back in Canada on Friday.

The remaining members of the delegation met Thursday morning to decide whether they would carry on, Mr. Nault said.

“I think the decision by all of us that Tobias would have preferred we did our work,” he said.

The plenary was informed of Sen. Enverga’s passing and a moment of silence was held during the morning meeting. “Then we continued on with the agenda, in a very subdued way, because I don’t think any of us were really with it yesterday—it was a pretty tough day for everyone involved,” said Mr. Nault.

Mr. Nault said he was planning to convene the delegation Friday night, to have a debrief and check in on everyone once the ParlAmericas activity of had wrapped up.

“It’s important to talk about these things,” he said, noting that staff were directly involved in trying to revive the Senator. “It’s good to double back and ask [how are you doing?]”

 

Uncommon occurrence

According to a senior official from the group supporting the Canadian delegation in Colombia, there hasn’t been a Parliamentarian to die while out of the country on official business in the nearly 30-year institutional knowledge of Parliament’s International and Interparliamentary Affairs office.

According to Library of Parliament research available as of deadline, it appears that no Senators who have died in office were outside of Canada at their time of death in the last 30 years.

The first step in a situation like this is to bring in the Canadian Embassy to help navigate a particular country’s protocols, the official said.

All Parliamentarians are covered by insurance while on official business, they said, adding that their staff work in concert with the embassy and Global Affairs to ensure the insurance policy is handled properly, and that protocol is followed.

But the first priority is to the family, they added, noting that Sen. Enverga’s wife would be making personal decisions on the ground.

According to the Library of Parliament, 486 Senators have died in office, 68 of them in past 50 years. Three hundred twenty-one MPs have died while holding office, most recently Liberal MP Arnold Chan, who represented Scarborough-Agincourt, Ont.

Next steps

Information about funeral arrangements will be forthcoming, according to Sen. Enverga’s office. A spokesperson for the Senate Speaker’s office said that tributes will be made and a moment of silence held when the Senate returns.

A book of condolences will also be made available in Ottawa, along with an online version. The Canadian flag will be flown from the Peace Tower in Ottawa at half-mast on the day of Sen. Enverga’s funeral. Flags on federal buildings in the Toronto area, where he lived, will be flown at half-mast until sunset on the day of his funeral.

cevelyn@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times