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‘I ain’t quitting,’ Grit MP Chan battling cancer delivers powerful, emotional speech about Parliament

By Rachel Aiello      

Liberal MP Arnold Chan pierced through the partisan games in the House on Monday, delivering a poignant and powerful speech.

Liberal MP Arnold Chan, pictured Monday, June 12, 2107, in the House of Commons. The Hill Times photograph by Rachel Aiello
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PARLIAMENT HILL—Liberal MP Arnold Chan, who was first diagnosed with cancer shortly after winning the 2014 byelection in Scarborough-Agincourt, Ont., delivered an emotional and powerful speech on Monday in the House, saying he’s not sure how many more 20-minute speeches he will be making in the Commons as he continues to battle his resurfaced cancer, but he says he has no intention of resigning his seat.

Mr. Chan, 50, captivated the House on Monday when he spoke poignantly about his family, the importance of Parliament, and how MPs should be making the House work better, in a wide-ranging and often emotional speech.

Mr. Chan took time to thank his parents, and his wife Jean Yip, 49, who were all present in the gallery. “I’m not sure how many more times I will have the strength to get up and do a 20-minute speech like this,” Mr. Chan said, describing it as a “challenge” with his health.

But Mr. Chan later told reporters that he is not resigning his seat.

“It’s true, I’ve been certainly more debilitated in the last few months. I’ve found my energy challenged. I’ve been a cancer patient now for almost two-and-a-half years, and [with] ongoing treatment, it wears you down. Even in terms of overall performance in the House of Commons, there’s been a marked decline over the last few months. So I’m practical and realistic, but at the same token, I have every intention of carrying on,” said Mr. Chan. “I’m not taking a leave. I’m not resigning my seat, I’m carrying on.”

Grit MP Arnold Chan and his wife, Jean Yip. The Hill Times photograph by Rachel Aiello

Mr. Chan said the reason he delivered his speech on Monday was because his parents were present for the first time since he was sworn in as an MP. Moreover, he said, as a member of the House leadership team, he felt partially responsible for starting some of the “toxicity” in the House over forthcoming changes to the Standing Orders, or House rules.

Mr. Chan, a lawyer and a former veteran political staffer at the Ontario legislature, was first diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma in 2014. After months of radiation combined with six months of chemotherapy treatment following the first diagnosis, the cancer returned in February 2016. At the time, he said he was confident he had beat it, but also said he would be adopting a modified work schedule to accommodate receiving treatment.

Mr. Chan told reporters, as he raised a pill bottle from his pocket, that the cancer has spread to his lymphatic system and is currently in the middle of a clinical trial.

“We’re very happy that he’s still here, and happy at doing what he loves best,” his wife told reporters.

Ms. Yip said her husband is not typically an emotional person and was touched by he speech in the House. The two are celebrating their 19th wedding anniversary this month.

In his remarks on Monday, Mr. Chan pierced through the gamesmanship and bloodsport of politics in the Commons, urging MPs to listen to each other rather than talking over one another and to drop the canned lines and talking points. He said elected office is a high privilege and the House deserves respect. He also said if MPs worked together, they could accomplish so much more and hoped his colleagues on both sides do take his comments to heart.

Mr. Chan, right, pictured outside the House of Commons on Monday, June 12, 2017, with his parents. The Hill Times photograph by Rachel Aiello

Mr. Chan pointed to Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) as an example of an effective legislator.

“When we listen, we listen to one another, despite our strong differences, that’s when democracy really happens. That’s the challenge that’s going on around the world right now. No one is listening, everyone is just talking at one another. We have to listen to each other and, in so doing, we make this place a stronger place,” said Mr. Chan, who is deputy House leader, and a member of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee.

Mr. Chan also said it has been a “tremendous honour” to serve as an MP for two terms and said the point he wanted to impart on his colleagues was “not only to act as honourable members, but to treat this institution honourably.”

He also took time in his address to urge Canadians to boost their civic engagement by volunteering.

“It’s the small things that we collectively do, from my perspective, that make a great society, and, fundamentally to me, that is ultimately what it means to be Canadian,” said Mr. Chan, who received a number of standing ovations from MPs and congratulatory hugs and handshakes, including a hug from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.).

Following Mr. Chan’s remarks, Conservative MP Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.), NDP MP Murray Rankin (Victoria, B.C.), and Ms. May all wished Mr. Chan well.

Mr. Chan said Chief Government Whip Pablo Rodrigues (Honoré-Mercier, Que.) notified the opposition parties in advance that he might be going off script.

Liberal MP Filomena Tassi (Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, Ont.) asked Mr. Chan what his advice is for the House, to which he responded: “We should use our heads, but follow our hearts.”

“I don’t always have perfect days. I do what I can do. I’m not unique from thousands of other Canadians who suffer either chronic illnesses, cancer, heart disease, whatever. … If I have any message: carry on, and if I can be that example that demonstrates that there is no quitting, I ain’t quitting,” said Mr. Chan.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct Mr. Chan’s quote about hearts and heads.

The Hill Times 

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