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The Late Honourable Fred J. Dickson

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Statement made on 14 February 2012 by Senator James Cowan

Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Opposition):

Honourable senators, I want to join Senator LeBreton in paying tribute to my good friend and our late colleague, Senator Fred Dickson.

Shakespeare wrote the following:

And do as adversaries do in law,
Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.

Honourable senators, that is good advice for all of us in this place.

Senator Dickson and I regularly found ourselves on opposite sides; in our law practices in Halifax, in election campaigns in Nova Scotia, and most recently here in the Senate. We strove mightily for our clients and for our causes, but we always ate, drank and especially talked as friends.

Bill Casey, the former MP for Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, got it right. He said that Senator Dickson was "the ultimate gentleman in everything he did."

Fred was deeply, passionately committed to Nova Scotia, to Canada, to the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia and to the Conservative Party of Canada. He understood and loved politics, not as an end in itself but because of what politics could do and could achieve for his province and for his country. He believed, as I do, that there is a positive role for government to play in people's lives.

Fred Dickson achieved a great deal, as Senator LeBreton has said. He was a key player in Canada-Nova Scotia offshore oil and gas agreements in the 1980s. He was deeply involved as an adviser to the federal government in the building of the Confederation Bridge, linking New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island — quite fitting I think because he was indeed exceedingly good at building bridges of all kinds throughout his life.

He was a strong and long-standing supporter of former premier, and then senator, John Buchanan. They knew one another from Cape Breton, where they both grew up, and in fact they started a law firm together in the 1960s, which Senator Oliver would remember as well as I do.

Senator Dickson went on to manage all of Premier Buchanan's election campaigns, to my chagrin, since I was actively working to elect a Liberal government. His efforts were much more successful than mine, and he helped to elect John Buchanan Premier of Nova Scotia four times in a row. I did not like the result, but I always admired Fred's skill. Who else could run a fourth campaign using the slogan "John Buchanan and the New PCs?" It worked.

Honourable senators, he ran elections the way he did everything, with integrity and an overarching, absolute respect for the democratic process. He had high standards as to how things should and should not be done, and he held true to them.

He had too short a time here in the Senate — just three years — and he was battling cancer the whole time. However, his dedication to public service never flagged. He was a member of our National Finance Committee when it was studying the 900-page omnibus budget bill in 2010. The committee sat well into the summer, in long, marathon hearing days. Fred Dickson was there, actively studying the bill and listening to and weighing the testimony of every witness.

An issue that he was particularly devoted to was health care. His son Ian described how active his father was right to the end advocating for improvements to our health care system. Indeed, just a few days before he died, his son came to the hospital to find his father on the telephone with someone in the Prime Minister's office, pressing for better home care options for those in palliative care. As Ian said, "He thought people should have a choice, and how much better it would be if you could pass peacefully at home." Even cancer was not going to stop Fred Dickson from arguing for a better way for others.

Fred Dickson was a good friend, a fine Nova Scotian, and a great Canadian. I liked looking across the aisle and seeing him there — as usual, on the opposite side — working hard for what he believed in but never losing perspective and never sacrificing friendship. He will be truly missed. On behalf of all senators on this side, I join Senator LeBreton in expressing our deep condolences to Kaye, to his children and to his grandchildren.

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