Canada remembers Mandela's wisdom, tenacity
OTTAWA - Nelson Mandela is being remembered in Canada for his wisdom and fearless fight against racism. As it turned out, Canada also occupied a special place in Mandelaâ€™s heart in later years.
The man known affectionately as â€śMadibaâ€ť died Thursday at age 95. Mandela never forgot the support he received from Canada _ and from former prime minister Brian Mulroney _ in his epic fight for freedom, said Stephen Lewis, Canadaâ€™s former United Nations ambassador under Mulroney.
â€śItâ€™s fair to say that Mandela was deeply attached to Canada,â€ť recalled Lewis, who visited Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, numerous times between 2001 and 2009 in South Africa.
All Mandela ever wanted to talk about was Canada, and Mulroney, said Lewis.
â€śHe had a tremendous affection and regard for our former prime minister who did do a really major job in the work to overthrow apartheid and have Mandela released,â€ť Lewis said in an interview.
â€śAnd Mandela never forgot that. He always saw in Canada an ally that he trusted and, in a way, loved.â€ť
Mulroney broke ranks with other western leaders in the 1980s to lead the fight against the apartheid regime that included strict economic sanctions. He said with Mandelaâ€™s passing â€śa precious light has gone out in the world,â€ť but that his spirit would live forever.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is expected to attend Mandelaâ€™s funeral next week, said the world had lost one of its great moral leaders and statesmen.
â€śHe demonstrated that the only path forward for the nation was to reject the appeal of bitterness,â€ť said Harper, who described Mandelaâ€™s forbearance as â€ślegendary.â€ť
Mulroney called him one of the giants of our time.
â€śLet us remember though, that nothing can extinguish the flame of freedom he lit in South Africa. Nothing will dim the power of his message of tolerance, of integrity, and statesmanship,â€ť Mulroney said in a statement.
â€śThat his legacy will continue to nourish the spirit of everyone who struggles for justice and freedom anywhere. That the dream of Nelson Mandela will never die.â€ť
Mandelaâ€™s spirit melted away partisan bickering in the House of Commons on Thursday night as members of all parties united in silence to honour his memory.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called Mandela an intelligent man who cared for his people.
â€śThe light that he brought to the world will continue to shine long after him.â€ť
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Mandela offered hope and inspiration to millions, â€śand will forever occupy a place in the hearts, minds and imaginations of people across the globe.â€ť
Mandela touched Canadian soil for the first time in the summer of 1990, just months after his release from 27 years of imprisonment. On his third and final visit to Canada in November 2001, then prime minister Jean Chretien bestowed honorary Canadian citizenship on him.
On Thursday night, Chretien called that â€śa great moment of my life,â€ť one that allowed Canada to properly honour a man who inspired the world.
The former Liberal prime minister fondly recalled setting up a meeting in Toronto between Mandela and the late, legendary Canadian jazz pianist and composer, Oscar Peterson.
â€śIt was very moving,â€ť Chretien recalled. â€śThey knew of each other well.â€ť
When Mandela was in a room with other world leaders, Chretien said, he was the centre of attention.
â€śNobody paid any attention to any us _ it was all for Nelson Mandela.â€ť
Mandela and Alberta Premier Alison Redford also shared an enduring bond.
As a lawyer before entering politics, Redford worked with Mandela in the early 1990s to help build South Africaâ€™s legal system and lay the groundwork for the first all-race elections that led to Mandela becoming president.
â€śHe listened to people and he didnâ€™t always react immediately. He absorbed a lot of information and he understood that the best perspective you could get from people was from people that lived an experience,â€ť she said in an interview.
â€śIt wasnâ€™t always from experts and it was always from people who were partisan and involved in politics. It was talking to people who were having life experiences and learning from those experiences how to do things better.â€ť
In later life, Mandela never lost his curiosity about Canada, said Lewis.
He inquired about Canadian party politics and had an enduring interest in probing â€śthe intensity of our opposition to apartheid.â€ť
Former Liberal prime ministers John Turner and Paul Martin also praised Mandelaâ€™s legacy in separate statements Thursday night.
Turner said the world has lost a â€ťgreat man of historyâ€ť and that Mandelaâ€™s contribution to peace in South Africa â€ťwas a beacon to the world.â€ť
Martin added that Mandela â€ťharnessed the power of his own personal sacrifice to help free a nation of the need to hate.â€ť
Other reaction to Mandelaâ€™s death from all corners of Canada streamed onto social media.
On Twitter, former Liberal leader Bob Rae called Mandela a truly great man who was simple and direct.
â€śDisciplined, passionate, caring, funny, courageous, compassionate, generousâ€ť were some of the other words Rae used to describe Mandela.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Mandelaâ€™s life will continue to serve as a beacon for change.
â€śThere are few people who have done more to inspire the world than Nelson Mandela, and I am deeply saddened to learn of his death,â€ť Wynne said in a statement.
Junior foreign affairs minister Deepak Obhrai, born and raised in Tanzania, also offered some of the federal governmentâ€™s initial condolences, and heartfelt personal reflection.
â€śAs I grew up Tanzania became independent and the southern states in Rhodesia, Zimbabwe as you call it today, South Africa, were mired in complete anti-apartheid based on race,â€ť he said.
â€śI grew up in a country that was fighting and it had a tremendous impact on my life to say that it is very important to fight for dignity and human beings.â€ť
^_ with files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton, Terry Pedwell in Ottawa and Will Campbell in Toronto@