Febuary 20, 2003 Halifax Herald Honourable Edmund Morris: a man of integrity and vision
Honourable Edmund Morris: a man of integrity and vision
COINCIDENTALLY, one of my first encounters with Edmund Morris took place on Morris Street in the 1970s when he was mayor. The city council had recently passed a jay-walking bylaw. As my wife Pat and I were driving down Morris Street, I spotted Edmund off the sidewalk, about to jay-walk. In jest, I stopped and rolled down the window and informed him that he was setting a fine example by attempting to do so, particularly after being part and parcel of enacting such a law. Without comment, he stepped back onto the sidewalk and walked down to the Barrington/Morris Street intersection and crossed.
This, however, was not the starting point of my admiration for him. It began when he was a Tory member of Parliament during the Diefenbaker years, and joined with other Tories, after Dief balked at putting urgent defences in place during the Cuban missile crisis, to do what good conscience dictated that he do to assure that Canada acted responsibly. To some, it marked him a traitor to the Tory cause; but to me, and countless others, it marked him as a responsible man of integrity and vision.
Our personal interchanges began in the early 1980s when he was the provincial cabinet minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, and I was the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development's district superintendent of lands, revenues and trusts for Nova Scotia. That our relationship would be sometimes testy was preordained by the fact that we were both inclined to be "slightly" opinionated and stubborn. On one occasion, he accused me of being condescending towards him, which elicited a laugh from me and an accusation that it was just the opposite. In retrospect, in view of his outstanding achievements, I value his accusation as quite a compliment!
Edmund had an outstanding intellect, as was attested to by some of his peers who were quoted in this newspaper after his demise last month.
And that he was a man of his word, there is no doubt. For emphasis, I'll quote from what I wrote about him in my book, We Were Not the Savages. As background, I had asked for his assistance with a problem that was a century-plus old and had seemed to defy everyone's best efforts to solve it: clearing title to a small piece of land known as the Summerside Property for the Afton Band.
"In early 1984, frustrated with the non-productivity of the process that had been followed for years, I decided to find a solution. I asked my lands officer, Donald Julien, to put together a historical sequence of events for the property in preparation for a meeting I planned to arrange with the province. With this information in hand, a meeting was set up with the Hon. Edmund Morris, who was, in addition to being Nova Scotia's minister of Social Services, the chairman of the province's Aboriginal Affairs Committee.
"During the meeting, we presented Mr. Morris with the history of the property and other information. The meeting ended with the minister providing assurances that he would give the matter a thorough review and get back to me. After several months, another meeting was arranged, where Morris informed me that he would lend his full support to finding a way to overcome this historical injustice. He was true to his word throughout the negotiations.
"We then turned the matter over to the Department of the Attorney General for Nova Scotia and to the federal Department of Justice for legal opinions. They got back to Morris and me with opinions that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to solve the problem.
"In late 1985, another meeting was arranged where a solution to the problem was identified. At this meeting, Morris and I, neither of us members of the legal profession, concluded that, given the resources of both levels of government and their legislative powers, it was inconceivable that clearing the title for one hundred acres of land should pose an insurmountable problem. We thus explored several options and settled upon this simple solution. Lawyers were instructed to work out the terms for a federal-provincial agreement that would have the province expropriate the property and thus clear the title. An agreement was worked out and the land became, on August 28, 1990, a Reserve for the Afton Band. Edmund Morris deserves much credit for moving this matter to a satisfactory conclusion. Without his full co-operation, and the weight of his office behind it, the project would probably still be in limbo."
We met on several occasions afterwards and had amiable chats. In fact, in the early 1990s, Edmund tried hard to convince me to run for the Tories. Hats off to you, Edmund: Your enlightened company shall be missed by both family and friends.
Please join with me in asking the Great Spirit to assure the tranquillity of His loving son Edmund in the Land of Souls forever!
Daniel N. Paul