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'Use your head but follow your heart': ill MP delivers plea to Parliament

Last Updated Jun 13, 2017 at 9:00 am EDT

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and MP Dominic LeBlanc (right) escort new Liberal MP Arnold Chan in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Sept. 15, 2014. MPs in the Commons paused Monday to listen to an emotional speech by Ontario MP Chan, who spoke of his struggle with cancer while he appealed to his fellow parliamentarians for more civility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA – MPs in the Commons paused Monday to listen to an emotional speech by Ontario MP Arnold Chan, who spoke of his struggle with cancer while he appealed to his fellow parliamentarians for more civility.

As his parents, brother and wife looked down from the gallery, the Liberal from the Toronto-area riding of Scarborough-Agincourt delivered his moving remarks during what was supposed to be a debate on the economy.

Later, outside the House of Commons, Chan said he simply took the opportunity to say a few things he had to say.

“I got it out,” he said. “There’s no announcement, I’m not taking a leave. I’m not resigning my seat … I’m carrying on my duties.”

Chan, 50, did say he is not sure how long he will have the strength to stand and deliver a 20-minute speech.

“Use your head, but follow your heart,” he told MPs during his remarks. “It is as simple as that.”

Chan also urged them to ditch canned talking points, adding that people lose confidence in democracy when parliamentarians recite scripted lines.

“We can disagree strongly — in fact we should,” he said.

“That is what democracy is about … 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.”

Several MPs later paid tribute to Chan in the House of Commons, including Green party Leader Elizabeth May.

May thanked Chan for a personal message he sent to her when she was considering whether to remain the leader of her party.

She was mulling the decision last August after the Greens passed a controversial resolution supporting the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, something Parliament voted to reject in February 2016.

“His message meant the world to me and is one of the reasons I stand here, not just as the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands but as leader of the Green party of Canada,” May said. “From the depth of my soul, I thank him.”

Speaking outside the Commons, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale called Chan’s speech “truly extraordinary.”

“That exemplifies Arnold,” he said. “His career in Parliament has been … one of great distinction and that’s built on not only his hard work and his fine intellect and the way he articulates the positions that he takes … he’s a role model.”

After a 2014 byelection win, Chan was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer, but after taking time off, ran for re-election in 2015.

“Every day is different,” he said. “Those of us who live with cancer, you have to take it day by day. That’s what I do.”

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter