Canada’s first Jewish federal cabinet minister
The Right Honourable Herb Gray had a distinguished political career that included being Canada’s longest continuously serving member of Parliament and the first Jew to serve as a federal cabinet minister. He held many cabinet positions under prime ministers Pierre Trudeau, John Turner and Jean Chrétien, rising to the position of deputy prime minister in Chrétien’s cabinet from 1997 until 2002.
Herbert Eser Gray, the son of Fannie and Harry Gray, was born May 25, 1931 in Windsor, Ontario. He received his elementary and high school education in Windsor and went on to earn his bachelor of commerce degree from McGill University in Montreal and his law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.
A member of the Liberal Party of Canada, Gray was first elected to Parliament in 1962 from the Windsor-area riding of Essex West. He was re-elected in Essex West in the federal elections of 1963 and 1965. The riding was abolished and absorbed by three other Windsor ridings under redistribution for the 1968 election, and Gray was elected in one of them, Windsor West. He subsequently won re-election in Windsor West in the elections of 1972, 1974, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1993, 1997 and 2000.
In addition to serving in such cabinet positions as minister of national revenue, minister of consumer and corporate affairs, minister of industry, Government house leader, solicitor general, and deputy prime minister, Gray also served as Opposition house leader from 1984 to 1990 and as interim Opposition leader in the House of Commons for most of 1990 between the resignation of John Turner as Liberal Party leader and the election of the new party leader, Jean Chrétien, to the Commons.
Gray resigned from Parliament on January 14, 2002 to become the Canadian chair of the International Joint Commission, a binational organization established by Canada and the United States to deal with trans-border issues pertaining to water and air rights. He also served as chancellor of Carleton University beginning in 2008.
On the occasion of his retirement from Parliament, governor general Adrienne Clarkson granted Gray the title “The Right Honourable” in recognition of his distinguished contributions to government and political life. In Canada, the title is generally reserved for current and former prime ministers, governors general and chief justices of the Supreme Court. Gray is one of only nine Canadians who did not serve in any of those positions to be granted the title.
Among Gray’s many other honours were honorary degrees from the University of Windsor, Assumption University in Windsor, Catholic Uni-versity of Lublin in Poland, McGill University in Montreal, and the University of Ottawa.
Gray was married to Sharon Sholzberg. They had two children, Jonathan and Elizabeth, and nine grandchildren.
Throughout 2017, in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial, the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin is publishing a series of profiles spotlighting the contributions of historically important Jewish Canadians to our country. Previously in the series: