Orléans MP was a true friend to trees and Jews
My 10-year friendship with Royal Galipeau began in a unique way. After his first election as a federal Conservative MP, he began a nice tradition of planting a tree in his Orléans riding during National Forest Week. He approached me because he wanted my help to make sure these plantings were a success.
Despite his elected office, we never talked much about politics. Sitting in his Parliament Hill office once though, my curiosity got the better of me. I wondered aloud at the full-size photo of Pierre Trudeau that stood behind his desk.
“I have tremendous respect for him” he answered simply. He admitted to me that many of his fellow Tory caucus members bristled at the picture.
It was the start of my first personal relationship with a member of Parliament, a relationship that some within Tree Canada probably thought was a result of my lobbying. Little did they know.
Royal was born in St-Isidore in Eastern Ontario. A proud Franco-Ontarian, he brought together interests that made our relationship special: a love of trees, a love for the Jewish people, Francophilia (a love of things French) and a love of having fun. It made both of us want to see each other as much as time would allow. He was amazingly bilingual and a real authority on parliamentary history and procedures. He was also, as even he himself would admit, a “character” in the best sense of the word.
His love of trees stemmed from his youth in Eastern Ontario, where, by his reckoning, he planted 52,000 trees on various properties.
His love of the Jewish people came from his friendship with Carl Rosen (no relation to me), whom he greatly respected. With his quick mind and propensity for learning, Royal acquired many Yiddish expressions and awareness of Jewish holidays and other aspects of Jewish culture. He used the number 18 (the spiritual number in Judaism) frequently, on his license plate and in his chosen phone numbers, for example.
Upon meeting my parents during Tree Canada’s 15th anniversary in 2007, he looked them in the eye and said, “Mr. and Mrs. Rosen … your son … is a mensch!” They were flabbergasted. Later that day, he took them on the “Royal Galipeau Tour” of the parliament buildings, yelling: “Zaida! Bubby! … Come!”
In 2010, he was presented with a rare opportunity to move forward on a private member’s motion on any topic of his choosing. A lesser, more petty person might have used the opportunity to needle his political opponents or to advance a pet local cause. But Royal told me right away that he wanted to use the opportunity to do something for trees in Canada.
Together we thought up the idea of declaring a National Tree Day. After much work, on March 2, 2011, the House of Commons passed a motion to declare the Wednesday of National Forest Week as National Tree Day. (It will be on Wednesday, September 26, this year.)
The proclamation stated proudly that this was so that “all Canadians can celebrate and share their passion for our nation’s forests and trees.” There were only three dissenting votes on the motion, and all of those who voted against it ended up either being defeated in the next election or retiring from politics. Royal would humorously allude to this in subsequent speeches: “The lesson in this my friends,” he would begin, “is to never vote against the trees!”
Royal died on January 27. He was 71. He truly was, as he often said, “a friend of the trees.” He was also a friend of mine. My sympathies go to his wife Anne and family.
I last saw Royal on January 5, his 71st birthday, at the Ottawa hospital where he was being treated for cancer. It was far from a joyous occasion, but I do remember him grabbing my arm and saying: “Michael, it’s 2018 – you know … 2018” – Royal’s way of emphasizing “18” and life.
Well, it’s 2018 all right, Royal, but sadly, we will all have to spend the rest of it without your wonderful sense of humour and joy for life.
I only hope that we at Tree Canada will succeed in making National Tree Day the day Royal envisioned for Canada and that we can establish something special to support his legacy. In a last, almost unbelievable concurrence, Royal’s funeral in Ottawa was held at sundown on January 30, 2018, coinciding with the beginning of Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish Festival of the Trees.