Sharon Sholzberg-Gray was among the new appointments to the Order of Canada announced by Governor General Julie Payette.
Sholzberg-Gray received the honour “for her leadership in healthcare, notably for her advocacy for access to publicly funded and accessible health care services for all Canadians,” according to the Governor General’s citation.
Although her membership in the Order of Canada took effect immediately, the induction ceremony will take place at Rideau Hall sometime in the coming months.
Sholzberg-Gray – whose late husband was Herb Gray, a long-serving member of Parliament and cabinet minister who held many portfolios, including deputy prime minister, and was Canada’s first Jewish federal cabinet minister – has worked on access to healthcare for many years.
A lawyer, she earned her graduate diploma in administrative and constitutional law at the University of Ottawa and bachelor’s degrees in civil law and science at McGill University.
“Basically, I was a lawyer by profession, but by occupation I became a CEO and manager in the not-for-profit sector,” she said.
Sholzberg-Gray became executive director of the MATCH International Centre, an NGO focused on the role of women in the developing world, in 1983, and then joined the Canadian Long-Term Care Association as executive director in 1989.
In the early 1990s, when prime minister Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government began cutting healthcare transfer payments to the provinces, Sholzberg-Gray was spurred into action.
“Without a federal cash contribution to Medicare, there would be no Canada Health Act, and no health system which gave equal services across the country,” Sholzberg-Gray said.
She explained the cuts resulted in the creation of the Health Action Lobby (HEAL), a coalition of 30 national health and consumer organizations dedicated to preserving and strengthening Canada’s healthcare system. Sholzberg-Gray became the co-chair of HEAL in 1996 and helped make the case for preserving and strengthening Canada’s healthcare system.
“We had press conferences and interviews. We kept lobbying and advocating and having meeting for years, until the 2004 federal-provincial health accord when the government finally, in my mind, restored most of the cuts that had been made and committed for the future of escalating growth,” she said.
Sholzberg-Gray was president and CEO of the Canadian Healthcare Association from 1998 to 2007. She describes her role as being mainly, “advocacy to persevere and protect healthcare and the role of the federal government to make sure there were enough cash contributions to the provinces to do the things that had to be done for the future of healthcare.”
Sholzberg-Gray said she was “shocked and surprised” to learn she was named a member of the Order of Canada.
“My husband had been made a companion of the Order after he left politics, so I knew what a great honour it was because he was blown away when he was named to the Order of Canada,” she said.
When Sholzberg-Gray saw the Governor General’s phone number come up on her caller-ID, she assumed she was about to be invited to a reception.
“Then the person on the phone said they were calling to inform me that the committee had just appointed me to the Order of Canada, and they asked whether I would accept this award.
“It just never occurred to me that I would have gotten that call,” she said.
Sholzberg-Gray is currently a member of several committees, including the National Capital and Area Federal Liberal Policy Group, which she co-chairs. She also continues to advocate, speak and write in support of maintaining and expanding a strong publicly funded healthcare system in Canada.
In response to her being named to the Order of Canada, Sholzberg-Gray said people in the health and legal communities, the political world, and the Jewish community have said “the nicest things” and acted “in the most unbelievable ways.”
While Sholzberg-Gray said she loved and is proud of all the work she and her team accomplished, she takes the most pride in her “two wonderful children and 10 grandchildren.”