29 March 2007
Members of the head table, distinguished guests, honorary patrons, ladies and gentlemen, in sports, as in politics, there's no such thing as perfection. But sometimes, rarely more than once in a generation, an individual comes along who, by virtue of his natural talent and his personal qualities, embodies the very best in his profession and the ideal of his fellow citizens.
And so that individual carries the pride of a whole people on his shoulders. And that's what Jean Béliveau has done throughout his career as a hockey player, and afterwards as well, with exemplary dignity, humility and serenity. And for a hockey fan like me, it's a real privilege to be here tonight.
It is indeed a privilege for me to be seated tonight with one of the hockey legends of my youth, and to pay tribute to this great captain of the most successful franchise in hockey and in sports history.
You just need to listen to some of the greatest players of succeeding generations talk about how "le Gros Bil" inspired them to understand how much he has contributed to hockey, or to look at the Stanley Cup, where Jean Béliveau's name appears 17 times, including 5 as captain.
As we all know, Jean Béliveau was one of the classiest hockey players to ever lace up a pair of skates in one of the roughest, toughest and sometimes meanest sports. He was always the perfect gentleman, playing with poise, power and finesse.
Le Gros Bil's achievements on the ice are well known, and his philanthropy and volunteer work are just as remarkable. If statistics were kept of players who personally answer their fan mail, Jean Béliveau would be number one.
If trophies were awarded for life-long dedication to disadvantaged children, Jean Béliveau would have won them all. If the record book had a chapter on devotion, honesty and patriotism, Jean Béliveau would have written it.
But those who have had the privilege to know him well will undoubtedly tell you that the role he is proudest of is that of husband, father and grandfather. Ladies and gentlemen, I've been in politics for a long time now, and Canadian politics has produced many extraordinary personalities and events, but I know of only one person who turned down the opportunity to be a senator and the Governor General to stay closer to his family. That's the person we're honouring this evening.
Mr. Béliveau, for over half a century you have been one of the most respected ambassadors of Canada's great game, but you have also been by example an ambassador of the ideals Canadians see in themselves and the qualities we wish to instil in our children.
And you don't need honours or titles to embody what Canada represents throughout the world. Congratulations, good evening, and thank you very much.