Almost one year ago, community leaders, elected officials and citizens from all walks of life came together in freezing weather to protest rising municipal taxes. “Stronger together” was the motto on signs that day. And that display of solidarity gave everyone a feeling that they could take control over our lives. That we could be masters of our fate.
In public affairs, there is nothing more important than community solidarity. It does make us stronger when we are together. But not everything in life is controllable. Every now and then we are reminded that destiny has other plans.
That destiny involves life and death and survival, with nature playing its ever-present hand. We are reminded of this every winter as so many struggle. Not just the homeless, but the poor — particularly seniors — some forty per cent of whom live below the poverty line and must choose so often between heating and eating.
Facing nature, we are truly stronger together when we come together. But even then we are not assured of the outcome. And that point was driven home with tragedy this week as we learned of the death of Gilles Duceppe’s mother Helene Howley Rotte. Even when the best arrangements are made, fate intervenes in our brutal climate. Rotte, 93, was a resident of a luxury seniors home. A fire alarm went off. She dressed in a warm coat and exited the building. But when the alarm stopped, the doors automatically locked. Hotte could not get back in even though four attendants were supposed to be on duty. She was found seven hours later dead from hypothermia. Our hearts go out to the Duceppe family.
This incident reminded us again that coming together must also mean caring together. Quebec Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne said, “this incident just reminds everyone to take care of loved ones and there may be elderly people in their community, having extreme weather now in much of the country, it reminds to all of us as Canadians, to watch for one another.”
“Watch out for one another.” There could be no better motto for us as Montrealers. We have built a great city in a most inhospitable climate. But we must guard against the natural human inclination of arrogance that the “system” will take care of everything. It won’t. We have to take care of each other.
Let us never forget, that Hydro-Quebec was finally completed in the early 1960s because in one terrible winter in those years, some thirteen Montrealers died in their beds because they could not afford heat. Over the past fifteen years some 125 have died from exposure to the elements in winter. We must always remain our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Because it is the right thing and because we will need each others help at some point in our lives. That is a fate none of us can escape.
Having just commemorated Martin Luther King Day, we are reminded of his phrase “the fierce urgency of now.” And we will always have need of a fierce urgency for robust compassion. Too often, our greatest weakness is that we think “someone will take care of it.” We need to realize that each and every one of us is that “someone.” And if we refrain, we cannot complain.
We will close with the words of President Kennedy from his speech at American University in Washington, DC in 1963. “In the final analysis, we all breathe the same air, we cherish our futures, we share common hopes and we are all mortal.”