It is an honour for me to rise today as the NDP critic for women’s issues to pay tribute to the member for York–Simcoe. As the longest-serving woman MPP ever elected in this province, she has represented her constituents well for more than 22 years, successfully contesting six elections between 1995 and 2014, and achieving a remarkable milestone for women in Ontario.
Speaker, let’s reflect on what the Ontario Legislature looked like in 1995, the year Julia was first elected as MPP. Of the 130 MPPs who would be taking their seats at Queen’s Park that year, just 19 were women, who made up 14.6% of the provincial Legislature. Of the 82 Progressive Conservatives who were elected to the PC caucus, only 11 were women, making up just 13.4% of all PC members of the Legislature.
As the Globe and Mail reported shortly after the 1995 PC victory: “Welcome to the new 82-member Conservative caucus at Queen’s Park, which met for the first time this week. It’s almost completely white, mainly male, with the overwhelming majority of its members coming from small business backgrounds.”
I suspect the member for York–Simcoe was unfazed to find herself among her new colleagues. After all, both of her 1995 campaign opponents were men, and one was an incumbent, so she could certainly hold her own in the male-dominated world of politics.
With her husband, John, she managed both the family farm as well as a dog breeding business, making her as knowledgeable as any of her male colleagues about the challenges of running a small business. As a secondary school educator for 28 years prior to her election, one can imagine that her discipline and classroom management skills were certainly an asset.
A rookie MPP, Munro was appointed as parliamentary assistant to the Premier to promote volunteerism, prompting the Ottawa Citizen to comment: “Munro is a rare creature in Premier Mike Harris’s government. She’s actually been asked to come up with ideas rather than simply end, repeal or reduce things.”
Julia Munro was born in Hamilton in 1942 and was raised in Toronto. After graduating with a BA in history from the University of Toronto, she began her career as a teacher in 1971. After 24 years teaching history in Markham, she became a secondary school department head for the York Region Board of Education.
Like many women who become involved in political life, Julia saw a problem and wanted to fix it. A Toronto Star article covering the 1995 race states: “Munro says she used to sit around the kitchen table complaining about the state of politics and finally decided she had to get involved.”
She became active in her local PC riding association, serving as riding president from 1992 to 1994, and she put her name on the ballot in 1995 for the riding then known as Durham–York. In 1999, she was re-elected in York North, a seat she held in 2003 despite the defeat of the government. She was re-elected in 2007, 2011 and, most recently, in 2014.
I asked my NDP colleagues for juicy stories about Julia that I could share in my tribute. The thing is, there are none. She is always prepared and always professional. Her style is calm and reassuring, practical and unruffled. During legislative debates, her remarks are well structured and well researched. In committee, she is known for her ability to ask pointed questions that cut right to the core of an issue. Instead of juicy stories, what my colleagues did tell me about was Julia’s warm smile, her droll sense of humour and her dry wit, and the twinkle in her eye when one would least expect it.
The member for Kitchener–Waterloo told me about the advice she received from Julia after the 2014 election. Noticing my NDP colleague despondent and alone in the dining room, Julia asked what was wrong. She listened carefully, reflected on what had been shared, nodded and said, “Catherine, the best thing you can do is sleep.” This quiet bit of wisdom exemplifies Julia’s pragmatic approach and helped change my colleague’s perspective on life at Queen’s Park. Julia still checks in every once in a while to see how the member for Kitchener–Waterloo is doing and whether she is following the advice that was imparted.
Throughout her political career, Julia has been deeply committed to encouraging citizen participation in political life. Interviewed during her 2011 election campaign, she emphasized that an engaged citizenry is the key to our system and warned against the erosion of democracy that is caused by cynicism or apathy. Speaker, of all her accomplishments, this is perhaps Julia Munro’s most important legacy. For that, all Ontarians, and Ontario women in particular, are richer.