Retired politician and diplomat, Alvin Curling, was conferred with an honorary doctorate by York University at its fall convocation last weekend.
The 69-year-old Jamaican-born Curling humbly accepted the honour and used his convocation address to impart words of wisdom to this year’s Faculty Graduate Studies, Arts and Liberal & Professional Studies graduates.
Curling, the longest serving Black parliamentarian in Canadian history having served 20 years as an MPP, reminded the graduating class that they will be called upon to make intelligent and critical decisions as they progress in life.
To illustrate the point, he told them a story of a young groom who said that his wife would make the little decisions as to where the couple would live, how they would spend their finances, who they would associate with and where they would vacation while he would make the big decisions whether or not Canada should pull out of Afghanistan, whether it should collaborate in the space program and whether it should bail out the automakers.
“Well, it’s now time for you pioneers and explorers of the 21st century to move out of the so-called ‘big decisions’ and into the real and inescapable ‘small ones’,” he said. “Every single one you make will take you down the road less travelled because it’s a road less travelled by you who are confronting career, marital, ideological, moral, social and many other decisions, and they will all militate to determine the person you have become by the time you become old and grey and ready to receive your honours.”
Curling held the post of president of World Literacy Canada and Director of Student Services at Seneca College for 14 years before entering politics in 1984 and losing the nomination for York-Scarborough in the federal elections by just five votes to former Toronto Mayor June Rowlands, the personal choice of then Liberal leader John Turner. She lost the election.
A year later, he secured a landslide win in what was then Canada’s largest riding when he defeated Conservative candidate Carole Noble by nearly 8,000 votes in the provincial elections. The victory was very significant in that it ended a 22-year reign of Tory representation in the riding.
As a member of the provincial government between 1985 and 1990, Curling served as Minister of Housing and Minister of Skills Development with special responsibility for literacy. He also served as the Parliamentary Assistant to Premier David Peterson and Minster of Intergovernmental Affairs.
In opposition, he was a strong advocate for his Scarborough-Rouge River constituents and an active voice in the Liberal caucus.
The former House Speaker resigned from the Legislative Assembly four years ago to accept a diplomatic posting as Canada’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic. He was recalled a year later.
Curling made national headlines in 1995 when he defiantly engaged in an 18-hour filibuster-like protest against the Mike Harris government’s Omnibus Bill 26, claiming a lack of public consultation.
York University chancellor Roy McMurtry conferred the doctorate on Curling. They were co-chairs of “The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence” commissioned by the Ontario government that has made policy recommendations based on academic research for dealing with the problem of youth violence in Ontario.
“Alvin is a longtime and good friend who has been such an active leader in Ontario and, indeed, internationally,” said McMurtry, a former Ontario Chief Justice, Attorney General and Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
This is Curling’s second honorary doctorate, having been recognized by his alma mater – the University of Technology in Jamaica – in November 2004.
Curling’s daughters, Deone and Nicole, graduated from York University in 1992 and 1994 respectively.