In 1992, during a time of turmoil over official bilingualism in the West, a calm-spoken pediatrician from Montreal flew to Edmonton to address the Rotary Club. Only three weeks earlier, Alberta premier Don Getty had used the same podium to attack Canada's "forced" language policy.
Victor Goldbloom entered the lion's den in downtown Edmonton and began his speech. As Canada's official languages commissioner, he had his work cut out. So he spoke about bilingualism as the glue of Canada. He gave a lesson about the nation's French fact. He reached back into history and the 1066 Battle of Hastings.
At the end of the talk, the once-hostile Western crowd had a single response. It rose in unison and gave Dr. Goldbloom a standing ovation.
Dr. Goldbloom, who died in Montreal on Monday at age 92, was doing what he did best. Throughout a lifetime committed to public service, he worked tirelessly to bring opposing sides together, finding common ground among those with differing visions. A former provincial MNA and Quebec's first environment minister, he remained active until his final days in the service of diversity and bridge-building.
Dr. Goldbloom was gracious and articulate in both official languages, and his training as a pediatrician seemed to be an asset in his public career.
"The skills he brought to public life were the skills he must have developed as a pediatrician – patience, calm, the ability to listen carefully and to respect the concerns of others, whether it's a screaming baby or a worried mother," Graham Fraser, Canada's current Official Languages Commissioner, said in an interview. "He was always a voice of moderation, lowering the temperature."
Dr. Goldbloom, the son of a pioneering Quebec pediatrician, was first elected to Quebec's National Assembly in 1966, and re-elected three times. Liberal premier Robert Bourassa named him environment minister in 1970, making him the first member of Quebec's Jewish community to enter cabinet. Later, as municipal affairs minister, he played a crucial role in getting the 1976 Montreal Olympics ready on time after Quebec took control of the Games away from city hall. In the process, he faced down a formidable foe in mayor Jean Drapeau.
After leaving politics, Dr. Goldbloom dedicated himself to interfaith relations, and his work in building dialogue between Christians and Jews earned him the medal of the Knight of the Order of St. Sylvester from Pope Benedict XVI. He was the first non-Christian in the history of the Montreal Archdiocese to earn the papal honour.
Dr. Goldbloom was official languages commissioner from 1991 to 1999.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre saluted Dr. Goldbloom on Tuesday as a unifying force and master of compromise. "He devoted the greater part of his life to reconciling the Jewish and Christian communities, as well as francophones and anglophones, and to advocating tolerance and respect. He will remain an exemplary model for anyone who wants to go into politics," Mr. Coderre said.
Dr. Goldbloom, a tenor who liked to sing opera in his spare time, became a kind of elder statesman of community engagement, and he never slowed down. In recent years, he spoke out against the proposed Quebec charter of values, was active in public-health administration, and was preparing to address Quebec parliamentary hearings on reorganized Quebec school boards. Last year, he published his memoirs, Building Bridges (translating them himself into a French version). As recently as Friday night at a private gathering, he talked about enlarging interfaith dialogue to include other religious groups.
"My watchword has been une politique de présence – being present wherever and whenever possible," he wrote in the final lines of the book. "It has been quite an odyssey."
Dr. Goldbloom leaves his wife of 67 years, Sheila Goldbloom; children Susan Restler, Michael Goldbloom and Jonathan Goldbloom; four grandchildren; two great grandchildren; and his brother Richard Goldbloom.