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GREAT VALENTINE GALA-CANADIAN FOUNDATION FOR PHYSICALLY DISABLED PERSONS

Honourable senators, it was love at first sight. The rooms were filled with bedazzling jewels, fine wine, chocolate kisses and beautiful music. Everyone was in the mood for love. There was no hope for a hopeless romantic like me but to be swept away by the magical experience of the twenty-seventh annual Great Valentine Gala that took place on February 12, 2011, at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, Ontario.

It was my first gala night to remember. However, honourable senators who have long been patrons of the Great Valentine Galas of the past understand the vision and passion of the chairman of the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons, the heart of the foundation, our dear colleague, Senator Vim Kochhar, Cupid himself.

When Cupid's arrow hits its mark, your heart melts and you find true love: love of humanity and love of breaking down all barriers for people with physical disabilities to pursue every dream.

Honourable senators, we have all participated in a number of events. Like me, I am sure that many of you have organized a special event or two. That is why I expected the unexpected instead of building myself up with the expectation of an experience that would be forever ingrained in my heart.

Honourable senators, as I arrived at the event, I was greeted by beautiful smells and the welcoming words of two hosts who directed me to the reception table. The cocktail reception room was romantically lit with candles, but what woke me up from my slumber was the genuine energy and conversation of the people who filled the room.

I met a lovely couple who were employees of Scotiabank Group, a platinum patron of the foundation, who shared with me their passion for their advocacy work with the autism community. I met patrons who were attending their fifteenth, twentieth or twenty-sixth gala.

We were soon invited to enter the banquet hall. This room housed the large decorated stage, and on it, in dazzling neon lights, were the words "27 years." Bright lights and balloon pillars framed the stage. The gala's dynamic host, Suhana Meharchand, kept the evening flowing, to a gala tradition called tambola. This fireworks display of popping balloons revealed hundreds of great prizes. Gord Paynter, a blind comedian, whose humour was entertaining and insightful, entertained us. We listened to the brilliant tenor, Tim McCallum, who has the voice of an angel and who dreams of being the first person in a wheelchair to star in Phantom of the Opera. We watched the talented medallists of the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games receive their King Clancy Awards. Honourable senators, for the grand finale, we heard an extraordinary performance by Chantal Kreviazuk.

The twenty-seventh annual Great Valentine Gala was one of the most memorable and inspiring events I have ever had the pleasure of attending in my life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Senator Kochhar, you have dedicated over 30 years of your life to raising millions of dollars and to promoting awareness of physical disabilities and of the power of our collective resolve to improve the lives of all Canadians with physical disabilities.

Senator Kochhar, I offer my congratulations to you and the incredible gala team: George Przybylowski, Sabi Marwah, Yezdi Pavri, Dorothy Price the board of directors, patrons, sponsors and the tireless volunteers.

I am already making plans to be swept away by love at next year's Great Valentine Gala.

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