MONTREAL – Late Senate Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin was remembered at his funeral on Thursday as a tolerant and brave man who was one of the most admired politicians in the country.
“On behalf of the government of Canada, I’m paying tribute to one of the most distinguished, devoted and courageous parliamentarians of our generation,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper told several hundred mourners at Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica.
“Those who had the privilege of his friendship, those who called him P.C. will remember someone who was attentive and sympathetic to the problems of others, tolerant of all points of view and invariably serene. These qualities are far from being universal. They are even rarer in the highly charged world of politics.”
Nolin, who was appointed Speaker last November, died April 23 after a five-year battle with a rare form of cancer.
Harper said one name kept coming up during the search for a “rare pearl” — someone who could lead the Senate through a particularly difficult period — Nolin’s.
“Our political family has lost one of its most liked and admired members,” Harper told the service. “He served as a mentor to more than a generation of Conservative politicians and supporters in Quebec.
“Claude has left us too soon but his memory and example will live on forever in the hearts of Canadians, especially here, in the Quebec that he so loved and served so well.”
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who appointed Nolin to the Senate in 1993, also praised him at the service as a man who left extraordinary memories.
Others at the funeral included Gov. Gen. David Johnston, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and ex-premier Lucien Bouchard.
Nolin was the unanimous choice as Speaker, with Conservative, Liberal and Independent senators viewing him as a smart, respected, independent-minded man who could steer the upper house through the final dramatic chapters of the expenses scandal that has rocked the Senate to its foundations.
When he took over the Speaker’s chair, Nolin signalled his intention conduct himself in a non-partisan manner and to devote himself to defending and restoring the reputation of the tarnished upper house.
As Speaker, Nolin was also chair of the Senate’s internal economy committee, which establishes the rules for how senators can spend taxpayers’ dollars and claim reimbursement for expenses.
Although he was a loyal Conservative, who cut his teeth as an organizer for Mulroney in Quebec, Nolin had an independent streak. He voted against his party on a number of occasions and spoke out against Harper’s doomed initiative to turn the appointed upper house into an elected chamber.
Nolin also bucked the Tory tide in 2002 when he chaired a special Senate committee that recommended legalizing marijuana.