Canadian leaders past and present remember former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon

MONTREAL – Canadian leaders past and present are remembering former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, a powerful figure known for his battlefield exploits and efforts to reshape the Middle East.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Sharon “a renowned military leader” who “pursued the security of Israel with unyielding determination that was recognized by friends and foes alike.”

Harper said in a statement Saturday that Sharon played a central role in the Israeli government for several years, changing the political landscape through his leadership and vision.

Sharon was “one of the architects of modern day Israel and one of the nation’s staunchest defenders,” he said.

Sharon died Saturday at age 85, eight years after suffering a stroke that left him in a coma.

In the years before his stroke, Sharon gradually abandoned his hard-line policies toward the Palestinians. He withdrew Israel’s settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005.

Paul Martin was Canada’s prime minister at the time.

Martin recalled having a discussion with Sharon at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and said Sharon “was certainly not what I had expected given his previous military history.”

“We all know of his record as a soldier, and he was a tough soldier,” Martin said in an interview Saturday.

“As prime minister, he took what I believe to be a much more open view and it was clear that his priority was how could he achieve not simply temporary peace, but lasting peace.”

Former prime minister Jean Chretien said he only met Sharon once, but remembered him as a man of “strong convictions.”

Like Martin, Chretien said Sharon appeared committed to achieving peace before his stroke.

“Sometimes when you face reality… you have to change your views, and he did,” Chretien said in an interview.

“It’s a sign of humility and common sense.”

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar issued a statement of condolence on behalf of the New Democrats.

“We join those marking the passage of Mr. Sharon, a significant figure in world history and an influential leader who dedicated his life to serving his country,” Dewar said.