Pierre Claude Nolin, Speaker of the Senate, dead at 64

Pierre Claude Nolin, the veteran Quebec Tory who was appointed to the Senate in 1993 and named Speaker late last year, has died.

Family issued statement to senators, media Thursday warning of his deteriorating health

Senate Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin, who was appointed to the upper chamber in 1993, has died following a five-year battle with cancer. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

After news of his death broke on Friday, Pierre Claude Nolin, the veteran Quebec Tory who was named Senate Speaker late last year, is being remembered as a leader who saw beyond partisan lines.

Nolin, 64, had spoken publicly about receiving medical treatments for a rare form of cancer, following a diagnosis five years ago.

He served the state, and he did so with dignity and honour at all times.- Brian Mulroney, former PM

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who appointed Nolin to the Senate in 1993, told Radio-Canada that Nolin was a man with "great personal integrity" who was not shy to speak his mind, but always did so in a respectful fashion.

"He served the state, and he did so with dignity and honour at all times," Mulroney said. "He did what he thought was in the best interest of Canada."

Former senator Hugh Segal said Nolin did not always toe the party line when he championed certain issues, such as the view that Supreme Court judges should be bilingual. Nolin also supported prison reform, the legalization of marijuana, more humanitarian immigration policies — all while working to reform the Senate, Segal said.

"He was a guy of immense intelligence and a very strong independent streak," he said. "He was a very popular choice for Speaker. All sides thought he would be completely fair, utterly even-handed and at no point be seen as … somebody who was acting as a shill for the government of the day."

Members rose in the House of Commons Friday for a moment of silence in honour of Nolin.

Late Friday, Nolin's funeral arrangements were announced:

  • He will lie in repose in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill on Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Members of the public are invited to pay their respects as of noon Tuesday.
  • A book of condolence will be available in the Senate Foyer from Tuesday through Thursday.
  • Nolin's funeral will be held on Thursday in Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica at 2:00 p.m.

'An inspiration, a mentor'

Senator Claude Carignan said that Nolin was "an inspiration, a mentor," in a statement issued Friday morning.
Senator Pierre Claude Nolin answers questions after releasing a preliminary report on marijuana use and other illegal drugs on May 2, 2002, in Ottawa. (Canadian Press)

"While Pierre Claude was a member of our Conservative family, he was respected on both sides of the aisle because of his fierce independence. He will be remembered by each and every one of his Senate colleagues for his integrity, knowledge, wisdom and determination," he said.

Jim Cowan, the Liberal leader in the Senate, praised Nolin's leadership in the upper chamber.

"He was a great parliamentarian who had a deep understanding of, and respect for, our Canadian parliamentary democracy," Cowan said in a statement. "His appointment as Speaker was universally applauded and during his too-short term of office he had taken positive steps towards improving the operations of our institution."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement that the Conservative caucus "benefited greatly from his advice and support" over the years.

"Thanks to his courage and patriotism, this affable and cultured man was able to exercise his talents as a unifying and enlightened guide to his colleagues up to the end lot of his life, in spite of a cruel illness," he said.

Pierre Claude Nolin served with distinction in the Senate, defending the interests of Quebeckers and the Canadian Armed Forces, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday. 1:02

The Queen also issued a statement.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Nolin family as well as all Canadian parliamentarians who benefited from his ever-wise counsel," she said. 

Appointed by Mulroney at 42

Nolin was involved in politics as a teenager, driving for the Quebec's Union Nationale party at 16.

He was a key organizer during Mulroney's election campaigns in 1984 and 1988. At 42, Nolin became the youngest senator in the upper chamber. 

"He contributed enormously to my success during my leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party," Mulroney said.

Nolin was the chair of a Senate committee that issued a major report recommending that Canada legalize marijuana in 2002.

"Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue," he said at the time.

Last year, after party leader Justin Trudeau declared all Liberal senators were independent from caucus, Nolin, in a Senate speech, warned his colleagues against stubborn partisanship.

"It's easier for a senator to do his job if he makes decisions less based on partisanship," Nolin said in February 2014. "Free choice for everyone is often a better guide."

He believed the Senate should reform itself, Segal said.

"He was very strong on the Senate coming down hard on the three who were suspended," Segal said.

The leader of the government in the House of Commons honoured the Senate Speaker, who died today. 1:42

Nolin had become noticeably frail in recent months. According to Senate Hansard, he presided up until the sitting day of March 12.

On Thursday, the Parliamentary Press Gallery was sent a notice that Nolin's "general state of health ... has seriously deteriorated over the past 24 hours." 

The statement said: "His family is with him, and wishes to watch over him in privacy."


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