Politics

Stephen Harper, Brian Mulroney offer tributes at funeral for Pierre Claude Nolin

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.

Tory appointed to Senate by Mulroney in 1993, made Speaker last November

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former prime minister Brian Mulroney and Senator George Furey were among speakers at the funeral for Senate Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin in Montreal Thursday. 5:37

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.

The casket of the late Speaker of the Senate Pierre Claude Nolin leaves Notre Dame Basilica after funeral services, Thursday, April 30, 2015 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"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."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks a tthe funeral service for Senate Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin at Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

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.

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney speaks during the funeral service for Senate Speaker Pierre Claude Nolin Thursday. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

When he took over the Speaker's chair, Nolin signalled his intention to 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.

Camille Desjardins-Nolin, right, and family members look on as the casket of her husband Pierre Claude Nolin, the late speaker of the Senate, is taken from the church following his funeral. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Thoughts on Nolin

Here are some quotes from various people before the service in Montreal Thrusday for Pierre Claude Nolin:

"A great Quebecer and a great Canadian who was active on the federal scene but showed a lot of courage (and) dedication to his roots in Quebec. But courage also (by) not being afraid of taking positions that (went against) his party, particularly on marijuana." - Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard

"He had a big personality and although we only worked together as Speakers for a short period of time due to his illness, I could tell right away he had a real passion for Parliament. He loved the institution ... and he really brought a great perspective to our dealings with each other." - Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer

"He is of the generation that stood for Canada. He was representing the Tory party and I was representing the Liberal Party of Canada, so we got the experience of working together for broader objectives than our partisan interests. He was a man who realized that in Canada, if you want achieve greater objectives, you have to go beyond the party line that divides and, I would say, paralyzes people." - Senator Serge Joyal

"He was an open-minded man, absolutely no meanness in him. He was fighting the good fight, but in the right way, always on the high road." - Ex-Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard

"I think he was a real gentleman. I knew him since we were in college in the 1960s and we played football together and we stayed friends all those years, even if we had very different ideas about the future of Quebec." - Former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.