© Canadian Press file photo
Deputy prime minister Herb Gray rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa Friday March 23, 2001.
Herb Gray represented his constituents for almost 40 years
A week after the state funeral for Jim Flaherty, the flags on Parliament Hill are once again at half-mast in mourning for a man who dedicated himself to public service.
The Right Honourable Herb Gray was one of Canada’s longest-serving parliamentarians and a former deputy prime minister. Mr. Gray represented his Windsor, Ont., riding in the House of Commons for just shy of 40 years, beginning on the Opposition benches.
Mr. Gray was first elected as a Liberal Member of Parliament representing Windsor West more than 50 years ago and never lost his seat in 13 successive elections. He was Ottawa’s first Jewish cabinet minister and would hold various cabinet postings during his career. He took over as deputy prime minister in 1997 — just in time to help then prime minister Jean Chrétien stick handle through claims of ethics breaches surrounding the “Shawinigate” and sponsorship scandals.
Sometimes known as The Gray Fog, the veteran politician was a master of not giving a clear answer to a clear question. He was an old school politician, said to be very down-to-earth, hard working and kind. He certainly didn’t win all of those elections by dazzling his constituents with glamour and charisma. Mr. Gray was all substance.
How he would fare in today’s political reality of tweets, YouTube and political campaigns polished by teams of strategists, is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he would have done well, perhaps what he gave voters was timeless.
Mr. Chrétien told The Canadian Press Tuesday, “He had a great political career and should be an example for people who always criticize politicians. There are very good people serving Canada in that profession and the best example is Herb Gray.”
Indeed, politicians of all stripes have been quick to voice their respect and admiration for the man who served so many years in public office. Some have even called for a state funeral, even though Mr. Gray left Ottawa in 2002. State funerals are usually reserved for prime ministers and governors general and cabinet ministers who die in office.
Exceptions are granted, and were, for Mr. Flaherty last week and Jack Layton in 2011. In both those cases, while they had resigned before their deaths, Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Layton still represented their ridings.
Ottawa is offering to support Mr. Gray’s family in making fitting arrangements, but there will be no state funeral.
Liberals who rail that this is an injustice towards the memory of the man forget that their own treatment of Gray was seen to be less than fair when Chrétien unceremoniously shuffled him out of cabinet. At the time, Gray told his hometown paper, the Windsor Star, “I don’t harbour hard feelings toward anyone I dealt with in my political career.”
That is the way to go out.
Environment put on hold
Politics seems to be the impetus for a decision made by Charlottetown City Council to give residents a pass on mandatory water meters for the time being.
Water and sewer utility chairman Eddie Rice told The Guardian, “I’ll be perfectly honest, because it’s an election year we’re not doing mandatory (metering).” Mr. Rice’s candour is refreshing but calls into question the city’s priorities when it comes to the environment.
This is the city that has been criticized by Environment Canada for stalling work on sewer separation. That project is finally getting going agan this year.
The water meter program is mandatory in the sense that everyone must be hooked up by 2019. The only elective part is whether the homeowner wants to volunteer for the meter now, or wait and see if Mr. Rice and his fellow councillors get another term.