Mauril Bélanger, CDN

By Andrew Cohen

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Photo of Mauril with fellow Liberal candidates at Labour Day march, 2015. L to R: Catherine McKenna, Mauril, Anita Vandenbeld, Chandra Arya, Karen McCrimmon and Andrew Leslie.

Mauril Bélanger has been an early supporter of the Pearson Centre and has spoken at various events since the Centre was founded in early 2013. His contribution to Canada in many ways is impressive and well known. in the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Flag in 2015, he single handedly did much to remind Canadians about the history of the flag and the great work of one of his political idols, Lester B. Pearson. We will always think of him when we sing the national anthem.
The following is one beautiful articulation of Mauril’s contribution to Canada and to politics, written by Pearson Centre board member, Andrew Cohen:
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Mauril Bélanger, the most decent man in politics

by Andrew Cohen

Published in the Ottawa Citizen on: August 17, 2016 | Last Updated: August 17, 2016 5:26 PM EDT

Mauril Belanger winner of the riding, Ottawa_Vanier. Photo by Patrick Doyle, Ottawa Citizen.

Mauril Belanger winner of the riding, Ottawa_Vanier. Photo by Patrick Doyle, Ottawa Citizen. Patrick Doyle / Ottawa

In 1972, Pierre Elliott Trudeau visited North Bay, Ont. There he addressed a school assembly. Afterward, students were selected to pose questions to the prime minister.

One was Mauril A. Bélanger of Mattawa, Ont. He was 17 years old. Trudeau was impressed. “You’re going into politics,” he told the young man.

And so he did. President of the Student Federation at the University of Ottawa. Assistant to the minster of transport. Chief of Staff to the Chair of Regional Council of Ottawa-Carleton.

Member of Parliament for Ottawa-Vanier for 21 years. Chair of the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Opposition critic. Parliamentary secretary. Minister of the Crown.

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This was a political animal. This was a man wrapped in the rough vestments of politics, it seemed, from birth – blooded in its rhythms, bruised by its harshness, and barred, in the end, from the job he wanted most.

And yet as much as Mauril was a political being, he wasn’t. Not really. For all his time in politics, he was unchanged by it. He was without artifice, guile, pomposity or pretense. He was the rarest of birds today: a politician without ego.

May I say this? In 38 years observing the game, I never met a politician like Mauril Bélanger. In our age of self-promotion, he was an emblem of modesty. He knew restraint and respect. He practiced both.

Politics changes people. They develop a swagger. They talk only about themselves. Some lose their sense of humility; some their sense of humour.

Not Mauril. For example, it was never “my riding” to him; it was “the riding I represent.” The possessive was a conceit he could not abide.

I came to know and love Mauril over the last 15 years, until his catastrophic end on Tuesday to a wasting, unsentimental disease. Never – never – did I see anyone other than the unassuming Mauril as he worked quietly for his causes – Africa, national unity, co-operatives, minority rights, young people. Or enjoyed his pleasures – wine, custom-crafted cufflinks, his wood-fired pizza oven.

Ultimately, he was the most decent man in politics.

But he was no Pollyanna. You don’t win eight elections if you’re made of sugar candy. He could brawl and he could be stubborn.

Disappointments, yes. He wanted to be in cabinet longer than he was. He was sometimes restless with his portfolios as critic; great as his commitment was to official bilingualism, he did not want to be its mascot.

Shut out of cabinet, he set his eyes on Speaker of the House. When we discussed that prospect the night of the election last October, his face lit up as only it could – like a roman candle. That he was denied this prize at the very moment he could taste it was a cruelty worthy of Shakespeare.

His last campaign was a struggle. At all-candidates meetings he gamely pushed out the words. As he soldiered on, his body in revolt, we noted that the Conservative candidate – a pipsqueak named David Piccini – did not even bother to show up.

When Mauril learned that he had ALS, he carried on. To Africa, with his loyal fellow traveller, Sen. Jim Munson. To the Commons as Speaker for the day, a rare honour, and back again to champion his bill on a gender-neutral national anthem. It was not “his legacy,” as some say, just one of the grace notes he wrote to Canada.

We lunched at the parliamentary restaurant before Christmas. Mauril invited my son, Alexander, whom he had brought into politics at age nine, as a volunteer at his campaign headquarters. At 15, Alexander, with Mauril’s encouragement, was elected to the riding association.

Was it too much, I wondered, to ask Mauril to sustain a conversation over lunch? So I asked colleagues – including Bob Rae and Randy Boissonnault – to drop by. Both can talk. But there was Mauril as I would like to remember him – kind, funny, effervescent. We were joined by Catherine, Mauril’s brave, buoyant and clever wife, who has been a heroine in managing his long goodbye, at home, with grace and dignity.

Mauril liked to read science fiction, but I keep thinking of him in poetry, particularly the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay:

My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ah my foes, and oh, my friends –

It gives a lovely light!

Mauril, you burned for a better Canada. You had no foes, only friends. And, dear friend, you gave a lovely light.

Andrew Cohen is author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History. Email: andrewzcohen@yahoo.ca

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