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Members of the Royal Canadian Regiment carry the casket containing the remains of Romeo LeBlanc, former governor-general of Canada, out of the Memramcook Institute toward a hearse for transport to a state funeral service at Saint Thomas church in Memramcook, NB. (PAUL DARROW)
Members of the Royal Canadian Regiment carry the casket containing the remains of Romeo LeBlanc, former governor-general of Canada, out of the Memramcook Institute toward a hearse for transport to a state funeral service at Saint Thomas church in Memramcook, NB. (PAUL DARROW)

Dignitaries gather to mourn LeBlanc Add to ...

The blast of howitzers echoed off the old stone church, each crash of the 21-gun salute rolling through an adjacent graveyard and into the countryside Roméo LeBlanc loved so much.

It was to this area of rural New Brunswick, south of Moncton, that he kept returning in spite of a glittering career in the House of Commons, the Senate and finally as Canada's 25th governor-general.

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"He was a very humble man, a very modest man, but a very efficient politician, a very effective one, committed to those in our society who had not a big voice," said former federal cabinet minister Marc Lalonde.

"He was very much a man of the people, without any ostentation, without any pretension. He was a humble servant of the people."

In his eulogy, Mr. LeBlanc's son, Dominic, who holds his father's old seat in the House, described his father going to Ottawa and falling in with a group of politicians that included former prime ministers Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien.

"They all shared a vision of a compassionate Canada," he said in the 169-year-old church packed with spectators.

"My father deeply believed that Canada's greatest and most abundant resources lay ... in the hearts and in the minds of Canadians."

His personal modesty notwithstanding, yesterday's proceedings carried all the pomp and ceremony necessary for the funeral of a former representative of Canada's head of state.

The red-serge tunics on RCMP officers shone bravely through the gloom of the drizzly day, military officers carried unsheathed swords, and a naval marching band shrouded some of its instruments in black cloth. The pallbearers, drawn from the Royal Canadian Regiment, the country's senior infantry group, performed their duty with ritualized precision.

Some of the most powerful people in the country attended the service. Among them were Governor-General Michaëlle Jean, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mr. Chrétien and Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff. There were academics, military officials and business leaders.

The actual interment was private, attended by family and friends.

Mr. LeBlanc was born in eastern Canada, and educated there and in France. He was a teacher and globetrotting journalist before entering the political world. He served first as press secretary to prime ministers Lester Pearson and Mr. Trudeau.

Mr. LeBlanc was not elected until his mid-40s, winning a rural New Brunswick riding in 1972 and entering cabinet. He became the longest-serving fisheries minister in Canadian history.

"We'll go a long time before we have another giant like that in our midst, and he made everybody very, very proud," said Frank McKenna, a former premier of New Brunswick.

"He was a great champion of us. He was from an era when cabinet ministers were giants."

Mr. LeBlanc served in cabinet until 1984, then moved to the Senate and eventually became speaker of that chamber.

He ran the Liberal Party war room during the 1993 election campaign, an operation praised yesterday by Mr. Chrétien for its effectiveness. Late in 1994, he was appointed governor-general and was invested the next February.

"Roméo, you were the first Maritimer and the first Acadian to be governor-general. And you made them all proud," Mr. Chrétien, on whose recommendation the appointment was made, said during his eulogy yesterday.

The appointment has been controversial, criticized by opposition politicians as a patronage gift to a Liberal insider. Both Preston Manning, leader of what was then the Reform Party, and Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard refused to attend the investiture.

Mr. LeBlanc's tenure was generally low key. He was known for his common touch and for making Rideau Hall more accessible to the public. He stepped down from the vice-regal post in 1999, citing declining health.

In recent years, Mr. LeBlanc was known to have had Alzheimer's disease. He died peacefully late last month, at home in the tiny parish of Grande-Digue, N.B.

Follow on Twitter: @moore_oliver

 

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