Mr. St. Pierre stunned newsroom colleagues when he stood for election in 1968, running under the Liberal banner in a campaign remembered for Trudeaumania. The columnist threw his cowboy hat into the ring in Coast Chilcotin, a constituency so vast the legal description of its borders runs 687 words, including longitudes and latitudes. He was dispatched to Ottawa with 10,292 votes to 7,477 for the runner-up NDP candidate.
As independent minded as his constituents, he bristled at the restrictions of party discipline, “balking like a cayuse on its first halter,” the journalist Patrick Nagle would later write. In time, Mr. St. Pierre made peace, of sorts, with the party’s leadership, serving as parliamentary secretary to External Affairs Minister Mitchell Sharp. At the United Nations, he protested the “poisonous, dangerous and in the ultimate futile” testing of nuclear weapons by the superpowers. He also headed Canada’s first delegation to the Organization of American States as non-member observers in 1972.
The job cost him both personally and financially. His marriage faltered during this period, eventually ending in divorce. As well, the $12,000 salary he earned as a member of Parliament represented a substantial cut from the sum he earned as a columnist. He also faced the cost of chartering a float plane to visit remote outposts in his sprawling riding, which was said to have 50,000 people living on 50,000 square miles.
“All I can claim is the mileage I could charge if I went by road, if there was a road, and that isn’t enough to get me off the ground,” he complained.
Despite the hardship, he was one of only six MPs, five of them from British Columbia, to pledge not to accept a $6,000 pay raise.
His reward after four years of crisscrossing the country was to be defeated by the NDP’s Harry Olaussen by 360 votes in 1972, an outcome likely owing to antipathy toward his leader. When Pierre Trudeau accompanied Mr. St. Pierre to the Williams Lake Stampede in 1970, the Prime Minister wore slacks and a striped dress shirt with an ascot. Mr. St. Pierre dressed like his constituents – in a Western shirt with bolo tie, a large buckle on the belt holding up his jeans.
His contribution to political life included a memorable aphorism: “Canadian politics in British Columbia is an adventure, on the Prairies a cause, in Ontario a business, in Quebec a religion, in the Maritimes a disease.”
In 1979, Mr. St. Pierre gave up his newspaper column to become a B.C. police commissioner, serving for four years.
In 2000, he received the Terasen (now George Woodcock) Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to letters in British Columbia. As well, he won awards for his stage plays and teleplays, while the Western Writers of America presented him with a Spur Award for short fiction in 1984 for the story Sale of One Small Ranch.
Mr. St. Pierre died at his home in Fort Langley, B.C., on July 27. He leaves a son, Paul St. Pierre, and daughters Michelle Marino and Suzanne St. Pierre from his first marriage, as well as a daughter, Yesica Gonzalez, whom he adopted from an impoverished family in the Mexican fishing village in which he wintered. He also leaves 10 grandchildren. A second marriage also ended in divorce.
Before his death, the author purchased a grave marker on which he had carved the epitaph: “This was not my idea.”
For a man celebrated as the chronicler of a wild, Western life, Mr. St. Pierre harboured a prejudice that probably would have surprised his readers. He did not like horses.
“They’re stupid animals,” he once told the critic Robert Fulford, “and as far as I’m concerned their only value is that riding them is better than walking.”
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