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Senator Bill Rompkey campaigns with a local Liberal candidate in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on May 23, 2005. (ANDREW VAUGHAN/The Canadian Press)
Senator Bill Rompkey campaigns with a local Liberal candidate in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on May 23, 2005. (ANDREW VAUGHAN/The Canadian Press)

Exit, Bill Rompkey

'Resurrection is entirely possible,' retiring senator tells wounded Liberals Add to ...

Bill Rompkey celebrated his 75th birthday on Friday the 13th - and with that he had to leave the Senate after a 40-year career in public service.

The senator from Newfoundland and Labrador joked that he now has "to get a life for myself."

And Stephen Harper has to find some new senators. Mr. Rompkey's departure adds another hole to the 105-member chamber. Two of Mr. Harper's Senators, Fabian Manning and Larry Smith, ran unsuccessfully in the May 2 election, resigning their seats for the campaign. Given his new majority status and his vows to reform the Red Chamber, it will be interesting to see who the Prime Minister appoints.

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Former prime minister Jean Chrétien appointed Mr. Rompkey to the Senate in 1995. He was first elected to the Commons in 1972, serving as a parliamentary secretary, cabinet minister (a highlight, he says, was serving in the Trudeau cabinet) and also an opposition critic. In fact, he never lost an election.

Just before he left the Red Chamber on Friday, he talked to his colleagues about "resurrection." Having lived through the lean Liberal years from 1984 to 1993, he spoke from experience.

"We've been there before. ... In '84 we had 40 seats, we've got 34 now which is six less than in 1984. But you know we were rattled. We had come out of government, we didn't know the first thing about opposition ... we were bickering, the civil war started," he noted.

But the Rat Pack - that feisty group of young and tenacious MPs - quickly emerged. Mr. Rompkey said it pulled the Liberals out of "doldrums and we got going and got on our feet and we came back again."

So he told his despondent caucus colleagues "that resurrection is entirely possible."

Then, as now, articles were being written about declaring the end of the "great old Liberal Party. But it wasn't. So I believe in rebirth and it will happen," he said.

As for what happened in this election, Mr. Rompkey believes Canadians voted for stability - the economic program "was important for a lot of people" - and they voted for the NDP in Quebec because they had tired of the Bloc.

And then there were the Liberals: "I think that Ignatieff was destroyed before he got started with the attack ads," Mr. Rompkey said, referring to the long-running Tory "just visiting" campaign against the Liberal leader.

He thought Michal Ignatieff ran a good campaign; many Canadians did not. "But that's life, you know, things happen and life goes on."

Mr. Rompkey also pointed to economic realignment as a reason for the poor Liberal showing. "The whole centre is shifting to the West and the Pacific rim is going to become very important and I think that had a lot to do with it."

What's next for Mr. Rompkey? Among other things, he's planning to write about subjects he knows well - Labrador and the Arctic.

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