A former rock guitarist who only became a politician to toughen the Young Offenders Act after his teenage son was murdered, Chuck Cadman will always be known as the man who spared Canadians an election campaign in the sweltering summer of 2005. By rising to support Paul Martin's Liberals in a nail-biting no-confidence vote on May 19, Mr. Cadman, the independent Member of Parliament from Surrey North, B.C. , earned himself a place in the record books. His vote created a draw, forcing House Speaker Peter Milliken to cast a tie-breaking vote for the government.
Afterward, Mr. Cadman said he made up his mind only half an hour before the crucial vote. "I was responding to my constituents," he said. "Primarily, it was that they didn't feel they were prepared to go into an election."
A grateful Paul Martin paid tribute to his unlikely ally in a statement this weekend, referring to Mr. Cadman as "a passionate advocate" for victims' rights who had "made a real and positive difference to Canada's justice system." Mr. Cadman came to Ottawa "not as a power broker, but a missionary," said Industry Minister David Emerson, MP for Vancouver South. "He put it all on the line for what he believed in. I like to say he had grit, which is the ultimate compliment I can pay somebody because that's what Canada was built by -- people with grit."
Dressed in trademark blue shirt and jeans, his flowing white locks tied back in a ponytail, Mr. Cadman seemed more like a baby boomer locked in a 1960s time warp than anybody's notion of a typical MP. In fact, he was once mistaken for a janitor in his own Parliament Hill office. He had a penchant for putting his feet on his desk, cranking up the stereo and listening to the Eagles, or Bob Seger singing his favourite song, Like a Rock.
Fate didn't allow him to live the life he imagined. "People keep saying to me that 'you grew up in politics,' but I grew up in rehearsal halls," Mr. Cadman's daughter Jodi said yesterday. It was her brother's murder, not political ambition, that turned her parents into activists and made her father put down his guitar to run for elected office. He didn't like the youth justice system and he wanted to change it. Later, when he was denied re-nomination for the newly minted Conservative Party, he ran as an independent in the 2004 election and won his old seat. That twist made him the most important person in a minority Parliament -- at least for a day. And then cancer cut his life short.
He was born in Kitchener, Ont. in 1948, one of three children of Ernest and Theodora Cadman, and grew up there and in North Bay, Ont. He played guitar for a rock band called The Fringe that travelled across the country picking up gigs, mainly in Toronto and Winnipeg. They made a demo record, but broke up before it was released.
Mr. Cadman continued to play in bars and clubs in Vancouver as a pickup musician, but he also went back to school, earning his certificate as an electrical and engineering technician in 1982. He met his wife Dona in Vancouver. They were married in 1969 and had two children, Jodi, born in 1973, and Jesse, who followed in 1976.
Mr. Cadman's life changed radically when Jesse, then 16, was murdered by a gang on Oct. 18, 1992. Later, Mr. Cadman remembered the panicked drive to the hospital, the way the staff averted their eyes when he and his wife rushed in. Then, as he once said in the House of Commons, he listened to "the words no parent should ever have to hear: 'We're sorry, we tried, but there was too much damage.' " The teenager who stabbed Jesse was on probation and under house arrest at the time of the attack.
Their grief spurred the Cadmans to act. They formed Crime Responsibility and Youth (CRY), a citizens' group to support victims' rights and to push for more stringent punishments for young offenders. He succeeded in having his son's murderer, at first sentenced to three years, raised from youth to adult court, where he was given a life sentence.
Mr. Cadman initially limited his advocacy to speaking at schools, counselling potentially violent teens and supporting other devastated families, and serving as a member of several advisory committees. Eventually, he realized the real solution lay in political change, and in 1997 won the nomination for Surrey North for what was then the Reform Party.
He was first elected to Parliament that year and continued to represent the riding when Reform became the Canadian Alliance Party, becoming justice critic after the 2000 election. As a member of the Justice and Human Rights Committee, he managed to toughen penalties in the new Youth Criminal Justice Act for parents who fail to comply with court orders to supervise their children.
Early in 2003, Mr. Cadman was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. A year later the cancer spread to other organs. Despite his ill health, he was determined to run in the 2004 election.
By then, the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives had merged to become the Conservative Party. Mr. Cadman lost the nomination, and ran as an independent. He spent balloting day at the cemetery, sitting by his son's grave. Even though he had told his constituents that he had just been diagnosed with cancer, he won the election handily, receiving almost 45 per cent of the vote.
This April, he was told he had only a few months to live.
That was when fate gave him an unexpected opportunity to play a decisive role in Canadian history. As an independent MP in a minority parliament, his vote was coveted by both the Liberals and the Conservatives. Would he vote with the government he had run against three times, or side with the opposition party that had denied him its banner in the past election? Mr. Cadman kept his own counsel, polled his constituents and left his sickbed to fly to Ottawa to cast his vote. As he rose in the House when his name was called on that fateful May evening, he was chewing gum, partly because his mouth was dry from the medication.
After the vote, he returned to British Columbia where his health rapidly deteriorated. Mr. Cadman never felt sorry for himself, according to his daughter, and although anger was a factor in some decisions he made, it wasn't a self-destructive anger, she said. Instead, it was a motivation to try to change things he didn't like. "He didn't like being bullied -- not at all."
She believes her father's commitment to individual action will be his legacy. "One person can make a difference, one vote can make a difference," Ms. Cadman said.
Chuck Cadman was born Feb. 21, 1948, in Kitchener, Ont. He died in Vancouver on July 9, 2005. He is survived by sisters Anne and Margery, wife Dona and daughter Jodi.