Bob Rae is a lawyer with Olthuis Kleer Townshend, teaches at the University of Toronto and is the author of What's Happened to Politics?
The death of Jean Lapierre and many members of his family in a plane crash on the Îles de Madeleine is a terrible reminder that we hang on to life by a single thread. The Lapierre family was travelling to join their mother who was grieving the loss of her husband.
I first met Jean Lapierre in 1979, soon after his election to the House of Commons, where I had been elected a short few months before. He was only 23 years old, and I was an aged 31. We were in different parties, but initially shared opposition to the Joe Clark government.
Brian Mulroney's negotiation of the Meech Lake Accord with the Premiers split both the country and the Liberal Party. Again, Jean and I shared a common perspective – that bringing Quebec into the constitution was wise, and that the opposition to it was exaggerated.
The collapse of the Accord led to Lapierre's departure from the Liberal Party, and his decision to join the Bloc Québécois. He re-joined the Liberal Party under Paul Martin, became his Quebec lieutenant and Cabinet Minister, and then resigned again from the House after the Liberal defeat.
When not in the House of Commons, Jean Lapierre was on the news, and in the news. He was the premier commentator and news analyst in Quebec, and a presence that has no real parallel in English Canada. A gifted communicator, he managed to overcome his fulsome participation in the political wars of his time by engaging directly and with candour with political leaders who might not have agreed with him but respected him nonetheless.
Jean had his detractors – he was a fierce and unyielding defender of his causes and interests – but he had an uncanny ability to read a room and public opinion in his own province. I shall always remember him from our first days in Parliament, and how he remained a keen student of politics and a devoted son of his province, and yes, his country.
Even those who could not forgive his apostasy in joining the Bloc, or his fierce participation in the internal battles of the Liberal Party, have now to admit that he had a deep feeling for politics, and in his changes he always reflected the passions of his time. It was this very passion that gave him his unique connection to the Quebec public, and that has created such a powerful reaction to his tragic death.
What gave Jean his charm was the never ending enthusiasm he had for the political process. The wide eyed ebullience he expressed as a 23-year-old MP, his joy in sharing stories and jokes, never left him, and made him such a presence in Quebec public life. He was a welcome visitor in every living room in the province, and it is hard to imagine politics without him.
Eds note: An earlier version incorrectly said Jean Lapierre remained in the Liberal Party until 1993. In fact, he quit the Liberal caucus in June, 1990.