Conservative Senator Jacques Demers crosses floor to sit as independent
PHOTO BY JAMES PARRY
Proud Hudsonite, Jacques Demers, shown here at the intersection of Cameron and Main this week, will sit as an independent Senator in Ottawa in the New Year.
Mention the name Jacques Demers in Quebec, and indeed throughout Canada, and the first image that almost certainly flashes through one's mind is that he is a legend in the fiercely competitive world of hockey. Under whose stewardship, as coach, the Montreal Canadiens won their last Stanley Cup way back in 1999.
Fast forward to August, 2009, when, to his total surprise and “great honour,” he was appointed by former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to sit in the Senate albeit with absolutely no link whatsoever to that other combative team in the nation's capital, the Ottawa Senators.
And, in what surely has to be a momentous third period in his professional life, Demers – who lives in Hudson with his beloved wife, Debbie - recently announced that he had resigned from the Conservative Party caucus to sit as an independent in the Red Chamber.
In this exclusive interview with Your Local Journal, he explains why.
YLJ: You obviously must have given this serious thought over the past few months. What, if anything, was the final straw as it were to cause you to cross the floor?
JD: While I still firmly believe in the important role of the Senate and remain a Conservative, it is something that I have been contemplating for some time. I certainly didn't get up one morning and suddenly say I'm out.
People who know me know that I am first and foremost a team player. Also that I am not given to making impetuous decisions. The coach in me will always be there and the team will always be my main priority. So when I offered to help publicly support some Conservative candidates in the recent federal election – something that I had done four and a half years earlier in both Quebec and Ontario when I travelled over 3,000 km at my own expense – I was told in no uncertain terms that my services were not required. Despite the fact that I was told I had done a good job last time around.
Did I lose sleep over it? Definitely not. Politics is a tough, tough game. Like coaching in the National Hockey League. One day you are doing well with your team and are on top of the world. The next day, you could be gone. So I didn't take it personally. But I did ask myself the question, am I still part of a Conservative team? The answer was a resounding no. And the coach in me came out.
YLJ: Did the fact that the Conservatives lost the election have any bearing on your decision?
JD: Not at all in a purely political sense. But making my decision easier was the fact that first and foremost I owed my allegiance to Stephen Harper who appointed me. While I am always loyal to my friends, and always have been, now he is no longer there. Having said that, however, while some other Conservative senators are not pleased at all about my decision, a lot of them have told me they are very happy for me for doing what I believe to be the right thing.
YLJ: How did you feel when you first learned that you had been appointed to the Senate?
JD: I considered it to be a real honour and a privilege. When you are someone who comes from a poor background, is limited in their formal education like me, and someone offers you such a prestigious post because they believe in you and feel that you can contribute something important, then it obviously gives you a good feeling.
For personal reasons, I have always tried to help disadvantaged children and young people as well as those who are functionally illiterate. And, while I didn't know too much about politics as such at the time, I knew that these were specific areas that I could become much more involved with as a senator.
YLJ: What have the past six and a half years been like for you in this regard?
JD: Well, I’ve certainly learned a lot about politics! And it has been a real education, like being in university. As a professional coach, all you are really focused on is your team and the next game. As a senator, and having travelled to various parts of the world including Indonesia, Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as throughout Canada, I have come to learn so much about what Canadians are all about, what a great country Canada is, and how fortunate we are to live here.