The Honourable Jean-Claude Rivest—TributesPublished on 27 January 2015 Hansard and Statements by Senator Dennis Dawson, James Cowan (retired), Marie-P. Charette-Poulin (retired)
Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Opposition):
Colleagues, I would like to add my voice to that of my friend, Senator Carignan, in paying tribute to one of our most senior colleagues, Senator Rivest, as he prepares to leave the Senate.
As Senator Carignan has noted, Senator Rivest has been a practising lawyer, an elected member of the National Assembly of Quebec and, for the past almost 21 years, a senator. But when you look at his official biography, very little of this is emphasized. What you see is: “Profession: Senior Political Adviser.”
The pride behind that entry reflects one of the most honourable aspects of political life — a trust and respect that can only be earned.
Here in this chamber, where our job is to give a serious, independent second look at government initiatives, we know the value of thoughtful advice in politics. The best leaders know the importance of a strong team and the critical need to have an adviser you can turn to, trusting you will get their best advice, even and perhaps especially when it isn’t exactly what you want to hear.
The list of Quebec leaders who looked to Senator Rivest for advice is impressive: Jean Lesage; Gérard Levesque; and the leader with whom Senator Rivest was most closely associated, Premier Robert Bourassa. In Quebec, those were years of sometimes great turmoil but also of great dreams and great accomplishments. I suspect there was more than one occasion when Senator Rivest reflected on the Chinese dual wish and curse: May you live in interesting times! He certainly did, and the province and country are the better for his involvement.
Senator Rivest found his calling early. Not long after setting up a law practice in his hometown, he was approached by a new client who was a member of the Quebec Liberal Party. That was it; his future was changed forever.
He soon began working for Jean Lesage, then Leader of the Official Opposition. He headed up the opposition research bureau and then moved on to advise first Mr. Bourassa and then Mr. Levesque, before running successfully for the National Assembly. Instead of running again in 1985, he became a senior political adviser to Premier Bourassa, a position he held until Prime Minister Mulroney appointed him to this chamber in 1993.
His 20-plus years here have been marked by the same seriousness of purpose and thoughtful analysis that built his reputation for wise counsel. Whether he was speaking as a member of the Liberal Party of Quebec, as a member of the former Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, or as an Independent, the substance and driving forces behind his interventions have never changed. His principles were his guide throughout; his dedication to his province and country has always been paramount.
I have always been impressed by his ability to pose probing questions in debate and to jump in to ask the important supplementary question during Question Period. I will miss his strong voice in this chamber on countless files, from his questions about the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court or tolls on the Champlain Bridge, to speeches on Canada’s linguistic duality, to his insights about the value and role of the Senate, to his strong, principled opposition to Bill C-377. His contributions have always been incisive and have significantly advanced our debates.
Before concluding, I must acknowledge that although Senator Rivest was a lifelong member of the Liberal Party of Quebec, when he was appointed to the Senate he chose to take his seat here as a Progressive Conservative. When he rose to deliver his maiden speech in the Senate on April 29, 1993, Senator Royce Frith, who held the position I now hold as Leader of the Opposition, called out to him, pointing out his Liberal roots. Senator Rivest proudly acknowledged that he was still a member of the Quebec Liberal Party, even while sitting in the Senate as a Progressive Conservative. Senator Frith suggested he was “. . . just badly oriented . . .” and invited him to “Step right over this way.” Well, it took a few years, but Senator Frith would be happy, as I am, that while you may not have come all this way, you have taken a few steps toward our direction, and we’re grateful for that.
Senator Rivest, throughout your long career you have demonstrated the true meaning of public service, and the honour of thoughtful, independent advice, whether behind closed doors to premiers or on the floor of the Senate to governments. You will be missed. My very best wishes for happiness and continued fulfilment as you set out on the next stage of your long and very distinguished career.
Hon. Dennis Dawson:
Honourable senators, Senator Carignan began by saying that he wished he could speak longer and more often. I will begin by saying that the first thing Senator Rivest said to me was, “Don’t forget that I speak after you.”
What I would like to remind him, however, is that tomorrow he will be gone and I will still be here.
I have known Jean-Claude for a very long time. I will start with Raymond Garneau, who is the one who got Jean-Claude into politics. In his book entitled: De Lesage à Bourassa — Senator Rivest worked for Lesage, Bourassa, Couillard and others — Mr. Garneau said that he met and offered a job to a young law graduate from Laval University. He said:
I never regretted my choice. Jean-Claude was competent and had a sense of humour that always lightened the mood. I enjoyed working with him.
He was the intellectual and Mr. Garneau was the man of action.
Throughout all those years in politics, as Jean Lesage’s assistant and later as a member of the National Assembly, until he was appointed to the Senate, Jean-Claude Rivest showed an unfailing commitment to Quebec. Often working behind the scenes, he had a considerable influence on many of the major issues that marked the history of Quebec over the past 35 or 40 years. I am thinking, for example, of the debates surrounding the Meech Lake Accord, up until Premier Bourassa’s solemn declaration in June 1990 following the failure of that agreement. Jean-Claude’s influence was certainly felt in the determination expressed by Premier Bourassa to promote and protect Quebec, the homeland of North America’s only francophone majority.
Jean-Claude Rivest is also known for his great sense of humour. For him, humour was a way to withstand the terrible pressure that often goes along with a career in politics. Jean-Claude’s quick wit helped him to keep it together, and no one could get to him. You never get bored of spending time with him, and you should see how he lights up when he talks to students. He has spent a lot of time with them in recent years, teaching them the ins and outs of the Constitution, and I am sure he will continue to do so in the future. Even with his political opponents, Jean-Claude did not hesitate to use humour to annoy them and send them politely on their way. In good times and bad, Jean-Claude never lost his sense of humour. There are many stories I chose not to tell. I told some of them to my friend and political mentor, Senator Joyal. He and I know Jean-Claude from his political activities in Quebec. If you want to know more about these stories, just come and ask me.
Senator Rivest also loves to share stories about the politicians he served or rubbed shoulders with. Those of you who know him well have heard the same stories dozens of times, but each time he finds a way to add some detail or a connotation that gets us laughing at the same old story.
Those who have had the opportunity to work with him have very much appreciated him as a colleague. He is a generous guy who, with his incessant jokes, shows that his heart is in the right place.
Those of you who have known him for years will agree that it’s impossible to think of him without thinking of Denise Giguère, who unfortunately passed away from cancer and who was his loyal and faithful assistant for many years. She was so warm and compassionate — no doubt necessary qualities for working with Jean-Claude. She had such a calm way of making him come to his senses. I’m sure that Jean-Claude has some fond thoughts for this woman who had to put up with him for so many years and did so with a smile on her face, with efficiency and with unwavering determination.
We all wish Jean-Claude a happy retirement. With all his experience, he could certainly weave an extraordinary tale about the great debates that have marked the history of Quebec since the 1970s. That will obviously be his decision, but in the meantime, we caution him to be careful on his Harley-Davidson in case he gets the urge to get back into politics or public life.
Thank you, Jean-Claude, for your friendship and good humour. We’ll miss you.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
Hon. Marie-P. Charette-Poulin:
Honourable senators, I rise to pay tribute to our colleague, the Honourable Jean-Claude Rivest, who today is starting what will be his last week with us in the Senate.
Each one of us brings to this chamber his or her own expertise, experience and perspective, which complement each other and make this honourable institution strong.
Senator Rivest has represented the people in the senatorial designation of Stadacona, all of Quebec and, really, all of Canada for over two decades. His unique perspective is deeply rooted in his desire to serve the people.
Yes, Senator Rivest arrived in the Senate in 1993, armed with many years of provincial government experience in Quebec’s National Assembly. He was also very experienced in interprovincial affairs and acutely aware of the challenges facing minority and linguistic groups in other provinces.
I have had the pleasure of sitting in this chamber alongside Senator Rivest for the better part of those two decades, and we have participated together in a number of parliamentary missions. I’m sure you will agree that travelling with our colleagues is one of the best ways to get to know them. That is how I learned that Senator Rivest is not just a remarkable parliamentarian and politician, but also trustworthy, reliable, thoughtful and blessed with an utterly delightful sense of humour.
Honourable senators, Senator Rivest’s departure means that we are losing a wonderful colleague, and I ask you to join me in wishing him a truly heartfelt farewell.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!