OBITUARY – Marcel Prud’homme
November 30, 1934 – January 25, 2017
By Bhupinder S. Liddar
Marcel Prud’homme was a giant – not only in personal physique, but in parliamentarian.
He had the looks of a statesman and charm of a diplomat. Always a suave, meticulously dressed gentleman, with flowing hair, fittingly silver, in later years.
But it is not only the public demeanour that people will remember or recall about Prud’homme, but his love of people and the institution of parliament. He never married and lived, loved and breathed parliament all his waking hours. He spent many a night regaling guests with stories and taking them on personal tours of the buildings. His last office at the Senate was conveniently located just at the main entrance and one could not escape the open and welcoming door to Prud’homme’s office. Many a parliamentarian would drop in for hurried and frank advise or linger over a drink or two to reminisce or share a story or two of days gone by. He was a friend to MPs of all political stripes.
The staff from cleaners, waiters, clerks to guards at the House of Commons, where he was a member for 29 years, and Senate, where he spent 19 years, was his family. He treated them as such.
Similarly, he was referred to as father or father figure of his Saint Denis constituents, who first elected him in 1964 as a Liberal and eight times subsequently, until his appointment to the Senate in 1993. He had a way to connect with people and enjoyed hearing their and telling them stories.
He was a passionate Canadians. He told me often that he prefers to be called “canadien francais” rather than “French Canadian” – Canadian first! He was baffled and miffed by Chilean refugee Osvaldo Nunez sitting as separatist Bloc Quebecois political party MP in the Canadian parliament!
He was a phenomenon on the international scene too. Prud’homme played a significant role in advancing Canadian values and positions at meetings of Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an organization of national parliaments of 170 countries. He was the face of Canada at their regular meetings. During his travels to countless countries he was as an exemplary ambassador of Canada. He served for long on Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee of the House of Commons.
Perhaps as a detriment to his political career, Prud’homme courageously and often single-handedly championed the Palestinian cause, long before much was known about it. In particular, he favored a two-state solution – an Israeli and a Palestinian state, as a solution for the Middle East crisis. In 1983, he attended a PLO meeting in Algiers where he was photographed raising arms with hands clasped with Yasser Arafat, in the company of Progressive Conservative Party MP Bob Corbett. Despite his longevity in Parliament, law graduate from Ottawa University, fluently bilingual Prud’homme never made it to cabinet table, due mainly, according to many, of his support for the Palestinians. He also championed and raised awareness about Armenia.
In 1993, Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointed him to the Senate. No one understood the rationale for this. The Progressive Conservatives could never win long-time Liberal Saint Denis seat. What was the quid pro quo? He would tell me that he and Mulroney were friends but many senior Liberals, including Senator Jacques Hebert, resented him for accepting the Senate appointment, where he sat as an independent, until his retirement in 2009. Prior to the appointment he had served as Chair of Liberal Caucus in the House of Commons.
Any regrets? Yes! He did not write his memoirs. It would have been a minefield of information for he witnessed so much behind the scenes and could have provided some useful historical ammunition to Canadian political history. The only consolation is that Canadian security intelligence agency (CSIS), most likely has a hefty dossier on him, but alas, we ordinary mortals have no access! Despite repeated requests from CSIS to talk to him, he told me he would tell them to come visit him the day after he retired from the Senate. I wonder if they ever did.
His death is a great loss of a passionate parliamentarian, a humanitarian, and above all a decent human being. He will be missed greatly missed by his multitude of friends and the untold number of disadvantaged and dispossessed whose cause(s) hewould take on and fight to the end of the earth. The void left by his passing cannot and will not go unnoticed. Sleep well, “Prince of Parliament!
Bhupinder S. Liddar, started working as research assistant on Parliament Hill in 1976, was member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, founding editor/publisher of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine, and retired as a Canadian diplomat.