OTTAWA — Jean Lapierre is being remembered as a loyal friend, experienced politician and a born communicator who loved the “big debates and big discussions” of the day.
Tributes to the high-profile political veteran and journalist flowed Tuesday afternoon after confirmation of his death in a plane crash in the Magdalen Islands.
Lapierre served as transport minister in Paul Martin’s cabinet and on Tuesday the former prime minister said his death was hard to comprehend.
“He was a good, good friend, someone with immense integrity and vision,” Martin told reporters in Ottawa. “He had a vision of what Canada could do, what Quebec could do. He had a vision of the future.”
“He loved also the big debates, the big discussions of the day and he wanted to participate in them, as a minister, as a journalist and I think everyone of us learned from him,” Martin said. “Now he is gone.”
The death sent shockwaves through Ottawa and the country’s broader political community and political colleagues of all stripes took to social media to mourn the loss.
“Shaken by the sudden death of the Hon. Jean Lapierre on the Îles-de-la-Madeleine. A great loss to the political world,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter.
“Terrible to hear that Jean Lapierre is gone. We can all picture his bright-eyed smile and passion for politics, news and life. A great loss,” former Conservative cabinet minister James Moore said on Twitter.
Another former Conservative minister, Monte Solberg, said on Twitter: “A terrible tragedy. So well-liked by colleagues on all sides during his time in Ottawa. RIP.”
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said he and his wife were in “shock” over the news and said he would be deeply missed by politicians and Canadians at large.
“Always close to his community, Jean Lapierre was a formidable parliamentarian and minister. We will miss this gifted communicator who, more often than not, determined the political issue of the day,” Mulcair said in a statement.
“It’s terrible,” Gilles Duceppe told Radio-Canada. The former Bloc Québécois leader knew Lapierre well, campaigning often in Lapierre’s beloved Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
“He was legend,” said Duceppe who recalled vacations in the islands with Lapierre. “He was a dynamo finishing in the wee hours and up knocking on doors at 7 a.m. Hello, hello, hello . . . . He wanted us to know every part of the islands.”
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre told reporters he visited Lapierre’s parents on his last trip to Îles-de-la-Madeleine, having promised his friend he’d drop in on them.
“He was someone who loved politics.” Coderre said of Lapierre, first elected at age 23, worked at the right hand of political veteran André Ouellette. Ouellette “transmitted that passion” to Lapierre, he said.
“He was above all a born communicator . . . someone who could in a few words, with his Magdalen Islands flavour, and with colour, could make us understand in few words . . . I think he invented Twitter and 140 characters before it existed.”
Liberal MP Steve MacKinnon, a former national director of the Liberal party, said on CTV he’d known Lapierre since they were young Liberals.
He said Lapierre was “a great soul, a great personality, larger than life, worked harder than anyone. To think of the unspeakable tragedy that has befallen that family today is something that we’ll all have to take some time and reflect on. But Jean Lapierre was a great Canadian, loved Quebec, loved Canada and perhaps knew more people involved in politics than anyone else in the country.”
Conservative MP and former Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer said Lapierre seemed to “transcend” partisan lines and recalled being a young MP on the transport committee when Lapierre made his first appearance as minister.
“My colleague Dave Batters and me, we found ourselves at the end of his presentation clapping for him because he was just so charming and authentic,” Scheer said.
“He had that kind of magnetic personality and people liked him. His positive attitude was infectious. And it is a very sad day for his family, it’s a sad day for Quebecers, and it’s sad day for parliamentarians, both current and former MPs.”
Lapierre first sat in the Commons between 1979 to 1990 as the Liberal MP for Shefford, Que., serving as parliamentary secretary to several cabinet ministers, including youth, fitness and amateur sport. He was also opposition critic for foreign trade, economic development, and constitutional affairs.
But Lapierre turned his back on the Liberals after the failure of the Meech Lake accord, sitting first as an independent MP, then joining other disaffected MPs in the Bloc Québécois.
He left politics in 1992 and entered journalism, working as a radio host and television news anchor. He returned to politics — and the Liberals — in 2004. Martin made him his Quebec lieutenant and transport minister. He left politics again in 2007, almost a year after the Liberals were forced from power.