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Quebec ag minister inspired colleagues


September 13, 2010
By By Martin Ouellet and Alexandre Robillard The Canadian Press

Sept. 13, 2010, Ste-Anne-de-la-Pocatiere, Que. – A rising Quebec
political star, who died of cancer at the age of 41, was remembered
Saturday as a dedicated cabinet minister and an inspiration to younger
politicians.

Sept. 13, 2010, Ste-Anne-de-la-Pocatiere, Que. – A rising Quebec political star, who died of cancer at the age of 41, was remembered Saturday as a dedicated cabinet minister and an inspiration to younger politicians.

Much of Quebec’s political class gathered at a church northeast of Quebec City for the funeral of Claude Bechard, who died Tuesday, mere hours after resigning the province’s agriculture and intergovernmental affairs portfolios.

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Bechard’s coffin was draped in Quebec’s Fleur-de-lis as it was carried into the cathedral in his hometown of Ste-Anne-de-la-Pocatiere. More than 1,000 people were on hand to pay their last respects to a politician who was once touted as a possible successor to Premier Jean Charest as leader of the Quebec Liberals. The service was simulcast in the church’s basement and speakers were set up outside to accommodate the overflow crowd.

Bechard’s daughter Justine gave the first reading from Scripture, then added her own message. “Daddy, everyone here loves you and no one will ever forget you,’’ she said.

During the service, Charest told local residents that Bechard felt a deep responsibility to his constituents. “He served for you,’’ he said. “You were also part of his family.’’

Charest said Bechard maintained that devotion to the very end, relating how his protege resisted delegating his workload as the illness worsened over the summer. “I felt he had too much on his plate,’’ the premier said. “(Bechard) felt he didn’t have enough. I wanted him to slow down, he wanted to continue. “I told him, Claude, there is more to life than politics. He answered: ‘my life is politics.’’’

Along with Charest and his cabinet colleagues, Quebec’s opposition politicians and some federal MPs also attended the ceremony. Many of them stopped to place their hand on Bechard’s casket before it was taken to a nearby cemetery.

As is customary at Quebec funerals, the crowd applauded as the silver hearse holding Bechard’s coffin left the cathedral.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe described a moving service, singling out young Justine Bechard’s reading. “She had her father’s determination in her eyes,’’ he told reporters as he left the church.

Other political adversaries said Bechard was a tough nemesis, but one who was willing to keep political differences on the floor of the provincial legislature. “I like these determined men, the courageous ones who never give up; whom you can count on and who have tenacity; who are part cowboy, part delinquent,’’ said veteran Parti Quebecois member Francois Gendron. “He played with his elbows high, sometimes too high, but once the game was over, it was over.’’

Federal Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis said he attended to honour a friend who had helped his political career get started. “He left his mark on Quebec politics,’’ he said. “He inspired a lot of young people to get involved.’’

Bechard’s passing leaves a big hole in cabinet, Charest acknowledged. Not only a respected political operative, Bechard was also praised for an infectious sense of humour.

“I can’t imagine sitting in caucus and not having Claude sitting nearby,’’ Charest said before entering the church. “He was very lively, very energetic. He was a big part of our team.’’


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