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A fond farewell to Gary Doer

Longtime premier lauded at emotional dinner

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Outgoing Premier Gary Doer was remembered Friday night as a driven dad, the man who made the MTS Centre possible and a successful leader who never lost the common touch.

At a dinner attended by 1,000 people of all political stripes, Doer was praised by business and labour leaders alike for his vision, passion, honesty, judgment, political instincts and humility.

The tribute dinner kicked off a weekend that will see a new chapter begin in Manitoba political history. Today, more than 2,000 NDP delegates will choose between Greg Selinger and Steve Ashton, both former members of Doer's cabinet, as the next NDP leader and premier.

Doer begins his new job as Canadian ambassador to the United States on Monday. More than a dozen speakers, both on video and in person, paid tribute, including federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent, University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Ron Evans.

"Had it not been for his leadership, the MTS Centre would not have been built," said Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment.

Darlene Dziewit, former president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said Doer is as popular today -- maybe more so -- as when he was first elected.

"Every Manitoban and even Manitobans who have never met you consider you their own," she said.

One of the more emotional moments of the evening came when Doer's eldest daughter, Emily, took the stage to speak about her father's political career and family life.

In a surprise speech that brought tears to her dad's eyes, Emily joked she was entering the leadership race to replace her father.

"Because my dad has such strong environmental beliefs in our family, I'll be recycling the past 23 years worth of Doer campaign signs. So just take out your sign, block out Gary and you can write in Emily. It's E-M-I-L-Y."

Emily added, with her sister, Kate's, help they came up with a new campaign slogan: "My dad did it. How hard can it be?"

In another moving moment, Evans and aboriginal elders presented Doer with a traditional star blanket and sang a song to give him strength in his new job in Washington.

Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, thanked Doer for legislation -- a North American first -- recognizing the special medical hardships endured by firefighters.

In a videotaped message, Forrest also drew laughter when he told the audience how American firefighters were jealous of the recognition bestowed on their Manitoba counterparts.

"I'll never forget the comments from the California firefighters who said that they'd give two Arnold Schwarzeneggers for one Gary Doer."

Layton said Doer is the perfect choice for ambassador as he has many political and business contacts in the United States.

"There probably isn't a person that has more high-level contacts in the Obama administration than Gary Doer," Layton said.

"We are really putting our best player forward in all the tricky issues we face."

Doer thanked audience members for their support over the years and the work Manitobans have done together to make the province a better place to live.

He singled out the effort to build the downtown MTS Centre on the former Eaton's site, rather than succumbing to the minority of "nitpickers."

"I believe we have a can-do attitude."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2009 A3

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