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Former premier 'a great Manitoban'

Believed Constitution takes power from Parliament, gives it to judges

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/12/2010 (3603 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Former premier Sterling Lyon at the Manitoba Legislative Building in 1981, the year he lost his run for a second term in government.


Former premier Sterling Lyon at the Manitoba Legislative Building in 1981, the year he lost his run for a second term in government.

Political friends and foes remembered former premier Sterling Lyon Thursday as a splendid orator and a man of principle who played a key role in the Canadian constitutional debates of the early 1980s.

Manitoba's premier from 1977 to 1981 died at Grace Hospital Thursday morning after a brief illness. He was 83.

Above, then-premier Sterling Lyon has pork and beans at Emerson in 1979.


Above, then-premier Sterling Lyon has pork and beans at Emerson in 1979.

"It's a very sad day. We've lost a great Manitoban and a great leader," said former premier Gary Filmon, who succeeded Lyon as provincial Progressive Conservative party leader in 1983.

Lyon grew up in Portage la Prairie and was a reporter with the Free Press before a distinguished career in public life that spanned more than 40 years. He served as a Crown attorney, MLA, attorney general, premier, opposition leader and Court of Appeal judge.

In the early 1980s, during the debates leading to the patriation of the Canadian Constitution, Lyon butted heads with then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, arguing for the supremacy of elected parliaments. He was a strong proponent of the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that allows Parliament or provincial legislatures to override certain portions of the charter.

"He took a principled stand on the Constitution, where he said that we were making a mistake by taking away power from Parliament to be the ultimate decider of public issues, and giving it to judges, who are unelected," Filmon said. "In retrospect, many people have now learned why he was so strong on that point and have lamented the fact that judges have started to basically make the laws in our country."

Former NDP premier Howard Pawley, who defeated Lyon in the 1981 general election, recalled him as a straight shooter, a formidable orator and political opponent and a "very pleasant" man in private. "You might very well disagree with him, which, of course, I did. But unlike so many in the political world, the direction that he was going, he made it very clear. He was very honest and forthright in the road that he was travelling."

Chief Justice Richard Scott of the Manitoba Court of Appeal, a colleague of Lyon's for 16 years on the province's highest court, said Lyon "had a tremendous amount of common sense" and "had his feet planted firmly on the ground."

Scott said it was an amazing accomplishment for Lyon to serve as attorney general, premier and Appeal Court justice. "From the late 1950s to 2002, he was involved in lawmaking and law-interpreting roles -- pretty close to 50 years," Scott said. "He had a tremendous influence on the province."

Lyon on his way to vote in 1977 with wife Barbara, daughter Nancy.


Lyon on his way to vote in 1977 with wife Barbara, daughter Nancy.

Lyon's wife, Barbara, died in 2006. He is survived by his five children -- Nancy, Andrea, Peter, Jennifer and Jonathon -- and their spouses and his six grandchildren.

Lyon's daughter, actress Jennifer Lyon, has been performing a lead role in Manitoba Theatre Centre's production of White Christmas, which ends Saturday.

Jonathon, who serves as chief of staff for Conservative Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen, said his father was in the hospital for about 12 days and family members were able to see him before he died.

"Certainly Dad was a committed public servant who loved his province and his country. He loved his family and will be missed," Jonathon said.

He said his father's retirement was somewhat marred by injuries he suffered in a car accident that occurred shortly after he left the bench. "It really is sad in that respect, because he had such a full life, and both my parents were in wonderful health, and then they had this car accident and it just turned their lives upside down," Jonathon said.

Lyon's funeral will be held at 1 p.m. next Wednesday at Westminster United Church.

-- With files from Kevin Rollason and Gabrielle Giroday


Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

   Read full biography


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Tributes for Sterling Lyon

"On behalf of all Canadians, Laureen and I extend our profound condolences to the family and friends of Sterling Lyon... Manitoba and Canada are stronger today because of Mr. Lyon's vision and leadership. He will be greatly missed and remembered." -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper

"Manitoba has lost a true champion in the passing of former premier Sterling Lyon... In politics, his eloquence and debating skills in the legislative chamber set a standard many politicians often strived to achieve, but which few, if any, ever met." -- Premier Greg Selinger

"When you look at his career, it's an impressive series of accomplishments. He set the standard very high and in that sense is a terrific role model for anybody in my generation who's involved in public life or the practice of law." -- Manitoba Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen

"I marvelled at his debating skills. He could quote widely from his enormous reading ... of history, of public affairs, of great leaders. He would often sprinkle his speeches with quotes from some of the world's great leaders." -- former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon

"Sterling was a great Manitoban who was deeply dedicated to public service and worked hard for our province... I had the honour of knowing him in his political capacity and I had the privilege of appearing before him when he was a member of the Manitoba Court of Appeal. He was a gentleman who always treated me with dignity and respect." -- federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

"(Lyon) was a very strong, very forthright leader in the province." -- University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy

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