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Former Manitoba Premier Howard Pawley


Former Manitoba Premier Howard Pawley

Once rivals who squared off daily at the Manitoba legislature, former premier Gary Filmon remembered Howard Pawley Thursday as a gentleman with a preacher’s speaking style and a staunch dedication to his principles.

"He was very dedicated to public service, to his principles and to the New Democratic Party," said Filmon, who was leader of the Tory opposition for much of Pawley’s time as premier and succeeded Pawley in the post in 1988. "He was very tenacious in his commitment to the things he believed in."

Recalling the events of 30 years ago, Filmon said, despite contentious times in the legislature, Pawley was a kind person outside the house, able to share a chuckle over the day’s events with members of rival parties. In the mid-1980s, those events included an attempt by Pawley to entrench French language rights, a move the Conservatives opposed and that prompted a legislative log-jam and days of bell-ringing at the legislature as members were summoned for votes.

Since his death Wednesday, Pawley has been widely praised for his ability to listen, to consult and to lead gently by consensus.

"I remember him saying he regarded himself as one vote in cabinet" said Filmon, a unusual approach to governing when Pawley bore the weight of leading his namesake government.

Filmon said he was saddened by Pawley’s passing, and offered condolences to the former premier’s family.

Flags at Winnipeg city hall, at Windsor’s city hall and at the Manitoba legislature are at half-mast this morning to mark Pawley’s death. The Ontario-born lawyer served as Manitoba’s NDP premier from 1981 until 1988 before becoming a political science professor at the University of Windsor. He was 81.

As tributes continue to pour in from across Canada, the province says it’s not yet clear when Pawley’s funeral will take place, but an online book of condolence has been set up for the public to sign.

In a statement Thursday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Pawley a "remarkable Canadian, widely respected for his championing of human rights, social justice, and economic development."

"Today we mourn the loss of an exceptional visionary whose trail-blazing work made life better for the citizens of Manitoba and, by extension, for all Canadians," said Trudeau. "His legacy will live on in the many advances our country has made toward achieving greater social justice for all."

wilson parasiuk left, and premier howard pawley

wilson parasiuk left, and premier howard pawley

Pawley’s political career as a minister and premier included the creation of public auto insurance, the Meech Lake Constitutional Accord and a historic defeat when a fellow NDP MLA voted with the opposition Progressive Conservatives to reject the budget and bring down the majority government in a non-confidence vote.

"We join Manitobans in mourning the loss of our former Premier Howard Pawley," Premier Greg Selinger said in a statement.

"Throughout his life, Howard fought for equality, social justice, and the rights of all peoples. His leadership and progressive values led to changes to Manitoba’s labour code to ensure that workers are paid fairly, regardless of their gender, and the inclusion of sexual orientation to Manitoba’s Human Rights Code.

"Our thoughts are with his family and friends. Manitoba lost a true champion of social justice today."

Pawley was an MLA in Selkirk for 19 years before becoming premier. He is a recipient of the Order of Canada, and since 1990, taught law and politics at the University of Windsor.

Former premier Gary Doer, who served in Pawley’s second cabinet, succeeded him as party leader, remembers him fondly.

"Howard was really a very gentle person," Doer said Wednesday from Winnipeg, where Canada’s Ambassador to the United States is home with his family.

"He was honest, in my view. He knew the province extremely well… He knew every community. He remembered every name. He had a remarkable memory for people he had met.

"And when he was speaking with you, he always looked you in the eye. He was always listening."

Doer recalled in the late 1980s how, while representing the province in what were then controversial negotiations with the federal and city governments over the use of public money to purchase land from CN Rail that would become The Forks, Pawley was very supportive.

Howard Pawley elected NDP Leader 790411

Howard Pawley elected NDP Leader 790411

"He saw the vision. He backed me up completely," Doer said. "I found him very good to work with."

Doer recalled him being consultative and listening to all sides of the debate when conducting cabinet meetings.

"He had consultative and inclusiveness qualities that very few people have," Doer said. "Including myself."

In 2011, Pawley released an autobiography entitled Keep True: A Life in Politics, which detailed the inner workings of Pawley’s NDP government from 1981-1988, years marked by recession and bitter French language rights debates.

Pawley’s first run at public office was during the 1957 federal election as a candidate for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. He ran federally again in 1965 and once more in 1988 under the NDP banner.

"My heart is breaking. I love Howard Pawley," said former MLA and MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who served in three cabinet postings in the Pawley government from 1986-88.

"He’s just the kindest, most humble, gentle politician you can imagine. He was my mentor and friend and leader.

"He was just an incredible person to work with and a politician who is both strong in leadership but also humble in his approach and welcoming to people from every walk of life. He taught me so much about inclusive politics and consensus decision-making."

She said she moved to Manitoba from Ontario in 1982 to work for Pawley.

Howard Pawley at the Manitoba: Past, Present & Future conference. The event featured a panel discussion with Manitoba���s former Premiers Edward Schreyer, Gary Filmon and Howard Pawley at the Hotel Fort Garry. Gary Doer joined by teleconference, Thursday, May 9, 2013. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Howard Pawley at the Manitoba: Past, Present & Future conference. The event featured a panel discussion with Manitoba���s former Premiers Edward Schreyer, Gary Filmon and Howard Pawley at the Hotel Fort Garry. Gary Doer joined by teleconference, Thursday, May 9, 2013. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

"He’s one of the reasons I came to Manitoba in the first place," Wasylycia-Leis said.

"I was actually working in Ottawa for Ed Broadbent and had been asked to come out and help co-ordinate the leaders’ tour in ’81, which I did and it was a great campaign. I got to know Howard then. Shortly after that he asked me to come and set up the premier’s secretariat so my husband and I both came here in ’82 and so I worked in his office and then I ran for office and I got elected and he trusted me enough as a new, young politician to give me three cabinet portfolios."

Al Mackling, a former cabinet minister under Pawley and friend for more than 60 years, said he remembers Pawley showing great leadership in many areas but especially in the hotly contested issue of public auto insurance.

"When we introduced public automobile insurance, there was a very concentrated and organized effort by the industry, the private industry, to coerce us into backing down from proceeding with the public automobile insurance," Mackling said.

"But Howard had been assigned the task of developing the program and introducing it and he never wavered in his leadership of that issue.

"Howard and I grew together in political activity many years ago. He was a good friend and a good socialist, tempered, of course by being pragmatic. He was a man of principle and he was just a good friend."

Pawley was born in Brampton, Ont., in 1934 and spent his youth steeped in politics as his father was an unsuccessful candidate for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the forerunner to the NDP.

After moving to Winnipeg, he tried his hand at teaching before going into law and then politics.

Under premier Ed Schreyer, Pawley served as public works and urban affairs minister, and as attorney general where his major achievement was following Saskatchewan’s lead to give his province Canada’s second government-run auto insurance system.

He became Manitoba’s second NDP premier in 1981 when the party ousted the one-term government of Progressive Conservative premier Sterling Lyon.

The NDP was re-elected under Pawley in 1986 with a razor-thin majority. In a 1988 budget vote, NDP MLA Jim Walding voted with the Tories to bring down Pawley’s government. Pawley resigned and was replaced as leader by Gary Doer. In his first bid to become premier, Doer took on PC Leader Gary Filmon in the 1988 election. Filmon won a minority government.

Pawley took one more shot at politics, running unsuccessfully in the 1988 federal election for the NDP in Selkirk. He later became an academic at the University of Windsor.

Pawley was married to Adele Pawley, formerly Adele Schreyer, a cousin of former premier Ed Schreyer.



— with files from Gordon Sinclair Jr., Larry Kusch and The Canadian Press