'Canada is a better place because Shaughnessy Cohen has been with us'

Not to be forgotten amid everything else is that today marks the tenth anniversary of Shaughnessy Cohen’s tragic death. She collapsed to the floor of the House of Commons on the afternoon of Dec. 9, 1998 and later passed as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage. 

“My colleagues,” Speaker Gilbert Parent said, adjourning the House after Cohen had been taken to hospital, “I guess this puts into perspective some of the work that we are doing.”

Between 1993 and 1998, Cohen was the Liberal MP for Windsor-St. Clair (now Windsor-Tecumseh). Susan Delacourt, one of her friends on the Hill, later penned Cohen’s biography, Shaughnessy: The Passionate Politics of Shaughnessy Cohen. Writing in today’s Windsor Star, lawyer Peter Hrastovec remembers Cohen as “one of God’s great characters.”

The day after her death, the House of Commons sat for a series of tributes. Jean Chretien’s contribution was as follows.

“Mr. Speaker, on behalf of members of my party and on behalf of all members of the House, I wish to pay tribute to the member for Windsor—St. Clair.

“It is a great family that we belong to. The member for Windsor—St. Clair was the best. She was a very dedicated person, committed to all the social causes in her home town of Windsor. She came here with the same preoccupations. She was chair of the justice committee and she spent all her life ensuring that those most in need in society could have a little better life. That was her preoccupation every day, in committees, in the House of Commons and in caucus.

“As everyone knows, she was a very outspoken person. She was absolutely not shy to tell me as it was, as she saw it. She had a great sense of humour. She became everyone’s friend.

“It is amazing the deep sorrow I felt last night when I learned of her passing and when I saw my colleagues crying. A sister had left us.

“What people do not understand is that we might have our political differences but we all want to do the best to make sure we have a better society. Shaughnessy was like that. She was a dynamo. She got things moving; she pushed. She was very partisan in many ways. Shaughnessy believed in the party and the values of our party. She could also be very critical of moves that were made because at times she was not completely happy. It happens once in a while.

“Shaughnessy was what is best about parliament. She represented her riding and she felt strongly that the views she gathered every weekend when she went back to her constituency should be expressed here in the House of Commons and on Wednesdays in our caucus. She did this very forcefully.

“For me and my colleagues, we have lost a great sister and a great parliamentarian.

“I had the occasion a minute ago to speak with her husband and her daughter to express my sympathies. It must be a terrible shock and an unbelievable loss for them.

“But they know that the time she spent in parliament did not go unnoticed. She was a person of strong convictions but she also knew how to make friends. Although her work was very important to her, she knew there was more to life, like sometimes making time for fun, creating the odd problem for us and getting me to smile anyway. There was always that balance that not everyone has, but she did. She was truly exceptional.

“On behalf of the members of my party, and of Canadians generally, I would like to thank her for everything she did for her constituents and for all Canadians.

“I have to tell members that in many ways Canada is a better place because Shaughnessy Cohen has been with us.”

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