Published: July 16, 2018
Updated: July 18, 2018 1:36 PM EST
Obituary: Former art teacher Eugène Bellemare became respected four-term Liberal backbencher
Eugène Bellemare was elected as the Liberal MP in Carleton-Gloucester in 1988, '93, '97 and 2000.Chris Mikula / Ottawa Citizen
BORN APRIL 6, 1932
Eugène Bellemare used to sit at his drawing table long after midnight to pen caricatures from the House of Commons, where he sat as Carleton-Gloucester’s MP.
“After the news at 11:30, I just sit and I draw,” he said in a 1997 interview. “I go to bed extremely late, at 1:30 or so. I can’t sleep before that. So this is my fun, late at night.”
Bellemare, who was elected as Liberal MP in four elections in Carleton-Gloucester, died July 6. He was 86.
Trained at the Ontario College of Art, and a former art teacher at Nepean High School, he sold the sketches to raise money for the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. He had undergone bypass surgery there.
Sketches of Jean ChrÃ©tien and the Peace Tower were included in a book of Bellemare’s doodles and caricatures. Bruno Schlumberger / The Ottawa Citizen
The sketches showed former MP Don Boudria as a “walking skeleton” (Bellemare’s term) and Jean Chrétien in full war cry, probably during question period. Preston Manning was a mild-mannered schoolboy. Former defence minister Doug Young stood stiff and arrogant.
Bellemare himself would never figure among these political party leaders. He was a four-term backbencher, and before that an alderman, but remained respected for quietly and efficiently serving the community. He also withstood the humiliation in 2004 of losing his own party’s nomination, even though he was the veteran sitting member for the ruling party.
Bellemare had two jobs with the Ottawa Board of Education, first as a teacher, and later as an administrator in charge of adult education.
After hours he was an alderman on the former Gloucester council from 1969 to 1988. Council jobs in Gloucester weren’t full-time back then.
Eugene Bellemare celebrates an election victory with his wife, Roberte Gauthier. Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen
Gloucester residents used to vote on a single city-wide slate of candidates for council, and his friend and former council colleague Royal Galipeau, who died earlier this year, recalled in a years-old interview that Bellemare consistently finished in top spot.
“He was very much in touch with his electors. If council agreed to pave your street, he was the one that was going to send a letter. Everyone on your street would get a letter that council had agreed to pave your street.”
Another letter would follow while the work was underway, and another after it was done. It was a council decision, but Bellemare made sure he got the credit.
“Councillors didn’t like him, by the way,” said Galipeau. But, he adds, it wasn’t Bellemare’s fault, as any of them could have stayed in touch with voters the way he did. “We were just too lazy to do it.”
Bellemare also had a way of letting protests from the community swing his vote. Again, it didn’t make him popular with his council colleagues.
EugÃ¨ne Bellemare, 1990. Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen
They ganged up on him in 1985 and picked a rookie councillor, Richard Cantin, instead of Bellemare to sit on regional council, Galipeau recalled.
“But he got his sweet revenge because in 1988 he sought the (federal) Liberal nomination and so did Cantin. Cantin had the wind in his sails, but Bellemare had 18 years of doing favours for people.”
Bellemare was elected as the Liberal MP in Carleton-Gloucester in 1988, ’93, ’97 and 2000.
“People liked to belittle Bellemare” as unsophisticated. “But a lot of that was snobbery. He had a master’s of education. He was a senior administrator of the school board,” Galipeau said.
“Probably his populism didn’t sell well with important people.
“Conservatives especially didn’t like him, but I think what they didn’t like was they couldn’t beat him.”
Galipeau recalled not liking Bellemare as a newcomer on Gloucester council, “and I don’t think he liked me much, either.”
They were the two francophones on council, rivals for the unofficial position as local francophone hero, Bellemare having more experience. “Like the relationship between a four-year-old and a two-year-old,” Galipeau said wryly in hindsight.
But the two men became friends over time there and in the House.
“I realized the snobbery that people had about him was just that — snobbery. He actually cared about the problems that people have. Nobody to him was unimportant, I guess — except the important people, if you get my drift. Or the self-important people.”
In 2004, times were hard. Bellemare was in mourning during his fourth term after the death of his wife, Roberte. “They should have found an elegant way to get him to retire,” Galipeau said.
The party didn’t. Bellemare wanted to run again in 2004, but he lost the Liberal nomination even though he was a proven, sitting MP in the ruling party.
“It split the Liberal party the same way it was being split nationally,” Galipeau said. The party held the seat in 2004, but not in 2006.
“He wasn’t a legacy MP. He was a retail guy.”
“I have a lot of respect for Eugène,” said Bob Monette, the longtime Ottawa councillor from Orléans. “He was always a person who was very hard-working, very accommodating. Always wanted to work with all levels of government, and his door was always open. He’s always been easily accessible.”
“He was very open-minded. It was not a partisan factor. It didn’t matter if you were NDP, Conservative or Liberal. If it meant doing something good for the community, he was there at the table.”
“He was mostly a backbencher as an MP but a very efficient backbencher.”
It was telling that in the 1997 interview Bellemare said he hoped the charity sale of caricatures would bring “a little comradeship” on the Hill.
“People are getting very hostile. There’s an election coming and everyone has got swords drawn,” he said.
But he still went out and won the election.Share your thoughts