An Ottawa Icon Passes

There was no one who could work a room like former Tory cabinet minister Claude Bennett. It was like seeing a master at work. He loved it, and the crowd loved him back.

Bennett could glad handle like no one else as he schmoozed throughout a crowd, remembering everyone’s name, and often their family’s names. “How’s your mom,” he asked, and he wasn’t bluffing. He knew the mom. He was the real political deal. I saw it myself, first hand and marveled at the ease he worked a group. Sadly, Bennett passed away early this morning from heart issues which he’d battled for years. A deeply religious man, Bennett was still walking up to three hours a day, as recently as Thursday. And of course, during these trying times, the family can’t hold a funeral for him. That’s difficult.

Bennett leaves behind two children, Winston (yes, named after Winston Churchill) and his daughter Natalie. When I met them, about 40 years ago, they were so little, just adorable. And now they’re adults, trying to deal with the death of their father, their mother Deborah has are already passed.
Bennett was a mentor to many politicians in Ottawa. “He was very instrumental in helping me get elected (to city council). He would come door knocking with me. Ans I spent a lot of time with his family,” said Michael McSweeney, a former city councillor and now president of the Cement Association of Canada. (For the public record, I covered McSweeney when he was a city councillor and have recently worked for him on contract with the CAC).

“He was an Ottawa guy, through and through,” McSweeney said. “He was a very giving man, a very religious man, cover to cover. He wa friends with everyone, all of the mayors going right back to Charlotte Whitton, George Nelms, Laurie Greenberg, Jim Durrell, Bob Chiarelli. He was just a vey special person,” McSweeney said.And like so many other of his friends, McSweeney had just spoken to him recently. “We were talking about the federal leadership, who we should be supporting and how we were going to deal with the massive deficits. And this was before Covid and how that would impact the future generations,” he added. “He was so looking forward to the opening of the Hunt Club (golf course), we were supposed to go golfing in a couple of weeks.”

Claude’s wife Deborah passed away in 2018. They leave behind two children, Winston, named after Winston Churchill and Natalie.

Bennett was born in Ottawa, Ontario. He  served as an alderman and city controller in Ottawa from 1961 to 1969, having first been elected to city council in 1960. He was the city’s acting mayor in the period from 1970 to 1972.Bennett was elected to the Ontario legislature in the 1971 provincial election, an election he won soundly. He became a Minister without portfolio in Davis’s government on September 28, 1972 and was promoted to Minister of Industry and Tourism on January 15, 1973.

He was re-elected by a reduced majority in the 1975 election and again with a majority in 1977. On January 21, 1978, he was named Minister of Housing. He remained with the Davis government for the remainder of the Davis years.And he continued to be part of cabinet under Frank Miller’s reign.He didn’t run again in the 1986 election.From 1990 to 1995, Bennett served as chairman of the board for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

He has been president of the Commonwealth Games Association of Canada since 1998, and has also served as chair of the Ottawa Transition Board and the Ottawa Airport Authority. On June 29, 2007, Bennett was appointed to sit on the board of directors of the Royal Canadian Mint for a four-year term.
During his reign as the key Ontario cabinet minister, he was as I would describe him, the godfather of Eastern Ontario. He was in charge of this area, and he served the region well. But nothing happened that he didn’t approve of.

In a horrible twist of fate, his brother Thom Bennett lost his wife Susan on Thursday.

No life isn’t fair.

“He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever worked for, always respectful, and in any discussions, he always made sure you always had input, and he had such a sense of humour, he was just so good,” said former Ottawa city clerk Pierre Page.Page worked with Bennett during the amalgamation of the Ottawa’s region different municipalities.

“He was just so respectful, and one of the sharpest guys I knew. I used to see him regularly for lunch, we tried to meet once a month,” Page said.In fact, the last time I saw Bennett was a a lunch with Page.

Former regional councillor Andy Haydon admits the two didn’t always see eye-to-eye with each other. Who does? But Haydon always had respect for Bennett.”How can you not be a fan of Claude, not because he was a Conservative, but because he was Claude Bennett,” Haydon said.Bennett was also in charge of the process to amalgamate the city’s of Ottawa into one city.

Larry Malloy, who first let me know Bennett had passed, was very close to Bennett and his family.

He worked on former premier Bill Davis’ campaign and supported Bennet. He also served as his chief of staff, suffice to say the bond was tight.”We didn’t fix any world problems, bu we talked about them.”

Fighting Like a Girl

Diane Deans has been taking on cancer by ‘fighting like a girl.’

And on the eve of her last cancer treatment, Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans held her annual Women’s Day Breakfast with several hundred there to celebrate not just Women’s Day, but Deans herself. It was her first public appearance since announcing she’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Looking healthy and strong, Deans – in a wide-ranging talk – spoke about her constant support of women, her love for her friends and family and her tough battle with ovarian cancer. At times, it seemed the speech could well be her opening salvo in what many expect will become her entry into a mayoralty race.

The event was co-hosted by CBC anchor Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld, a fellow cancer survivor.

There were plenty of laughs and more than a few tears as she addressed the crowd.

In one of the most heartwarming moments, Deans said the most difficult part of her diagnosis of ovarian cancer was telling her daughter Megan and life partner Ron. Tearing up as she spoke, as did much of the audience, Deans said her family already knew something really bad was going on. “They knew, they really did. They’d seen the number of tests, seen me,” she said.

And while she brought audience members to tears, she also had the crowd laughing out loud, suggesting as she was feeling the effects of the undiagnosed disease, she only fully realized how sick she must be when she couldn’t finish a glass of wine! (A woman after my own heart!). She also opened up about her hair loss, something she admits she really struggled with.

In a really lovely story, she spoke about her grandson Evan, who was worried she’d be picked on if she was bald, so he asked to have his head shaven as well. Just so incredibly sweet. And when she had to accept wigs were her best option, Evan, just 10, tried one on to show her that the wig she was considering suited everyone! He was right. When friends commented that despite the fact the wig wasn’t her own hair, but looked great, Deans disagreed.

“What do you mean it’s not my own hair, I paid for it,” the councillor said. “The thing about hair is that it’s part of your identity, And now I don’t ask anyone how my hair looks, I ask if it’s on straight. Hair is part of your identity. But hair comes back. If it’s your hair or your life, you choose life.”

But as she was struggling to deal with her own reality, her daughter Megan became very ill, eventually being diagnosed with colitis and had emergency surgery at Christmas. So instead of being able to take time for herself, she was back at the hospital, spending eight hours a day by her daughter’s side. Their routine included bi-weekly get-togethers watching Ottawa City Council.

“It’s the best drama in town,” Deans joked.

Her last treatment is on Friday. There’s no set date for her return to council, but she will follow her doctor’s recommendation to take several months to recuperate. She’s anxious to get back, to work on the light rail transit file and get back to being the head of the Ottawa Police Services Board. 
“I’m really proud of the work that I’ve done, proud of the fight that I’ve put up along the way and serving this amazing community that I love. You can see the fruits of your labour. You see the difference you make, I’m proud of the fight I’ve put up along the way,” Deans said.

Deans has been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from the community.

“It really does warm your heart, I’ve heard from so many people. I believe I’m going to make it, I’m going to be fine and I’m going to  fight like a girl.”