MONTREAL — Saying he no longer has sufficient “fire in the belly” for political life, Liberal Russell Copeman, left, the member of the National Assembly for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce for 14 years, resigned on Oct. 22.
In his resignation speech to the assembly, he said that after 20 years in politics, including working in former premier Robert Bourassa’s constituency office and the party’s headquarters before running for elected office, he no longer had the passion necessary to carry out the job of MNA.“It is time to leave for the good of oneself, the electors, our party and the institution,” he said.
Copeman, who is Jewish, may be the first Quebec legislator to invoke Yom Kippur during his final address.
He explained that on that recent most solemn day, Jews are “called upon to reflect on our sins of omission or commission and to undertake heartfelt repentance…
“In this spirit, Mr. Speaker, I wish to express my regrets and apologies if, inadvertently or deliberately, I have offended or injured anyone during my years in political life.”
The mild-manner Copeman stressed that mutual respect should always be observed even during the most heated debates, and he confessed that he had failed in that obligation more than once.
Copeman already has a new job as of Oct. 27, as Concordia University’s associate vice-president for government relations.
Copeman, 48, denied his sudden departure was due to having been passed over for a cabinet post after last year’s election or that he had any major policy dispute with Premier Jean Charest.
He served as chair of the National Assembly standing committee on social affairs for four years, and was parliamentary assistant to Health Minister Philippe Couillard, whom he accompanied on a visit to Israel in 2006.
“I just felt it was time for a new challenge, and the post at Concordia presented itself,” Copeman told The CJN. “I didn’t run to become a cabinet minister. I am human and would have enjoyed it, but I have had other functions that have been very fulfilling. Certainly, I’m not embittered or disappointed.”
Copeman said he hoped to bring to the legislature the voices of people not often heard, such as the handicapped, the poor and others who feel excluded from public decision-making.
“Maybe because of my very modest origins as the son of a secretary and a salesman or due to the fact that I am a member of a linguistic minority or a religious minority, I cared about social justice causes, and they are still dear to me,” he stated in the assembly.
He said he hopes he has contributed to the maintenance of the public health and social services systems, and to the support of a sufficient standard of living for the disadvantaged, as well as to dealing with the concerns of the elderly and the plight of the homeless.
Early in his elected career, Copeman noted, he was caught up in the 1995 referendum on sovereignty, and he thanked former Premier Daniel Johnson for his leadership during that crucial period “for the future of my country Canada.”
“I wish to equally thank Premier [Charest], a great Quebecer and a great Canadian, for the confidence he has shown in me since becoming leader of our party and for his friendship,” Copeman said.
“Mr. Premier, I have always given you my frank and honest opinion, even when I suspected on a few rare occasions that it does not concur with your own. You have always treated me with the highest respect and attention, which I am very grateful for.”
Copeman also cited the strain politics can put on family life. He said Beverly, his wife of 27 years, and three children have “by and large suffered selflessly, although not always in silence,” over the years during his lengthy absences.
Nevertheless, he said he would do it all over again. “I am deeply convinced that politics is a noble vocation despite public opinion.”
Copeman would like his political epitaph to read: “He wasn’t always right, but he always tried to be on the side of right.”
Copeman told The CJN his Jewishness (he is a convert) has always informed his political outlook, and he has tried to convey the interests of the Jewish community.
“Lawrence Bergman [MNA for D’Arcy-McGill since 1994] has been the senior Jewish representative, and I have been more the junior member. We have worked very closely to do our best to represent the concerns of our community.”
One of the issues that he regrets has been shelved and that he found particularly “tormenting” was the Charest government’s proposal to increase the funding to 100 per cent of the secular studies at the Jewish day schools.
Bergman had kind words for his colleague. “Russell is a man of tremendous integrity, honour and compassion. When he meets somebody, he does not see their religion, colour or origin, but sees the human being and understands that every human being is entitled to dignity and pride. He will certainly be missed.”
At Concordia, Copeman will be working under Bram Freedman, vice-president for external relations and secretary general. His job is to promote the university’s interests at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. Copeman, who did graduate studies at Concordia in public administration, said he believes the university, which has the second-largest student enrolment in the province, is still not well enough known.
The National Assembly has lost one of its three anglophone members. Copeman got involved in politics after working for Alliance Quebec.
“It’s not my place to comment on who my successor should be, but I’ll just say that Notre-Dame-de-Grâce is one of the very few ridings with a majority English population, and it would be appropriate if its representative has a similar profile. Any parliament should mirror as best it can the make-up of society, and I know that is a view shared by Mr. Charest.”
As of the end of last week, one person had announced his intentions to seek the seat: Allen Nutik, founder and leader of Affiliation Quebec. Nutik criticized Copeman for failing to represent English rights. “Mr. Copeman has never spoken out about Quebec’s always-denied, but state-sanctioned, discrimination against anglophones and other minorities.”