Sunday, January 5, 2014

Jim Coutts

Jim, at the time when I first met him  - Photo credit: CP
This afternoon I attended the memorial service for my old Liberal friend Jim Coutts. Jim died of cancer December 31st.

I met Jim in 1981 when he was Pierre Trudeau's principal secretary and I was working in Ottawa for a cabinet minister as a very green assistant. He had previously been Prime Minister Lester Pearson's appointments secretary. He was the confidante, gatekeeper and strategist to both Prime Ministers and often considered the 2nd most powerful person in Ottawa.

More importantly, he was a bright, generous, funny and nice man. I got to know him through mutual friend Senator Keith Davey, and I was happily lent to Jim in 1981 out of my Ottawa job to help out in the infamous Spadina by-election, where he lost by 193 votes. I returned to help again in his next bid in 1984.

After Jim left public life I kept in touch, visiting his little house behind the Park Plaza Hotel to talk about art, religion and politics. He also liked martinis.

The memorial today was like a gathering of the clan. There's nothing quite like a political memorial service. It's like a cocktail party without the drinks. In the space of 45 minutes I had a chat with former Premier David Peterson, brother Jim, current premier Kathleen Wynne, senators, MPs, candidates (both successful, hopeful, and like me, failed), and a bunch of campaign workers. Prime Minister John Turner had just come and gone. Even though we chatted politics, Jim was never far from our thoughts.

Jim Coutts was the person who convinced Trudeau both to return in 1981 and to put repatriating the Constitution with a Charter of Rights on the agenda as his final achievement.

Jim, you will be missed. Thanks for leaving Canada a better place.