That’s what we called him – or I did, at least. When someone has been one of your closest friends for almost four decades, calling him anything else didn’t seem right.
It’s not that he didn’t have a lot of titles that could have been appended to his name, however.
He was the Chair of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. He was also the House of Commons Chair of the Canada-United States Inter-Parliamentary Group. He was a member of the Trilateral Commission.
He had other titles, too. He was the Official Opposition’s representative on the top-secret National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. Before that, he’d been the powerful Chief Opposition Whip. And, of course, he’d been the elected Member of Parliament for Leeds-Grenville – later, Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes – five times between 2004 and 2015. In 2006, 2008 and 2011, he won with more than 60 per cent of the vote.
But I called him Gordie. Sometimes – like back in our Carleton U. student council days – we’d actually call each other “Senator.” Back then, we’d sit around Bree’s Inn at Carleton’s Residence Commons, drinking cheap beer out of stubbies, watching videos on MTV, and laughing about how we’d all get appointed to the Senate and practice taking naps.
L to R: Gordie, Annie Smith, Jim Watson, James Villeneuve, some guy.
Back then, back in 1983 or so, there was a gang of us. Jim Watson, who would go on to be Ottawa’s Mayor. James Villeneuve, who would become Canada’s Consul General in Los Angeles. Bob Richardson, who would later be Chief of Staff to Ontario’s Leader of the Opposition, a pollster, and an advisor to lots of powerful politicians.
Me, I was destined to be Carleton’s student association president – the highest office I’d ever achieve. But not before I got Gordie’s blessing.
The other guys knew him, because they all lived in Glengarry House, the big student residence building at the South end of campus. I was in Russell, so I didn’t know Gordie that well.
We had decided to run a slate in the 1983 Carleton University Student Association (CUSA) election. We were going to call it No Name, after the generic black-and-yellow food line that university students all ate, because it was cheap. We were mostly Conservatives and Liberals, unhappy with the way the so-called Left had been running things.
So I was summoned to meet with him. If I wanted to be president, I had to get Gordie onside.
Gordie had run Jim’s successful campaign to be the residence association’s president. And he already had a seat on Carleton’s student council. As a result, he was already a big wheel at Carleton.
At our meeting, he was wearing his Beaver Canoe sweatshirt, and he wasn’t smiling. James and Jim and Bob were there, too. All of them kept a straight face, and peppered me with questions about what I’d do as president.
Then Gordie said to me: “We think Carleton should be declared a communism-free zone,” he said. “What do you think about that?”
“Well,” I said, not sure if he was serious or not, “I don’t think that would be constitutional, but we could give it a shot, I guess.”
Gordie burst out laughing. “I’m just kidding,” he said. “I’ll support you.” And so began a decades-long friendship.
After we won the biggest landslide victory in Carleton’s history, Gordie and I did make the communism-free motion, however. We did it to outrage the graduate students, and it worked.
So, too, other stuff we did. My God, we had fun. We were idiots, some days, but we had fun.
I went off to law school in my Calgary home, and Gordie went off to serial achievements in his Gananoque home: running his family’s businesses, serving as a town councillor, acting as president of the Thousand Islands-Gananoque Chamber of Commerce, and chairing the St. Lawrence Parks Commission.
I ran for Parliament in 1997, and lost by many votes. He ran in 2000, and lost, too – but only by fifty-something votes. When he tried again, in 2004, he won big. He wouldn’t look back.
Over the fourteen years he would serve as a Parliamentarian, we would get together as often as we could. We’d talk about our kids, our previous marriages, our Carleton salad days – and politics, of course. It didn’t bug him – and it didn’t bug me – that we belonged to different political tribes. We’d just call each other “Senator,” and we’d laugh.
One time, after I set up my Daisy Group firm in Toronto, Gordie called me. He needed help. The Ontario lottery people wanted to move the Gananoque casino to Kingston. So Gordie and Ontario PC MPP Steve Clark pushed the local municipalities to hire us to fight the casino plan. For Gananoque, Gordie told us, it would mean disaster – the loss of many jobs and plenty of services.
We got to work. But the Gananoque casino was saved, in the end, by Gordie alone – he came up with the idea of commissioning a poll of Kingston residents. It would find that there was massive opposition to moving the casino there. The casino would stay put.
Another time, over breakfast at the Royal York in Toronto, I told Gordie I was pissed off Stephen Harper hadn’t put him in cabinet yet. He deserved it a lot more than many of the idiots with “P.C.” after their names, I told him.
Gordie shrugged. It didn’t bug him, he said, and I could tell he was telling the truth. He didn’t need any honorific alongside his name. He was happy doing what he was doing. He was happy just being Gordie.
A few days ago, Gordie called me on my cell. He’d just gotten back from seeing James out in L.A. “Hey, Warren,” he said. “It’s your favourite MP from Leeds-Grenville Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes and I hope you’re doing well. I was down in L.A. to see our friend James. The other day, we were bringing your name up – and we didn’t even take it in vain!” He laughed. “Anyway, give me a call if you get a chance.”
I didn’t. I was busy. It slipped my mind – until last Wednesday morning, when I got word: Gordie had died of a heart attack at his desk on Parliament Hill, working for his beloved Gananoque.
I hadn’t called him back. I hadn’t gotten a chance to tell him that I loved him like a brother, and that I was so proud of him, and that – even if we never got to be Senators together – he’d always be something way, way better, to me.
Which was Gordie.