A Langley Senator was the ‘Forrest Gump’ of politics

New biography details life of politician Gerry St. Germain

I Am A Metis, written by Peter O’Neil, details the life of Jerry St. Germain, who once served as a Langley Senator.

I Am A Metis, written by Peter O’Neil, details the life of Jerry St. Germain, who once served as a Langley Senator.

One day in 1985, Gerry St. Germain was walking into the Langley courthouse to watch his 19-year-old son, Jay, plead guilty to a drug charge.

A reporter happened to recognize the high-profile politician and asked him what he was doing there.

When St. Germaine told him about his son, and said that he considered himself partly responsible for Jay’s fall from grace, the reporter stopped writing and tore the pages out of his notebook.

It was a moment that would not be possible in the current era of social media and viral online stories, and it probably saved St. Germain’s political career.

The encounter is described by Peter O’Neil in his just-published biography of St. Germain, I am a Metis, released by Harbour Publishing.

O’Neil says St. Germain doesn’t remember who the reporter was.

“He would like to go and thank the guy, but he can’t,” O’Neil said.

The book describes how the son of a shy Metis trapper parlayed an unexpected gift for math into multiple careers — some very brief — as an air force pilot, police officer and West Coast chicken farmer before entering politics.

O’Neil first got to know St. Germain as a newly-arrived Parliament Hill reporter when he moved to Ottawa in March of 1988, around the time St. Germain was named to the Conservative government cabinet.

“I remember being told this was a guy to pay attention to,” O’Neil said.

“I always knew he was a behind-the-scenes player.”

At the time, the journalist found the politician to be a difficult interview, cautious to a fault.

“He was a tough nut to crack,” O’Neil recalled.

“I’d never gotten good scoops from Gerry because he was so discreet.”

That changed when O’Neil became St. Germain’s biographer.

The typically cautious St. Germain took three years to decide to do a biography, but once he committed, he didn’t hold back.

“He essentially cut loose,” O’Neil said.

Among the stories is a confrontation worthy of Dirty Harry while St. Germain was working a police officer in Vancouver’s rough Downtown Eastside.

St. Germain and a partner were doing a walkthrough of an East Hastings Street hotel bar when a would-be tough guy, a pimp, started making threats in French, not aware that St. German spoke the language.

St. Germain let the man go on a while, then pulled his gun.

He put the .38 to the pimp’s head and said in French, “Tu veux me tuer? Cris, je vais t’arranger (You’re going to kill me, jerk? Well, I’m going to deal with you).”

He ordered the pimp into the back alley, put the gun barrel in the man’s mouth and suggested he leave town.

The man was never seen again.

O’Neil was granted full access to St. Germain’s political diaries which provided a “bug on the wall” view of the events leading up to the collapse of the Tories.

He said St. German was at the centre of things, a small-c conservative Manitoba Metis who spoke French at a time when virtually none of the Tories from the West were right of centre people who spoke French.

“He was kind of the Forrest Gump of Canadian politics,” O’Neil said, referring to the fictional character’s tendency to appear at key historical movements, not his intellectual deficiencies.

St. Germain was present during the Brian Mulroney era, the collapse that followed when Kim Campbell took over and the rebuilding of the party under Stephen Harper.

After serving as an MP for Mission-Port Moody riding, St. Germain would eventually return to parliament as an appointed senator and chose to adopt the symbolic division of Langley-Pemberton-Whistler.

The book takes its title from St. Germain’s final speech to parliament in 2012 before he retired, when he said, with pride, “I am a Metis.”

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