Death of parliamentary strategic master leaves Liberals in lurch

OTTAWA - The death of Jerry Yanover has left a gaping hole in the Liberal party's strategic arsenal as it faces a tricky fall parliamentary session and possible federal election.

OTTAWA - The death of Jerry Yanover has left a gaping hole in the Liberal party's strategic arsenal as it faces a tricky fall parliamentary session and possible federal election.

Yanover was the undisputed king of parliamentary manoeuvres with encyclopedic knowledge of arcane procedural rules and historical precedents.

His strategic talent made him a trusted adviser to every Liberal leader and House leader, in and out of government, since 1969.

"They say nobody in politics is irreplaceable but Jerry comes just about as close as it gets I think," Ralph Goodale, the Liberals' current House leader, said Monday after learning that Yanover, 62, had died over the weekend of an apparent heart attack.

"His memory, his instinct, his knowledge, his passion for the place and for the process are just precious, precious assets that in many ways were unique to him."

Although Yanover semi-retired after the last election and only showed up on Parliament Hill occasionally, Goodale said "there would not be a day go by that we didn't consult somehow, either by BlackBerry or by telephone or in a meeting.

"So his influence and his presence was very much there every minute, certainly on any issue that was at all tricky or serious."

Goodale last saw Yanover early last week when he was in hospital recovering from an angioplasty. He was to have heart surgery in September.

By mid-week, Yanover was back at home and firing off memos about the government's lack of response to a report on last summer's listeriosis crisis.

"He was laying out in detail what needed to be done. Again, that's typically Jerry. He was engaged. He was not passive and he was not a spectator. He was a player and a participant to the very last minute."

Yanover was also a great story teller and an amateur parliamentary historian. He loved to regale listeners with stories about the secret staircase in Parliament's West Block or the hidden panel in the Opposition leader's office, behind which he postulated former prime minister Mackenzie King, renowned for his paranoia, might have posted stenographers to record his meetings.

Yanover was fascinated by all things parliamentary from an early age.

As a 16-year-old high school student, Yanover visited the Parliament Buildings with a friend. Audaciously, they knocked on the door of the prime minister's office and wound up meeting Lester Pearson for a few minutes. They knocked on the opposition leader's office as well and ended up talking to John Diefenbaker for an hour.

He spent the summer after his first year of university working as a parliamentary tour guide and the following few summers working for his local MP. He gave up plans to earn a master's degree when Donald Macdonald, then Liberal House leader, offered him a job in 1969.

Commons Speaker Peter Milliken, a lifelong friend and erstwhile high school classmate, said even rival parties admired and respected Yanover.

"When I was ... assistant House leader and working with people from other parties, the other parties' people all spoke very highly of him because of his knowledge of the rules," said Milliken.

"They all said, 'Oh, he's the guy who knows everything.' He was clearly regarded as an expert."

Indeed, in a statement Monday, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff called Yanover "one of Canada's foremost experts on parliamentary procedure."

Herb Gray, a former Liberal House leader, said Yanover had "an institutional memory of Parliament and procedure that won't be easily duplicated."

Liberals had been grooming Richard Wackid to eventually succeed Yanover. But Wackid has been sidelined by a terminal illness, although he continues to offer advice from his home.

With the fall session destined to be a procedural minefield, Goodale said some of the many young Liberal aides recruited and taught by Yanover will have to fill the breach.

"We rely on the seeds he planted."

Still, Goodale acknowledged: "You just can't recreate a Jerry Yanover."

 
 
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