Life after politics: Denise Savoie

Retired Victoria MP talks about her health, her impressions of Ottawa and her future

Former NDP MP Denise Savoie relaxes near her home in Vic West. She’s enjoying taking things a little slower in retirement.

Former NDP MP Denise Savoie relaxes near her home in Vic West. She’s enjoying taking things a little slower in retirement.

The state of journalism is top of mind for Denise Savoie.

The case of Jill Winzoski weighs on her – and it’s the first topic of conversation during a recent coffee-shop meet-up. The Manitoba reporter was fired recently, after a Conservative MP complained about her allegedly biased reporting.

It’s an example of a larger trend, she points out: journalists who ask investigative questions are sidelined and scientists don’t want to be quoted.

“A culture of fear has deepened over the time I’ve been in Ottawa,” Savoie says.

It’s been three months since her sudden resignation, midway through her third term as Victoria’s member of Parliament. Reflecting on her time in federal politics, she has one dominant impression: “I remember before I went to Ottawa, I felt, as a Canadian, that our democracy was rock solid … and it’s been shaken.”

Interrupting herself, she apologizes for the New Democrat partisan speak.

Politics aren’t the main reason for today’s interview.

Savoie gratefully acknowledges the widespread concern in the community about her health – the reason behind her unexpected departure. It’s a topic she doesn’t want to discuss in any detail, but does see the need to address in broad terms.

“It isn’t that I’m deathly ill,” she clears up, right off the bat.

“If I were younger, I could have continued, but I knew my health was taking a beating and that became important to me to be around for my grandkids and for myself,” she says. “I think I can manage it now.”

Sipping tea at her local neighbourhood haunt – the Spiral Cafe in Vic West – she looks thin, but vibrant with jeans and a pink shirt, her trademark youthful curls framing her tanned face. It’s hard to tell that on Nov. 21, she celebrated her 69th birthday.

Savoie became sick last year. She spent the summer hoping she’d feel up for another term, but as the date approached, she knew she wouldn’t be able handle her duties as deputy speaker and chair of the committee of the whole.

“We have to be there at three in the morning, if that’s when the debates are happening,” she says. “It’s not a question that I can’t be there if I’m sick.”

On Aug. 23, she announced her resignation, effective Aug. 31. The decision was excruciating, she says. “I just felt really torn.”

Savoie’s predecessor, David Anderson, spoke to her performance and challenge as deputy speaker.

“I don’t think I ever heard a critical word of her performance there,” Anderson, the former Liberal MP and cabinet minister, says in a phone conversation.

“It’s a difficult job and it’s not one that gets a lot of glory … but it’s certainly an important one for a political process, and I certainly admire her for doing it and doing it well. The difficulty she faced as deputy speaker was that you had an entire government devoted to changing the political culture … making it much more adversarial and much more polarized.”

The tone of debate was an issue Savoie spoke about frequently during her time in federal politics.

Thinking back, she says some people misconstrued her intent. “It’s not (about) wanting everybody to be nice to each other; that isn’t what I want at all.”

In fact, she welcomes hard-hitting debate.

Most sane people realize they don’t hold a monopoly on truth, she says.

“If we’re willing to look at that, we can move from our ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ (approach) … the kind of hurtful attacks that you hear so often in the house – it’s not just unpleasant, it’s totally unproductive.”

On the whole, she paints a dire picture: government is dominated by a culture of fear and personal attacks that stifle freedom of speech and hamper effective debate.

Given these insider observations, one would imagine feeling altogether defeated. Not so, she says.

“I felt shaken, but then I would come back to Victoria and I would see this incredible involvement and awareness and intelligence that reaffirms my belief in the institution.”

Whether it be about housing or kids or other issues, “people jump in and get involved and do something about it.”

Since retiring, Savoie has been swimming at Crystal Pool, hiking with friends, fishing with her son and campaigning for Murray Rankin in the byelection held to replace her.

She hopes to do a bike trip sometime, perhaps Scandinavia.

While she has closed the door on electoral politics, she plans to stay politically active.

“Politics is in me in the sense that I feel there is so much to be done,” she says.

On Nov. 27, the Victoria West Community Association honoured her contributions as a neighbour, a two-term Victoria city councillor and MP.

“In part, it was concerns about transportation and affordable housing in Victoria West that motivated Denise to run for city council. (As an MP), Denise continued to be involved in Victoria West and the issues that affect this community,” wrote association president Nan Judd.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin also noted Savoie’s involvement in her community.

“She was extremely hard working,” he says. “She was always organizing local meetings and forums. She was our voice in Ottawa as opposed to Ottawa’s voice here.”

rholmen@vicnews.com

Snapshot of service

Political record for Denise Savoie:

• Victoria city councillor, 1999 to 2005 (re-elected in 2002)

• Victoria member of parliament 2006 to 2012 (re-elected in 2008 and 2011)

Just Posted

Greater Victoria is ranked fourth out of 27 Canadian cities for the best places for youth to work in, according to a RBC report. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria among best Canadian cities for youth to work in, says RBC report

Region ranked fourth out of 27, behind Vancouver, Hamilton and Edmonton

Saanich police reported an increase in violent crimes and a drop in traffic incidents in the first three months of 2021 compared to the final quarter of 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich police report increase in violent crimes during first quarter of 2021

More domestic violence, less property crime and distracted driving compared to end of 2020

Donna Brower (left) and her daughter Carol Anne Penner, members of the Silver Swans – a quilting group of 12 ladies who meet at the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary – with a mountain of masks they sewed. (Photo submitted by Julia Dawson)
Saanich quilting group nabs first prize in Volunteer BC photo contest

Silver Swans sewing club raised more than $12,000 for Swan Lake nature sanctuary

The City of Victoria is proposing a northern contraction from Haultain Street to Bay Street with a western contraction from Cook Street to Chambers Street for Fernwood. (Illustration/Google Maps)
Community association calls for input on Victoria boundary changes

City of Victoria proposes changes to neighbourhood borders

After seizing a handgun from his home on Tuesday, Victoria police arrested a wanted man on Wednesday after he fled officers on his bike. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man wanted on several warrants flees Victoria officers on bike

He was arrested after a brief struggle, transported to hospital with injuries

Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via video conference during a House of Commons finance committee in the Wellington Building in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The committee is looking into Government Spending, WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
BREAKING: Trudeau didn’t violate conflict rules over WE Charity

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion found that former finance minister Bill Morneau did violate the rules

Erik Christian Oun, who worked for the Coquitlam school district, has had his teaching licence suspended for half a year. (Pixabay)
B.C. teacher suspended after messaging students online, calling them ‘cutie’ and ‘sweetheart’

Erik Oun’s licence has been suspended for half a year, a decision made by the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation

An Israeli attack helicopter launches flares as he flies over the Israeli Gaza border, southern Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Singh calls for halt on Canadian arms sales to Israel as violence escalates in region

Government data shows Canada sent $13.7 million in military goods and technology to Israel in 2019

Scenes like this one in the dugout are all too frequent for parents and kids arriving to play baseball at Nunns Creek Park these days, spurring a request to the city to let them move to the Sportsplex in Willow Point. Photo from CRMB presentation to City of Campbell River
Needles, feces and the unhoused send Island kids baseball program to greener pastures

Campbell River minor baseball program switches ballparks over growing safety concerns

New homes are built in a housing construction development in the west-end of Ottawa on Thursday, May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Budget’s foreign-homebuyers tax could bring in $509 million over 4 years, PBO says

Liberals are proposing a one per cent tax on vacant homes owned by foreign non-residents

A Canadian flag patch is shown on a soldier’s shoulder in Trenton, Ont., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The Canadian Forces says it has charged one of its members in the death of an army reservist from British Columbia during a training exercise at a military base in Alberta last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Canadian Forces member charged in death of army reservist during training exercise

Cpl. Lars Callsen has been charged with one count of negligence

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks during a press conference in the rotunda at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday May 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. to use remaining AstraZeneca vaccine for 2nd doses

Health officials say the change is due to the limited availability of the vaccine

A youth plays basketball in an otherwise quiet court in Toronto on Saturday April 17, 2021. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is urging the federal and provincial governments to fight COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on proven public health policy interventions including paid sick leave, and education rather than punitive enforcement measures. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Provinces issued more COVID-19 tickets during 2nd wave: CCLA report

‘A pandemic is a public health, not a public order, crisis,’ reads the report

Most Read