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

Steve Mann and Tim Hackett consider Marigold Lands their finest development. (Rendering courtesy Marigold Lands)
Marigold residences grow more townhouses and condos in Central Saanich

50 condos, 14 townhouses up next for project adjacent to Pat Bay Highway

Norman Mogensen sets up strings for his beans in his plot in the Oak Bay community gardens. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)
Oak Bay gardener spends decades cultivating, improving daddy’s beans

85-year-old vegan part of the community gardens scene

The Pool at the Esquimalt Rec Centre. (Courtesy of theTownship of Esquimalt/ Facebook)
Esquimalt Rec Centre restarting everyone welcome swim times later this month

The 90-minute sessions will be on select evenings and weekends

Diana Durrand and Arlene Nesbitt celebrate the new artist space in 2014. Gage Gallery moves this summer from Oak Bay to Bastion Square in Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Gage Gallery moving to Bastion Square

Vivid Connections, a showcase by Laura Feeleus and Elizabeth Carefoot, opens new venue June 29

Theatre SKAM is offering mobile, pop-up performances to Greater Victoria residents once again this summer. They’ll feature emerging artists Yasmin D’Oshun, Courtney Crawford, Kaelan Bain and Kendra Bidwell (left to right). (Courtesy of Theatre SKAM)
Theatre performances can be ordered to Greater Victoria front yards this summer

Theatre SKAM offering mobile, pop-up performances once again

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Most Read