MONTREAL — Within the Liberal caucus he became known as “The Berminator,” former premier Jean Charest confided at a community tribute to Lawrence Bergman.
“No one was more persistent, more determined, more argumentative,” Charest told a capacity audience of more than 600 at Adath Israel Poale Zedek Congregation on May 11.
The mild-mannered Bergman “never lifted his voice or pounded the table” to get what he wanted for his constituents or his community, but he was no less effective, Charest said of the man he considers a good friend.
Bergman, who served as the MNA for D’Arcy McGee from 1994 until his resignation just over a year ago, was honoured for the integrity, loyalty and genuine concern for people that he exhibited over those two decades.
Charest said there was no project that Bergman pursued more vigorously than obtaining government funding for a major expansion of the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), which Charest called “the best hospital in the province.”
As JGH Foundation president Myer Bick noted, the $400-million budget to build the critical-care wing, known as Pavilion K, now nearing completion, came from the Charest government – the first time in the 80-year history of the hospital that a Quebec government fully underwrote a capital project.
Charest also attributed the eventual downfall of the Parti Québécois (PQ) government largely to the motion Bergman introduced in late 2000 denouncing would-be PQ candidate Yves Michaud for remarks considered offensive to Jews.
That controversy precipitated a crisis within the sovereigntist movement that ended with Premier Lucien Bouchard resigning in early 2001, leaving the impression he could not lead a party tainted by nationalist intolerance.
Charest thanked Bergman for expanding his knowledge of the Jewish community and its history, adding that two of his children recently spent time in Israel.
Bergman served as revenue minister and caucus chair during Charest’s premiership.
Former finance minister Raymond Bachand, who approved the funding of the JGH project, attested to Bergman’s relentless, but always polite, pursuit of him until he agreed.
Bachand also thanked Bergman for educating him about the diversity of the Jewish community. He recalled that Bergman was invaluable in helping organize an economic mission to Israel. Bachand recalled their visit to Yad Vashem, saying, “God bless their souls and God bless Israel also,” which was met with applause.
Bachand was honorary co-chair of the evening with retired senator Leo Kolber.
The evening’s MC, Samuel Gewurz, a friend of Bergman since their childhood in Outremont, was a co-chair with Steven Cummings and Marci Whitman, rebbetzin of the Adath, of which Bergman is a lifelong member and a past president.
Cummings called Bergman “a true friend of the Jewish community and the citizens of D’Arcy McGee, Quebec and Canada. No one is more deserving of the love and respect being shown to you by this overflow crowd.”
Rabbi Michael Whitman said Bergman brought to politics Jewish values, among them honour, compassion and sensitivity, along with an ability to get things done.
Federation CJA president Susan Laxer called Bergman “a dedicated public servant, a special person, a real mensch… [who was] accessible, listened to people and was a liaison and friend” to the community.
Three of the resolutions introduced by Bergman and adopted by the National Assembly were of particular significance, she said: in 1999, Quebec’s official recognition of Yom Hashoah; the congratulations to Israel on its 60th anniversary; and the recognition of the 180th anniversary of Lower Canada’s granting full political rights to Jews.
Stuart Bergman said, “I never heard my father utter a bad word about a single person… The number 1 lesson he gave us was loyalty to friends, colleagues and family, and keeping promises made.”
He recalled how his father never wavered even during the difficult years of his late mother Monica’s illness.
An emotional Bergman said he never forgot an encounter he had with an elderly woman when he entered politics. “She took my hand and said, ‘You are a notary. I am giving you power of attorney to represent me in Quebec City.’ I hope I properly fulfilled that lady’s wishes and those of all my constituents.”