Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Eric Gullage: 1944-2007

The morning news included the announcement of the death of Eric Gullage. I had heard a while ago that he was sick and had recovered. It seems that was optimistic. Eric was, in the words of Randy Simms, a gentleman and a gentle man and he was right. He was also a caring politician, a capable minister of the crown and a good and patient friend.

His first public foray was as a member of St. John's City Council where he served two stints as a councillor. The first was back in 1973 when he was not even 30. At the time he would have been the youngest councillor ever and I'm pretty sure that record still stands. He resigned his seat on October 26, 1976 but then roared back in the election of 1985 as a Ward 1 Councillor.

He made the jump to provincial politics in a 1988 by election where he ran as a Liberal and defeated PC Ralph Tucker by 200 votes in the District of Waterford-Kenmount. This win was widely recognised as the beginning of the end for 17 years of PC rule and the start of the shift that ushered in the victory of Premier Clyde Wells just a year later.

In the Wells administration he served initially as Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs and had a rocky time trying to steer municipal amalgamation to reality. In 1989, the province had more incorporated municipalities than Ontario and too many carried too much debt or were simply bankrupt. It was not uncommon to read in the news of yet another small rural town who had the lights in the town hall and streetlights cut off due to non-payment of electrical bills.

Gullage tried to bring sense and rationality to this mess and courted much controversy and resistance from those who's local municipal power interests he impinged upon.

He also served a stint in Social Services where he had to deal with the television images from the Innu community of Davis Inlet of of six children - five girls and a boy - inhaling gas fumes in an unheated waterfront shack just under a year after six children died in a house fire while their parents were out drinking.

In the 1993 provincial election the following year, he was defeated by PC Harvey Hodder by 894 votes.

He kept himself busy in his post-political life; he served two five-year terms in the position of chief review commissioner of the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Review Division, among other things.

Two years ago he even considered taking another shot at a seat on council. He probably would have succeeded too.

I met him when he was first sworn into the Wells cabinet and I was assigned as a liaison between his department and the Premier's office. Unlike some of the ministers I had to deal with who barely tolerated the Premier's junior staff, Eric was patient, cooperative, professional and collaborative. He was always a pleasure to deal with and we became friends which lasted long after he left office.

He was was helpful and supportive to me and my family in darker times and never failed to greet us warmly. He didn't have to be that way but that was the kind of man he was. I always appreciated him for that. The last time we talked was during the last municipal election and it had been too long since we spoke before that. I regret we had not talked more in recent years.

In a political profession which is so popularly maligned, he was the rare and honourable man who never lost sight of what was important and who stayed true to his principles regardless of personal political cost. He was too young to pass away yet; he had a while lot more to contribute to the life of this province.

Rest in peace, Eric Gullage. You will not be forgotten.


Messages to the family can be sent here.

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