Hon. Pierre Sévigny 1927-2004 R.I.P.

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Friday 19 Mar 2004
Lieutenant-Colonel Pierre Sévigny dies
Pierre Sévigny, a Second World War hero, died Saturday in the Royal Victoria Hospital. He was 87. Lt-Col. Sévigny, a Second World War hero was awarded the Polish equivalent of the Victoria Cross. He lost his leg in the Battle of the Rhine. He later served as a cabinet minister in John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservative government in the 1960s.

Montreal Gazette
Mon Mar 22 2004
Byline: ALAN HUSTAK
Ex-MP embroiled in spy sex scandal: Lt.-Col. Pierre Sévigny, suave and movie-star handsome, distinguished himself in the Second World War and as a minister in Diefenbaker’s cabinet. He coined the Conservative campaign slogan ‘One Canada’
Lt.-Col. Pierre Sévigny, a Second World War hero who, as a Progressive Conservative cabinet minister in the 1960s, was the central figure in Canada’s biggest political sex and security scandal, died Saturday in the Royal Victoria Hospital.
He was 87.
“He was a very good stump speaker, very emotional on the podium,” said Heward Grafftey, a Conservative MP who sat with Sévigny in the House of Commons.
“He waved his arms in the old-fashioned way, but he was a very, very good politician, a very good cabinet minister, and an honourable man.
“I don’t believe his sexual peccadillos diminished his considerable achievements or made him any less honourable.”
Joseph Pierre Albert Sévigny, a politician’s son, was born in Quebec City on Sept. 12, 1917.
His father, Albert, was speaker of the House of Commons in 1916 and later was appointed minister of inland revenue in the Borden cabinet, then chief justice of Quebec Superior Court.
Pierre Sévigny attended Loyola High School in Montreal and the Quebec Seminary. He graduated from Université Laval.
Tall, suave and movie-star handsome in a silent-screen kind of way, he was given a screen test by MGM studios in Hollywood in 1935 and might have made it in movies, but his patrician family discouraged such a career.
Sévigny returned to Canada, where he went to work in real estate, construction and in the import-export business.
He also wrote pulp fiction for the Saturday Evening Post under a pseudonym, Peter Maple.
Sévigny enlisted in the Canadian army in 1939 and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 1940.
During the D-Day invasion in June 1944, his Quebec artillery regiment was attached to a Polish division and subsequently took part in battles throughout Belgium and over the Rhine River into Germany.
Sévigny distinguished himself in the Battle of the Falaise Gap in August 1944. In the opening phase of the attack, Sévigny, then a captain, hurled grenades at an anti-tank gun and killed the entire enemy gun crew.
Two weeks later, Sévigny – promoted to major in the field – was trapped with 1,200 men on a hill surrounded by battle-toughened German Panzer and SS troops fighting to break out of an Allied encirclement.
Only about 250 men survived, including Sévigny and another officer.
Later, in the Battle of the Rhine, Sévigny lost his leg. He was awarded the Virtuti Militari, the Polish equivalent of the Victoria Cross, and Croix de Guerre medals from both France and Belgium.
During his convalescence, he wrote his wartime memoirs, Face a l’Ennemi, which was Quebec’s biggest bestseller in 1946.
That same year he married Corrine Kernan. They had three children, Pierrette, Albert and Robert.
Sévigny lost his first bid for election to the Commons in 1949, and failed again in 1957. He did, however, inadvertently coin the winning 1958 Conservative campaign slogan, One Canada.
“At one meeting, (Prime Minister John) Diefenbaker was going on and on in his inimitable way about his dream for a greater and better Canada,” Sévigny recalled.
“I told him, ‘Let’s leave it at this – one Canada, where everyone lives in harmony.’ I remember something about harmony. He jumped up and shouted, ‘One Canada – what we could do with that slogan.’ ”
Sévigny was elected MP for Longueuil in the 1958 Tory landslide and was appointed deputy speaker. In 1959, he was named associate minister of national defence.
It was largely because of his efforts that the 1967 world’s fair was held in Montreal.
As early as 1956, Sévigny had lobbied Montreal Mayor Sarto Fournier for the fair, and in 1961 he headed the delegation that got the final approval for the exhibition.
Sévigny was re-elected in 1962, but resigned from the cabinet in 1963 in a dispute over Diefenbaker’s nuclear arms policy.
He was defeated in the general election that followed, in which the Liberals were returned.
Out of office, he wrote his political memoirs, This Game of Politics, published in 1965.
An inveterate bridge player, he might have remained a footnote to history if his name hadn’t surfaced again in 1966 during a heated debate in Parliament.
During an exchange in the Commons, Liberal Justice Minister Lucien Cardin let it slip that as a cabinet minister, Sévigny had had an affair with Gerda Munsinger, an East German communist spy.
For the next few weeks, the country was consumed with what became known as the Munsinger Affair.
Sévigny admitted he knew the woman socially when she lived in Montreal, but denied Munsinger was an espionage agent.
Since he was no longer in politics, he resented the intrusion into his private life, and used his cane to attack a CBC reporter who came to his door to question him.
The charges of infidelity did not especially bother Sévigny. What enraged him, he said, was the suggestion that he was a traitor to his county.
In a public statement, Sévigny denounced the “supposed justice minister” Cardin as “a cheap, despicable little man . . . who has brought this odious, erroneous nonsense in front of the public for dirty, petty political reasons.” His statement sidestepped the sexual nature of his relationship with Munsinger, but Sévigny vowed to fight so “infamous a slander.”
“I shall ask the soldiers, who by the thousands fought and bled with me, if they believe Pierre Sévigny or any Sévigny for that matter could betray this Canada that the Sévignys love so much.”
A royal commission of inquiry was set up to investigate, and it found no breach of security, “no scintilla of evidence of disloyalty.”
It did conclude, however, that Sévigny’s liaison with Munsinger “might have exposed him to blackmail or undue pressure, and that not even his fine family background or outstanding war record could ensure he would not be subject to and yield to such pressure.”
No charges were laid, but the judge censured Diefenbaker for his failure to fire Sévigny when the prime minister learned of the indiscretion.
“Gerda Munsinger knew Pierre Sévigny as a man. He knew her as a woman. End of epitaph,” said veteran journalist Peter C. Newman, the parliamentary correspondent who chronicled the period in two books.
Former Southam News bureau chief Don McGillivray, who lived up the street from the Sévignys in Westmount, recalled: “He was a decent human being, and one of the better ministers in Diefenbaker’s cabinet.
“He didn’t deserve to be singled out. The gal he consorted with was innocuous, although it didn’t seem so at the time.”
The scandal ruined Sévigny financially. He started teaching public finance part time at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) in 1967 to pay the bills and became a full professor at the university in 1980.
Students who had no idea of his background found him an engaging and stimulating professor.
He returned to active politics in 1971 and ran unsuccessfully for the leadership of the provincial Union Nationale party: he polled 26 of the 2,200 votes cast.
In 1978 he founded a short-lived right-wing provincial political party, Les Democrates.
Incidentally, Sévigny finally got to be in a movie.
As he walked through the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in 1979, he was cast on the spot in a Robert Mitchum film, Agency.
He played a backroom politician.

Originaire de Québec, son père Albert a été juge et député conservateur à la Chambre des communes, siégeant au sein du cabinet de guerre du premier ministre Robert Borden. Officier dans l’armée canadienne pendant la Deuxième Guerre mondiale, ce partisan du Parti progressiste-conservateur subit quelques échecs politiques avant d’être finalement élu à la Chambre des communes, en 1958. Nommé ministre associé à la Défense (1959) par le premier ministre John Diefenbaker, il conteste les positions de ce dernier et démissionne de son poste en 1963. Son nom reviendra dans l’actualité en 1966 avec les révélations publiques sur sa liaison avec l’Allemande Gerda Munsinger.

Pierre Sévigny
Minister made famous when details of his liaison with an alleged communist spy, Gerda Munsinger, rocked Canadian politics in 1966
(The Guardian) The Canadian politician Pierre Sévigny, who has died aged 86, a former associate defence minister in the Progressive Conservative government of John Diefenbaker, became a household name in Canada when details of his liaison with Gerda Munsinger, an alleged communist spy, rocked Canadian politics in 1966.
Sévigny had held ministerial office from 1959 until February 1963 when he resigned, midway through the election campaign that brought about the demise of the Diefenbaker government and his own parliamentary career. Sévigny took issue with Diefenbaker’s refusal to allow the Canadian military to use American nuclear warheads.

The very idea of celebrating Canada’s Confederation Centennial was suggested by the news surrounding Belgium’s preparation for its 1958 Universal (all subjects) and International (all countries) Exhibition. Pierre Sévigny, then Associate Minister of National Defence and an influential member of the Diefenbaker government, proposed Expo 67 as a Canadian Centennial project. The idea was accepted by Prime Minister Diefenbaker for Montreal, after Toronto declined. Montreal’s Expo 67 project was announced by Senator Mark Drouin on Canada’s Day at the Brussels Exhibition. (Expo’s notebooks, Fondation Expo 67)

See also Wednesday Night #777 Avro Arrow and AVRO Arrow: Postscripts to Wednesday Night #777

Archives Radio-Canada Pierre Sévigny, héros méconnu
Date de diffusion : 19 mars 1949
Héros de guerre, Pierre Sévigny participe, le 19 mars 1949, à une cérémonie soulignant la fin de la campagne de souscription lancée pour reconstruire l’université de Caen, comme on l’entend dans cet extrait réalisé grâce à une liaison directe par radio entre Montréal et Caen.
Ce colonel canadien-français, né à Québec en 1917, a participé au débarquement de juin 1944 sur les plages de Normandie. Il se démarque particulièrement lors de la bataille de Falaise, en août 1944. Promu major pendant les combats, il est ensuite nommé colonel.
À l’âge de 22 ans, Pierre Sévigny s’enrôle dans l’armée. Il veut devenir pilote de chasse, mais sa santé ne le lui permet pas. Il lorgne ensuite la marine, mais souffre du mal de mer. C’est enfin dans l’artillerie qu’il trouve sa place, au sein du 4e régiment d’artillerie moyenne.
Le jeune militaire se distingue particulièrement dans la bataille de la poche de Falaise, en août 1944. Il participe ensuite aux batailles de Belgique, des Pays-Bas et d’Allemagne où il est blessé le 24 février 1945. Sa blessure lui vaut d’être amputé de la jambe gauche.
À son retour du front, il est tenté par la politique au sein du Parti progressiste-conservateur. Deux fois battu, en 1949 puis en 1957, il est enfin élu, en 1958 dans la circonscription de Longueuil, l’année même où John Diefenbaker prend le pouvoir. Sévigny est nommé vice-président de la Chambre des communes en mai 1958, puis ministre associé à la Défense l’année suivante.
Tout au long de sa carrière politique, Pierre Sévigny est considéré comme un grand orateur et un nationaliste canadien tenace.
En désaccord avec son chef sur les questions d’armement nucléaire, Sévigny démissionne en février 1963. Il est défait à l’élection de la même année et se retire de la vie politique. Il devient professeur de finances à l’Université Concordia en 1967 où il enseigne jusqu’à sa mort le 20 mars 2004, à l’hôpital Royal Victoria, à Montréal, à l’âge de 87 ans.
Pendant sa relativement courte carrière au gouvernement, Pierre Sévigny aura laissé sa marque dans quelques dossiers, dont celui de l’Exposition universelle de 1967, de Avro Arrow ainsi que du scandale entourant l’affaire Munsinger .

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