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Senator The Hon. Gilldas L. Molgat, CD, B.Comm.


Gildas L. Molgat, CD , B.Comm (January 25, 1927 - February 28, 2001) was a Canadian politician. He served as leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party from 1961 to 1969, and was subsequently appointed to the Canadian Senate, where he served as Speaker from 1994 until 2001. He died shortly thereafter.

Molgat was born in Ste. Rose du Lac, Manitoba. He was educated at Ste. Rose School and the University of Manitoba. He worked as a manager for Bethel-Rennie Ltd. United Stores and Advance Credit Corporation, and served as an army captain in the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.

Molgat was first elected to the Manitoba legislature in 1953, in the francophone riding of Ste. Rose. He was a Liberal-Progressive, and a supporter of Premier Douglas L. Campbell.

The Liberal-Progressives lost the election of 1958, though Molgat was easily re-elected over his Progressive Conservative opponent. This was partly the result of historical francophone voting patterns in the province -- most franco-Manitobans supported the Progressive Party of John Bracken in the 1920s, and continued to support the party after it merged with the Liberals in 1932. Although Dufferin Roblin's Tories made several gains in 1958, the province's francophone ridings continued to elect Liberal-Progressive MLAs.

Molgat was re-elected in 1959, again by a significant margin. When Campbell resigned as Liberal leader in 1961 (the "Progressive" name having been dropped), Molgat was selected to replace him. A protege of Campbell, he was aligned with the more traditionalist wing of the party. His primary opponent for the party's leadership was Stan Roberts, who represented its modernizing wing. He was the first francophone party leader in Manitoba since 1919, and the first ever in the province's Liberal Party.

As party leader, Molgat prevented the Liberals from falling behind the New Democratic Party for third-party status, but he was never able to pose a serious threat to Roblin's government. The Progressive Conservatives had greater urban support, and were generally regarded as the more "modernizing" party. The Liberals won 13 seats in 1962, and 14 in 1966 (out of 57). Molgat never faced any serious competition in his own riding.

Roblin resigned as Progressive Conservative leader in 1967 and was replaced by the more conservative Walter Weir. After the election of Pierre Trudeau as Prime Minister of Canada in 1968, Weir's government took a number of steps to prevent the establishment of official bilingualism in the province. These measures seemed to be supported by many in Manitoba's anglophone community, and the provincial Liberals were shut out in four crucial by-elections in early 1969. Molgat resigned as party leader soon thereafter, and was replaced by Robert Bend.

This proved to be a poor strategic decision for the Liberals. Bend represented the rural, traditional wing of the party, and had been out of politics for a decade. His campaign fared poorly, and the party was reduced to five members in the general election of 1969 (three of whom were francophone). Molgat was again elected in Ste. Rose without serious difficulty.

The election itself resulted in a temporary stalemale, with Edward Schreyer's New Democrats winning 28 seats out of 57, one shy of a majority. There were negotiations among the Liberal and Conservative parties to form a coalition; one scenario would have seen Molgat serving as Premier. The impasse was ended when a francophone Liberal MLA named Laurent Desjardins announced that he would support the NDP.

Molgat resigned his seat on October 7, 1970, having been appointed on the recommendation of Pierre Trudeau to the Canadian Senate. Now allowed to use the title "The Honourable", he soon became one the Senate's leading figures in the field of constitutional reform, co-chairing a Special Joint Committee on the Constitution of Canada in 1971, and another on Senate Reform in 1983. Later in the 1980s, he would serve of Chair of the Senate Committee of the Whole on the Meech Lake Constitutional Accord.

Molgat was elected deputy speaker in 1983 and was re-elected to the position in 1988. From September 30, 1991, to November 11, 1993, he served as deputy opposition leader in the Senate. When the federal Liberals under Jean Chrétien formed government, Molgat became deputy government leader. One year later, when Roméo LeBlanc was appointed Governor-General, Molgat replaced him as Speaker of the Canadian Senate.

His contribution to the military and to military associations did not go unrecognized. Senator Molgat was decorated by the Canadian Forces, named Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel in 1966 of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles a regiment he had served with as an officer early in his career. and Honorary Colonel in 1985. He served as director of the Canadians Corps of Commissionaires. He became honorary president of the Army, Navy, and Air Force Veterans in Canada, of the Winnipeg Unit No. 1 and of the Royal United Services Institute of Manitoba. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Legion.

He was a founding president of the Manitoba Army Cadet League, president of the Army Cadet League of Canada and Governor-at-Large of the Army Cadet League of Canada. He did not confine himself to the cadet movement. Senator Molgat was very active with Scouts Canada, becoming an honorary member of the Manitoba Council of Scouts Canada. Senator Molgat was convinced that the scouting and cadet movements could make a lasting and significant contribution to the lives of young persons, especially those who came from disadvantaged backgrounds. He believed that the scouting and cadet movements inspired a love of country and a respect for others and that they instilled an appreciation for approaching life with an ordered and curious intellect.

Molgat also served as President of the Liberal Party of Canada. He died on February 28, 2001.


Source - Federal Political Biography from the Library of Parliament