POLITICS

Jean Beliveau Deserves State Funeral: Tory Senator Jacques Demers

12/03/2014 12:10 EST | Updated 12/03/2014 12:10 EST

Montreal Canadiens icon Jean Beliveau deserves a state funeral for all that he contributed to Canada, Tory senator and former Habs coach Jacques Demers says.

Beliveau, who won 10 Stanley Cups over a 20-year playing career and seven more as an executive, died Tuesday at the age of 83. Nicknamed "Le Gros Bill" in honour of a Quebec folk hero, he was considered a consummate gentleman, sportsman, and perhaps hockey's most respected ambassador.

UPDATE: The Montreal Canadiens have announced Jean Beliveau will "lay in wake" at Bell Centre on Sunday and Monday before a private funeral on Wednesday.

Demers, who won a Cup as coach of the Canadiens in 1993, told iPolitics Wednesday that Believeau is worthy of an honour that is, by custom, reserved for former governor generals, prime ministers, members of the Royal Family, and cabinet ministers who die in office.

"I think in my opinion that they are going to seriously think about the impact that this man had on all Canadians," Demers told reporter Elizabeth Thompson.

"We're going to give him everything he should have had in the way of accolades and I think we will do it well."

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair told reporters Wednesday morning that he agrees Beliveau should be afforded a state funeral.

The prime minister has special discretion to declare a state funeral for any "eminent Canadian" who does not meet the typical criteria, as Harper did in 2011 for former NDP Leader Jack Layton, who died as leader of the Official Opposition, and in 2014 for former finance minister Jim Flaherty, who died not long after leaving cabinet.

It's not clear yet if Harper, who has written a book on hockey history, will extend an offer to Beliveau's family. The prime minister released a statement Wednesday lauding Beliveau as a "hockey giant" who inspired a nation with his play on the ice and the humility he showed off it.

"His legacy lives on in the records he set, the legions of hockey players that he inspired, and the deep love he shared with his home province of Quebec," Harper said in the statement.

The PM's statement also pointed out Beliveau was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1998 and a Grand officier de l’Ordre national du Québec in 2010.

Governor General David Johnston also released a statement saying Canada has lost one of its great champions.

"He was graceful and powerful, both on and off the ice," Johnston said in his release. "He set new standards of excellence in how we play hockey and set compelling standards of civility in how we conduct ourselves with one another."

Now, it appears federal politicians are indeed discussing giving Beliveau a similar send-off as Layton and Flaherty.

And the idea of a potential Beliveau state funeral has already stirred up conversation on social media.

The debate over who ought to qualify for a state funeral under the PM's discretion is always a difficult and potentially uncomfortable one.

Last April, Harper received some criticism for not calling a state funeral in honour of Herb Gray, who spent 40 years as a Liberal MP (including five as deputy prime minister) and was granted the honorific "The Right Honourable" despite never being prime minister, governor general or chief justice of the Supreme Court. However, the federal government did help cover some of the costs of Gray's funeral.

And state funerals typically come with rather large price tags. Flaherty's funeral in Toronto last April cost Canadians more than $400,000. Layton's Toronto state funeral cost just more than $368,000.

Of course, some may wonder if Beliveau would have even wanted politicians and dignitaries to gather in his honour, considering he rejected earlier opportunities to jump into the political arena. Beliveau turned down two offers from former prime minister Brian Mulroney to join the Senate and passed when Jean Chretien offered him the chance to become governor general.

"I got offers in politics, but I always said no," Beliveau told The Canadian Press last year.

The Quebec government gave a state funeral to Canadiens legend Maurice "Rocket" Richard in 2000.

Do you think the Canadiens legend should receive a state funeral? Tell us in the comments.

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With a file from The Canadian Press

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