POLITICS

Sen. Jacques Demers Quits Tory Caucus To Sit As Independent

12/03/2015 11:05 EST

Another Conservative senator has quit the party to sit as an independent in the upper chamber.

Quebec Sen. Jacques Demers, a former NHL coach appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2009, made the announcement in a media release Thursday. He said he was resigning from both the national Tory caucus and Senate caucus.

"It is his intention to remain in the Senate of Canada as an independent Senator for the province of Quebec, division of Rigaud," the release reads.

jacques demers

Former prime minister Stephen Harper sits with Sen. Jacques Demers at a 2010 Conservative rally in Montreal. (Photo: Graham Hughes/CP)

Demers, 71, later told reporters he did not want to leave the Tories while Harper was still leader because it was a matter of loyalty.

"I owe some respect to that man for appointing me, so I stayed to the end," he said in French.

Demers said the Senate expense scandal was one reason he decided to make the move. While some colleagues made unintentional errors, he said, others knew what they were doing.

Demers suggested the controversy tarnished the once "prestigious" role of senator, pointing to times people would tease him at the golf course or restaurants about whether taxpayers were picking up the tab.

"I owe some respect to that man for appointing me, so I stayed to the end."

A reporter pointed out that Demers would still have access to an expense account as an independent. The senator said there were "other things that happened" that caused him trouble, including some "heavy events" two years ago.

Almost quit two years ago

In 2013, he mused about resigning his seat in disgust over the Senate expense scandal and growing controversy surrounding senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin.

Demers told The Canadian Press at the time that people would look at him and ask questions everywhere he went.

"I felt guilty and I knew I had done nothing wrong," he said at the time.

Demers also told The Huffington Post Canada that the senate scandal sparked a period of deep reflection for him. He said he and many of his hard-working, honest colleagues were being painted with the same brush as those accused of inappropriate expenses.

"There are so many lies flying around that I am sick," Demers said. "I wish people would just speak the truth. And if people lose their jobs because of it, so be it."

Demers opted to stay after the Senate called in the RCMP to investigate his colleagues. He told reporters that he had full confidence in Harper.

Demers coached in the NHL for more than 20 years, winning a Stanley Cup in 1993 with the Montreal Canadiens. In a 2005 biography, he revealed a lifelong struggle with illiteracy and became an advocate for those struggling with the condition.

New Brunswick Tory also quit party

Two weeks ago, New Brunswick Sen. John Wallace quit the Tories to sit as an independent. Wallace cited "irreconcilable differences'' between himself and his party over matters of independence and non-partisanship in the upper chamber.

"For it to have the credibility in the eyes of the public and that it's not there to simply rubber-stamp the political will of the parties, partisanship has to be removed as much as it can be from the Senate,'' Wallace told The Canadian Press.

On Thursday, Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef announced the Liberal government is setting up a five-member advisory board to fill empty Senate seats with independents.

Longtime Newfoundland and Labrador Senator George Furey was also named the new Speaker of the Senate.

In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Furey will help "restore" the institution and preside over the Senate as it becomes a "more independent, less partisan chamber."

With files from Althia Raj, The Canadian Press

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