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She's a Good Sheila

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It ended with a whimper, not a bang.

This past weekend, Sheila Copps fell just 26 votes shy of winning the Liberal Party presidency, against businessman Michael Crawley.

Sheila Copps has since suggested that she has run her last race and will focus on charity, in particular efforts to help Haiti.

So ends a long political career.

Copps first ran for office in 1977. She served in Toronto before going to Ottawa in 1984. When the Chrétien Liberals won in 1993, she joined the Cabinet, holding various roles, including Deputy Prime Minister. She lost a bitter nomination battle in 2004 to Prime Minister Paul Martin's organizers and candidate.

I met up with her in Toronto this past November. I'm not a Liberal, nor was I involved in the race. Still, Copps spoke to me at some length. What was clear was her passion.

Copps argued that the party needed a hand. Though out of office, she felt that she could help the Liberals in the party's greatest time of need.

"The presidency is two years," she said, and then added with a grin: "I think I can work my butt off for two years." In the four weeks before our conversation, she estimated that she had slept in her own bed just three times -- so it was, with a campaign that stretched from sea to sea.

It's easy, after leaving politics, to settle into a more comfortable life -- to leave behind the church basements and rubber chicken dinners, opting for the five-star hotels and the lavish restaurants. Many of her former colleagues in Cabinet have done just that.

There is no problem, of course, with a good retirement after a long political career. If anyone deserved it, Copps did. It's a testament to her commitment to her party and her country that she did re-enter public life, choosing a hard campaign for an unpaid office, out of a sense of duty.

Copps is known for her humour. When John Crosbie told her to "just quiet down, baby" during Question Period in 1985, she responded that she was "nobody's baby."

She crossed swords on more occasions with Crosbie but, in the end, she appreciated that a good political fight wasn't necessarily personal. Crosbie was invited to write the introduction to her autobiography. He did, and began: "I write this Introduction to her new book as a tribute to a feisty, sometimes ferocious, feminist protagonist, never shy or retiring but redoubtable political personality."

For the record, in the end, she had a good line, too. "I lost a provincial election once by 14 votes amongst 35,000. So this is a landslide," she told The Globe.

In person, Copps is witty and clever, too.

But she should be remembered for more than that. In particular, her commitment to public service.

Canadians often grumble about their politicians. We are quick to blame Ottawa, and sometimes rightly so. But in the commitment of people like Sheila Copps, we should also remember that we are also very lucky. Political life is hard; the dedication of people like Copps is important.

Many thanks Sheila.