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Sheila Copps

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Sheila Copps

The Honourable Sheila Maureen Copps, P.C. (born November 27, 1952, in Hamilton, Ontario) is a Canadian journalist and politician.

Copps is a second-generation member of a political family that has dominated Hamilton-area politics on the municipal, provincial and federal levels. Her father, Victor K. Copps, was one of the most influential mayors of the City of Hamilton; the city's landmark sports arena, Copps Coliseum, is named in his honour. Her mother, Geraldine Copps, was a Hamilton city councillor.

Considered a leading member of the left wing of the Liberal Party of Canada, Copps has been a tireless advocate of women's and minority rights and a staunch environmentalist and Canadian nationalist and monarchist. Her combative style and reputation for flamboyance has, however, hampered her personal popularity, and is sometimes perceived to close her to progressive policy ideas.

Contents

Early career

Copps earned a Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) Degree in French and English from the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, and pursued further studies at McMaster University in Hamilton and the University of Rouen in France. She worked as a newspaper journalist, both with the Hamilton Spectator and the Ottawa Citizen.

Copps entered provincial politics in 1977, running for the Liberal Party of Ontario in the riding of Hamilton Centre, where she finished 14 votes behind incumbent New Democrat Mike Davison. During this election, Copps campaigned as "Sheila Copps Miller", using the surname of her then-husband.

After working as a constituency assistant to party leader Stuart Smith for the next four years, Copps again ran in Hamilton Centre in 1981. This time she defeated Davison by almost 3000 votes, and joined 33 other Liberals in forming the Official Opposition to Premier William Davis's Progressive Conservative government. In 1982, Copps ran for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, finishing second to future Premier David Peterson.

She switched to federal politics two years later, representing the Liberals in the riding of Hamilton East. The 1984 election swept Brian Mulroney and his Progressive Conservatives to an overwhelming victory; though Copps won her seat, she would have relatively few allies in the House of Commons. Copps would prove to be an influential member of the small Liberal opposition (quickly dubbed the Rat Pack), earning praise and scorn for her spirited attacks on Mulroney and his ministers. After a mere two years of federal political life she released the autobiography Nobody's Baby, and by all accounts was seen as a rising star in Canadian politics--perhaps destined to be Canada's first female Prime Minister. With the resignation of Liberal leader John Napier Turner in 1990, Copps raised her national profile considerably by running in the Liberal leadership race, finishing third behind Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, Jr..

Federal minister

The elections of 1993 saw the Liberals swept to power by crushing Kim Campbell's Tories. Chrétien, now Prime Minister, named Copps Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment. In a 1996 cabinet shuffle she dropped her Environment portfolio and became Minister of Canadian Heritage.

In a curious sidebar in Canadian political history, Copps resigned briefly in the spring of 1996. One of Chrétien's campaign promises had been to abolish the hated Goods and Services Tax, a promise he had reneged on in an effort to avoid decreasing government revenues. Copps had promised that she would resign if the GST were not abolished, so she vacated her Hamilton East seat and then promptly ran again in the ensuing by-election. She won credibly, and Chrétien reinstated her to her previous cabinet posts.

Copps's particular flavour of unabashed Canadian nationalism has often drawn controversy. She led a largely unsuccessful campaign to keep American magazines from producing "split-run" Canadian editions and faced widespread criticism for her efforts to bolster nationalism through the distribution of tens of thousands of free Canadian flags. The flag effort led many to accuse her of being too generous with taxpayer money for projects of questionable relevance, especially in times of financial difficulty.

Copps's somewhat tarnished reputation led to Chrétien stripping of her status as deputy prime minister following his the Canadian election of 1997, instead bestowing the largely ceremonial title on political stalwart Herb Gray. Copps was widely seen to have made little upward progress in political circles in the years following this demotion.

Following Jean Chrétien's announcement of his intent to retire in February 2004, Copps was the first to officially declare her candidacy for the party leadership. Starting well behind the overwhelming favourite, Paul Martin, Copps's campaign was seen as largely hopeless, and its relevance openly questioned, in advance of the Liberal leadership convention of November 14 2003. As expected, Paul Martin easily won the Liberal leadership and went on to become prime minister.

On December 9, 2003, Copps turned down the offer of a patronage appointment from Martin, announcing that she intended to remain in the House of Commons. Many suspect that Martin wanted to appoint Copps as Canada's ambassador to France or UNESCO.

Nomination battle

Riding redistribution subsequently placed Copps in a serious nomination battle with another Liberal MP, Tony Valeri. Valeri was elected in 1997 and 2000 in the riding of Stoney Creek. With redistribution, part of Valeri's riding was merged with part of Copps's Hamilton East to create Hamilton East--Stoney Creek, while the remainder was merged with other neighbouring ridings to create Niagara West--Glanbrook. A slight majority of the constituents of Hamilton East--Stoney Creek were from Valeri's Stoney Creek riding.

Valeri's position was that the majority of his former constituents live in the new Hamilton East--Stoney Creek, while Copps maintained that Valeri should have sought the nomination in Niagara West-Glanbrook, where he resides, even though Copps had long since established her home in Ottawa with husband Austin Thorpe and daughter Danelle.

In a December interview with Hamilton's CHCH-TV, Copps complained that Martin was trying to drive her and other women and Martin opponents out of the Liberal caucus. On January 14, 2004 she refused to rule out running for the New Democratic Party in the upcoming election if Valeri won the Liberal nomination. Copps later retracted this threat.

On March 6, 2004, Valeri defeated Copps in the nomination battle by 311 votes; Valeri received 53 percent of the ballots to Copps's 47 percent, with 5,313 members of the Liberal Party voting. In the days following, Copps alleged improprieties in the nomination process and the conduct of the vote, and called on various authorities to investigate. She initially appealed the vote results to the Liberal Party; however, she dropped this appeal on March 29, 2004, alleging a lack of transparency in the process.

Respite and Worth Fighting For

On May 14, 2004, Copps stood in the House of Commons and announced she would not be running for re-election as an independent. She later suggested in comments to reporters that she may return to politics once Paul Martin is no longer Prime Minister. In her first public engagement after departing politics, she accepted a role in a Kingston, Ontario stage production of Steel Magnolias. She also guest starred on the night time soap opera Train 48.

In late October 2004, her second autobiography, Worth Fighting For, was published by McClelland and Stewart, resulting in public controversy with Paul Martin and other members of the Liberal Party on October 22, 2004. The book has stirred controversy due to Copps' allegation that Martin had put a pledge in his 1995 budget to rescind the "outdated" Canada Health Act and that her intervention had the offending line removed from the document. Her allegations have not been supported by any other individuals involved and have been denied by Martin, David Dodge (who Copps' claims faxed her the draft of the budget), Diane Marleau (who was Health Minister at the time) and others. The credibility of the claim is further undermined by Copps' admission that she is writing based on memory alone without any documents or other evidence to back her up.

Since departing politics, Copps has also published a regular column in the National Post, and hosted a weekly syndicated radio talk show.

26th Ministry - Government of Jean Chrétien
Cabinet Posts (5)
Preceded by:
Position created
Minister of Canadian Heritage
(1996-2003)
Succeeded by:
Hélène Scherrer
Preceded by:
Jean Charest
Deputy Prime Minister of Canada
(1993-1997)
(NB: position vacant from May 1 - June 19, 1996).
Succeeded by:
Herb Gray
Preceded by:
Michel Dupuy
Minister of Multiculturalism and Citizenship &
Minister of Communications
styled as
Minister of Canadian Heritage
(1996)
(NB: position vacant from May 1 - June 19).
Succeeded by:
Positions abolished
Preceded by:
Pierre Vincent
Minister of the Environment
(1993-1996)
Succeeded by:
Sergio Marchi

</center>

Preceded by:
John Munro, Liberal
Member of Parliament for Hamilton East
(1984-2004)
Succeeded by:
federal riding abolished in 2003

See also

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