A Life's Story
April 16, 2022
Gloria Desorcy was driven by heartfelt principle as she looked out for the little guy
By: Geoff Kirbyson
Even if you didn’t know Gloria Desorcy, she went to bat for you and undoubtedly saved you a lot of money.
As the long-time executive director of the Manitoba branch of the Consumers’ Association of Canada, she led the crusade against rate hikes by Manitoba Hydro, rebates from Manitoba Public Insurance and interest rates charged by payday lending outfits.
“Every Manitoban owes a debt of gratitude to her,” says Jacquie Wasney, a member of Desorcy’s CAC board of directors in Winnipeg.
“Do you remember the rebate cheque you got from MPI or the fact that Hydro rates went up just three per cent instead of eight per cent or that gift card that has value past six months?”
If you need a more concrete number, there have been more than $1 billion in rebates from MPI since the early 2000s, thanks in no small part to Desorcy’s efforts.
“Gloria fought long and hard for (consumers’) principles. If MPI over-collected from rate payers, she believed that money should be returned directly to them,” says Byron Williams, director of the public interest law centre at Legal Aid Manitoba.
Desorcy passed away suddenly in March. She was 62.
Legal Aid acted for the CAC and Williams figures he worked with Desorcy on more than 100 files over the last 25 years.
“She was a good and direct communicator. You always knew where you stood with her. She was heavily engaged on policy issues and she would go down to deadline going through agonizing details of policy. She was fabulously principled and she believed deeply in consumers’ rights and responsibilities but she also listened to consumers,” he says.
“She was direct and warm but when she disagreed with you or felt you weren’t jumping the way she wanted, she could be brutally frank. She was a great client.”
A case in point: Manitoba Hydro wanted to build the Conawapa dam, a $10-billion hydroelectric generating station on the Nelson River, but the project was eventually shelved. Desorcy led the charge against it, saying the station was not needed for Manitobans, there was no business case for it and it was unduly risky.
“That was ultimately accepted by the government and Conawapa (did not proceed). Hydro rates would have been a hell of a lot higher if we were trying to pay off an extra $10 billion in hydroelectric debt,” Williams says.
Desorcy also took on payday lenders on behalf of more vulnerable consumers. Since about 2010, Williams says Manitoba has had the lowest payday lending rates in the country.
“That’s because of the tremendous advocacy the Consumers’ Association of Canada did with other groups, including Winnipeg Harvest. She worked hard to have an evidence-based approach to payday lending and keep those rates as affordable as possible,” he says.
The CAC under Desorcy was also vehemently non-partisan.
“They fought with any government they disagreed with. It was always driven by evidence and what they were hearing from people in the streets,” he says.
Desorcy, naturally, had to practise what she preached. And if she could do that with a bit of humour, even better. At national CAC meetings, people from other provinces were regularly impressed at what she and her team were able to achieve on a shoe-string budget. She was even asked how she penny-pinched her way to allow her and Wasney to travel to Ottawa.
‘My husband took pictures of Gloria and I on a tandem bike holding a sign (reading) ‘Winnipeg to Ottawa’ and shared it with the others. In Ottawa, we had a spread for people, including a tent and picnic supplies,” Wasney says.
CAC purchased an old library trailer from the City of Winnipeg and converted it into a mobile consumer resource centre. Desorcy and her team would take it around the province to spread their message. One of the busiest times was on Canada Day when they’d set up on Osborne Street and pass out information and show videos.
“We had an arrangement with a local trucking firm that they would pick up the trailer and take it back where we were storing it. The next day, the festival is over, and Gloria’s dad is listening to the radio. He called her and said, ‘CJOB is reporting some idiot left a semi-trailer on Osborne and there’s a huge traffic jam!’ The driver forgot and Gloria had to scramble to get the trailer off Osborne,” she says with a laugh.
Desorcy also loved catching up with friends over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. Few people knew this as well as Lisa Hasselfield, who met Desorcy in the mid-1980s when they were both after-degree education students at the University of Manitoba. They were a little older than most of the others, so they gravitated to each other, struck up a conversation and became friends for life.
One of their favourite things to do was go out for dinner. It used to be a weekly thing until Hasselfield started a family but even with babies and toddlers running around, Desorcy would come over to break bread and watch movies. When her kids got older, their restaurant visits picked up again.
One night at Paradise restaurant, they carried on for three hours, talking and laughing, when the server finally asked them, “how long has it been since you’ve seen each other?”
They looked across the table at each other and answered, “last week.”
Desorcy was also an avid reader, particularly of mystery books. One time at Hasselfield’s house, she picked a book out of the bookcase and discovered her name written inside the cover.
“She had lent it to me right after she had bought it, 15 years earlier. So, she took it home and read it,” she says.
Desorcy loved animals and looked after Hasselfield’s cats when her family went on vacation.
“One time she took in a stray cat. She named him ‘Kitty.’ He was really wild. She needed to take him to the vet so she put him in a cat carrier and called a cab. Kitty was ramming up against the sides of the carrier and howling and crying. Finally, the taxi driver said, ‘hey lady, if you’re going to keep beating up on that cat, you’re going to have to get out of the cab,’” Hasselfield says.
“She would have been aghast. She didn’t even swat mosquitos. She was so dedicated and loving. She was a lovely, lovely person. She had one of the biggest hearts of anyone I’ve ever met. She was extremely giving and never asked for anything in return.”