Alberta Conservative MLA Manmeet Bhullar killed in highway crash
'The light in our lives went dark today,' family says in statement released Monday evening
Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA Manmeet Bhullar was killed Monday afternoon after he got out of his car in an attempt to aid another motorist on a snowy highway.
RCMP said a vehicle skidded off the Queen Elizabeth II Highway north of Red Deer and rolled onto the median.
Bhullar was one of two drivers who pulled over and got out of their vehicles to help.
But just moments later, a semi-truck lost control on the same stretch of highway, hit one of the parked vehicles and careened into the median, striking Bhullar as he was walking between his vehicle and the rollover.
Bhullar was rushed to hospital, but later died. No one else was hurt in the incident.
"The light in our lives went dark today," his family said in a statement Monday evening.
"We know he would want us to be thankful for the countless blessings he was given by God. Just as his faith, wife, family, friends, and community gave him strength, it will give us strength now."
On Monday evening, Ric McIver, interim party leader, issued a statement on behalf of the PC caucus.
"Manmeet was much loved as a husband to Namrita and a dear friend, not just to his colleagues, but also to anyone who came to know him. His passion and dedication will live on in our hearts and we will greatly miss him."
Premier Rachel Notley, who was in Ottawa for the first ministers meetings, said in a statement that all Albertans should be proud of Bhullar's "significant" contributions to public life.
'This is a terrible tragedy'
"This is a terrible tragedy, and our first thoughts are for Mr. Bhullar's family and loved ones, as well as his constituents, his caucus colleagues, members of the legislature and the people of Alberta," Notley said.
"We have lost our colleague, Calgary-Greenway has lost a friend and effective voice in the legislature and most of all, we have all lost a passionate advocate for Alberta."
A public servant, a true warrior for fairness and justice, a big man with a giant heart, a friend.- Naheed Nenshi, Calgary mayor
Minutes after the news story was posted on the CBC Edmonton website, people across the province began to respond on Twitter.
"Saddened to hear of Manmeet's passing," Finance Minister Joe Ceci wrote in a tweet. "Condolences to the Bhullars, #pcaa and all that he touched. He had so much more good to achieve."
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in a statement he was "utterly gutted" by the news of Bhullar's death.
"A public servant, a true warrior for fairness and justice, a big man with a giant heart, a friend," Nenshi said.
Former Edmonton PC MLA David Dorward said Bhullar had a huge number of friends and will be sorely missed.
"He was a big, huggy kind of guy. A very soft heart, but was not afraid to say what he thought and set the record straight when he needed to."
Monday's crash happened during the first heavy snowfall of the season in central Alberta. Dorward said MLAs from outside Edmonton were well aware of the dangers they might face while driving the province's highways to get to and from the legislature.
"We talked about it a lot in caucus," he said. "If it was bad weather we would be texting back and forth, saying don't come ... we'll cover that meeting."
Former Speaker of the legislature Gene Zwozdesky said Bhullar was a tireless and passionate advocate for his constituents, and for the province.
"It is such a shame to see someone die so young, and to die so tragically," he said. "It is just beyond description."
1st elected in 2008
Bhullar, 35, served as infrastructure minister under former premier Jim Prentice and was human services minister and Service Alberta minister in the Alison Redford government.
The member for Calgary-Greenway was first elected to the Alberta Legislature in March 2008.
"I know the issues of the riding," Bhullar, then a 27-year-old law student said at the time. "I've been working in east Calgary for 10 years now, working with young people at risk, working on issues that affect people's lives there."
Redford first named Bhullar to cabinet in 2011, when he was appointed as Service Alberta minister.
In December 2013, Redford moved Bhullar to replace veteran minister Dave Hancock as human services minister.
While he headed that department, Bhullar helped rewrite a law that placed an automatic ban on the release of the names of children who died in provincial care.
That controversial ban had prevented even parents from speaking out.
"For those that feel that they have been wronged and their child has died as a result, they have an inherent right to speak up about that," Bhullar said at the time.
In September 2014, he became infrastructure minister in the short-lived Prentice government.
Bhullar was re-elected twice and narrowly avoided being caught up in the NDP tide that swept the province in May, winning his riding by about 800 votes.
Born in Calgary, he earned a bachelor of arts from Athabasca University and a bachelor of laws from the University of Windsor.
Before running for office, he founded the Inspire Youth Development Society, which works with at-risk youth, and worked on several political campaigns. He was active in the Sikh community.
When Prentice ran for the Conservative leadership in 2014, Bhullar chaired his campaign.
'I will miss him so much'
Nenshi said he always looked forward to long lunches with Bhullar.
"On our last lunch, he told me about how being in opposition wasn't all bad — it gave him the time and capacity to work on issues that were very close to him, including the plight of Sikhs seeking to escape Afghanistan," Nenshi said in his statement.
"I will miss him so much. We all will."
Although there was no official confirmation from the RCMP about Bhullar's death on the highway, they issued the following news release Monday evening about a traffic fatality on the QE II:
"This afternoon at about 2:20 p.m., Innisfail Integrated Traffic Unit responded to a report of a serious motor vehicle collision on the QE II near the Blindman River hill, north of Red Deer.
"Investigation thus far indicates that a northbound vehicle lost control and rolled into the median on the south side of the Blindman River hill.
"Two northbound vehicles then stopped on the left shoulder of the highway to assist.
"A semi-truck that was also northbound, and descending the hill, appears to have lost control, striking the rear of the first vehicle that had stopped to assist, then continued into the median out of control and struck the driver, and sole occupant of the second vehicle, who was outside his vehicle on foot in the median.
"This driver, a 35-year-old male [from] Calgary, was seriously injured and taken to hospital by ambulance, but has since died of the injuries sustained. The family of the deceased has been advised.
"The name of the deceased is not being released. There were no other injuries in this collision."