Liberal MP dies of cancer at 53

Liberal MP Lawrence O'Brien, who represented the riding of Labrador, has died of cancer at the age of 53.

Lawrence O'Brien, the Liberal MP for Labrador who risked his health to support Paul Martin's minority government two months ago, has died of cancer at the age of 53.

O'Brien died late Thursday at a hospital in St. John's.

The former civil servant and teacher had been battling cancer for several years, but his health declined quickly in recent months.

That didn't stop him from responding to a call for all MPs to be in Ottawa for a crucial vote in October, though.

O'Brien and a nurse were flown on a government jet from Blanc Sablon, Que., where he had been receiving cancer therapy, to Ottawa so that he could vote with other Liberal MPs in what was expected to be a tight confidence vote over Martin's throne speech.

"The numbers were even without me," O'Brien said at the time. "I was a tie-breaker."

The vote turned out to be unnecessary, thanks to a last-minute deal with opposition parties, but the incident illustrated the seriousness of his condition.

In an overnight statement, the prime minister said he found it difficult to accept that O'Brien was gone.

"Parliament has lost an ardent and steadfast voice," Martin said.

"To the visitor, Labrador is a vast, impressive land, but to Lawrence it was a tight-knit community, a community about which he cared very deeply."

O'Brien first was elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal in a 1996 byelection. He was re-elected in the riding in the 1997, 2000 and 2004 elections.

Before entering federal politics, O'Brien had been a provincial civil servant, a teacher and a town councillor in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Born in L'Anse au Loup, O'Brien was known throughout his career as an ardent Labrador patriot.

He was one of the strongest voices calling for a 2003 constitutional amendment that officially changed the name of the province of Newfoundland to "Newfoundland and Labrador."

He is survived by his wife Alice and his children, Michael and Amanda.

O'Brien's death leaves Martin's Liberals holding 133 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons.

There's no word on how soon Martin will call a byelection in Labrador.