Jim Hillyer had wanted job of MP all his life, Rona Ambrose says in tribute
Shock and sadness overwhelm parliamentary business as House cancels question period to pay tribute
Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau led tributes in the House of Commons Wednesday after the sudden death of Conservative MP Jim Hillyer.
Being an MP was the job Hillyer wanted all his life, Ambrose told the Commons, fighting back tears as she spoke of his pride in representing his Alberta riding.
"He brought with him to Parliament an understanding and a great sympathy for the concerns of regular, hard-working Canadians and it really showed," Ambrose said. "When you talked to Jim it was like talking to a neighbour."
Hillyer, 41, was found dead in his Parliament Hill office early this morning.
The MP for Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner had complained of feeling ill on Tuesday.
Sources told CBC News his family contacted Parliament Hill security when they were unable to reach him.
Tributes replace question period
Wednesday's question period was cancelled. Instead, leaders from each of the five political parties represented in the Commons offered memories of Hillyer and messages of condolence to his family.
Commons Speaker Geoff Regan arranged for a condolences book near the Commons so MPs could convey messages to his family.
A bouquet of red roses lay on Hillyer's desk.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper, who still holds a seat but appears infrequently in the House, was present for the tribute.
Laureen and I were shocked and saddened to learn of Jim Hillyer's passing 1/2 <a href="https://t.co/E1tcnuztFn">pic.twitter.com/E1tcnuztFn</a>—@stephenharper
Ambrose told the Commons that Hillyer was passionate about his fight for a stronger justice system.
The southern Alberta MP, she said, was very open, honest and humble and had a "goofy sense of humour."
In a recent media interview, she recounted, he was asked for his views on U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.
"He said, 'Well, where I come from is redneck, and we're not that redneck,'" she said, drawing laughter from both sides of the Commons.
MPs stood in a heartfelt round of applause after Ambrose spoke.
'Heaviness will remain'
Speaking next, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the interim Conservative leader's tribute had taught him and others things they didn't know about Hillyer. He encouraged all his colleagues to reflect on how they don't know each other as well as they should.
Trudeau said the late MP was a hard-working public servant and a strong voice for his community.
"His youth and the suddenness of his passing have blanketed the Hill with a weighty sadness today, and I know that this heaviness will remain for quite some time," the prime minister said.
"If this House and this country is made strong by the broad range of people and voices that serve it, then this morning we have certainly been diminished by Jim's passing."
I just learned of the unexpected passing of my friend and colleague, Jim Hillyer. Caucus cancelled; we're all in shock.—@ScottReidCPC
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair noted that he helped his riding so well that his office was honoured with an award for exemplary service.
"He was passionate in his political convictions. He enjoyed overwhelming support from his constituents. His voice will be sadly missed," he said. His work was a tribute to his conviction that people matter, he added.
Interim Bloc Québécois Leader Rhéal Fortin and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also spoke.
May said she considered Hillyer a friend. His insistence on being in Ottawa for budget day on Tuesday, despite recent illness, showed his strong sense of duty, she said.
MPs then observed a minute of silence.
After the tribute, the House set aside regular business and adjourned for the day, consistent with how previous sudden deaths of MPs have been handled.
The Senate also sat only briefly Wednesday afternoon to mark the death of a fellow parliamentarian.
In an online posting, Conservative MP Dan Albas, who sat beside Hillyer in the House of Commons, remembered the late MP as "one of those who quietly pushed the envelope, even if it rattled cages or made some uncomfortable in Ottawa."
"While we shared a love for reading," Albas wrote, "I cannot help but reflect that, much as a book cannot be judged by the cover, there was indeed much more to this quiet, unassuming man from Alberta who I was proud to call my friend."
'No question of his perseverance'
Hillyer was first elected in 2011 and re-elected in 2015, with 69 per cent of the vote.
The cause of his death is not yet known.
He survived a battle with leukemia in 2003.
Last month, the Medicine Hat News reported that Hillyer underwent surgery Feb. 13 for a serious and persistent bone infection in his leg. The newspaper said he'd experienced recurring health issues with his leg following a skiing injury three years ago and the recent treatment left him unable to travel to Ottawa for several weeks.
The leader of Alberta's Wildrose Party, Brian Jean, expressed his sorrow at losing a former colleague from his time in federal politics.
"Jim was a man who lived his life with passion and dedication to public service — an individual who lived faithfully and honourably to his family and friends," Jean said in a statement.
"There's no question of his perseverance after earlier in his life overcoming a battle with leukemia. I was honoured to serve for several years with him in Ottawa and he will be deeply missed."
Hillyer is survived by his wife, Livi, and their four children: London, Taylor, Nation and Asia.