Politics

Long-time Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai has died at age 69

Long-time Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai died Friday night of liver cancer.

Calgary-area member died after 'brief and aggressive' liver cancer

Deepak Obhrai speaks to the crowd during the opening night of the federal Conservative leadership convention in Toronto on Friday, May 26, 2017. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Long-time Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai died Friday night of liver cancer at age 69.

A statement from his Parliamentary office called the illness "brief and aggressive." 

"We are still shocked by his sudden departure," a Facebook post from his family reads. Obhrai was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer just a few weeks before his death.

The representative from Calgary Forest Lawn was an MP for 22 years, the Dean of the Conservative caucus and ran for the party's leadership in 2017. He was the longest serving Conservative parliamentarian and the first person of colour to vie to lead the party.

Under Stephen Harper's government, he served as the parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, international human rights and international co-operation.

Born and raised in Tanzania, Obhrai studied on three continents before settling in Calgary with his family in 1977.

Addressing his colleagues, constituents and supporters, the family said that "support and love for our Dad continued to inspire him to break every glass ceiling, and overcome every obstacle, so that he could continue doing what he loved the most – standing up for human rights."

Obhrai was known to stand up for people, especially immigrants — even occasionally to his own party members. 

Last summer he took a strong stance against his fellow Conservatives at the party's policy convention in Halifax  after delegates voted to end birthright citizenship for anyone who doesn't have a Canadian parent or a parent with permanent residency.

His support for immigrants resonated beyond politics. 

"I think it's one of those parts of Mr. Obhrai's legacy that will be remembered," Anvesh Jain, a family friend and former employee, told CBC News. 

Jain recalled working in the Calgary constituency office, helping Obhrai write letters to personally welcome new immigrants to Canada. 

He also remembers how much work his boss did advocating for the Hindu community across Canada. 

"We lost a great Canadian," Jain said. 

Condolences from MPs of all stripes and other high-profile Conservatives poured in on Saturday, including from federal leader Andrew Scheer. 

"He was always a champion for his riding and fought hard for his constituents. His decades of hard work to advance the conservative movement and ultimately strengthen Canada will not be forgotten," a statement from his office said. 

"Deepak was a constant source of joy inside the Conservative caucus. He brightened every room he walked into and often injected warmth, kindness, and good humour into our deliberations. I know I speak on behalf of my Conservative colleagues when I say that he will be missed tremendously." 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford tweeted that Obhrai was a "champion of human rights around the world." 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also sent his condolences, saying "Our parliamentary family is mourning a great colleague and friend today. Deepak Obhrai dedicated himself to serving his constituents with utmost integrity, and we will miss him dearly."

Obhrai was always firm — and occasionally stubborn. Once, in an interview with CBC News, when asked whether he received any directives from the national Conservative campaign during an election, Obhrai responded "Harper never got to tell me to do anything."

He was planning to run in his eighth federal election this fall. 

Obhrai is the fourth Conservative MP to die in the last four years, and the second this year: B.C. MP Mark Warawa died in June of pancreatic cancer. Ontario MP Gord Brown died in May 2018 after suffering a heart attack in his Ottawa office, the same fate that befell Lethbridge MP and leukemia survivor Jim Hillyer in March 2016.

"It's been a tough Parliament for our caucus and our party," Scheer told The Canadian Press.

Details for the funeral arrangements were not immediately disclosed Saturday.

With files from the Canadian Press

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