Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai, a beloved character on Parliament Hill, dean and mentor of the federal Conservative caucus and the first Hindu politician ever elected to the House of Commons, has died after a brief and aggressive battle with liver cancer, his family announced Saturday.
Relatives say Obhrai, who marked his 69th birthday last month and had only recently been diagnosed with the condition, died suddenly Friday in Calgary while surrounded by members of his family.
“Deepak was a constant source of joy inside the Conservative caucus,” said a statement from “heartbroken” leader Andrew Scheer, with whom Obhrai shared the battle to lead the party in 2016 and 2017.
“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.”
Obhrai represented Calgary Forest Lawn since 1997 and was the longest-serving Conservative MP and Indo-Canadian in Parliament. He was also the longest-serving parliamentary secretary to a minister of foreign affairs in Canadian history.
Born and raised in Tanzania, Obhrai studied on three continents before settling in Calgary with his family in 1977. He was set to contest his eighth federal election in a campaign that’s believed to start in about a month.
Obhrai was diagnosed a few weeks prior with stage 4 liver cancer in Calgary. Relatives said in a release that they were “shocked by his sudden departure.”
“We want all his friends, constituents of Calgary Forest Lawn, his supporters from all over the world, and all his colleagues to know that their 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,” they said Saturday in a release.
That statement appeared on Obhrai’s Twitter feed Saturday morning, directly above a June 24 photo of members of his campaign team door-knocking in the riding in anticipation of the Oct. 21 election.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, a former caucus colleague during the tenure of then-prime minister Stephen Harper, paid tribute to his close friend in a lengthy statement posted to his Facebook page.
“Perhaps Deepak’s biggest legacy was the key role that he played in the huge upgrading of Canada-India relations during Stephen Harper’s premiership,” Kenney wrote.
“Those who knew him will always smile in recalling Deepak’s winsome sense of humour, which reflected his generosity of spirit. He treated colleagues on all sides of the political aisle with respect, while reminding all of us never to take ourselves too seriously.”
Obhrai leaves behind his wife Neena, children Priti, Kaajal, and Amman, and grandchildren Davin Jacob and Evasha.
“I will always have fond memories of the time we spent together during the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race,” Scheer recalled. “In addition to the laughs and good memories we all shared on the campaign trail, his campaign was a testament to his strong beliefs in freedom, prosperity, and inclusiveness.”
Books of condolence will be available at the constituency and parliamentary offices and messages of condolence can be sent by mail to the parliamentary office in Ottawa and emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Details for the funeral arrangements will be announced shortly.
The Canadian Press