Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to Mauril Bélanger, a colleague and friend who was taken from us too soon.
August 16, 2016, was a sad day for our parliamentary family. That day, we lost one of our own, following his courageous battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
It is not easy to summarize the tremendous contribution that Mauril Bélanger made to society over the many years that he sat in the House of Commons, but when I think about Mauril and who he was, these are some of the things that always come to mind: he was a fervent advocate for his community, a champion of equality, a proud Franco-Ontarian, a passionate parliamentarian, a respected member of the party, and, above all, a man who was devoted to his family.
Today, I would like to take a few moments to talk about how Mauril exemplified these qualities every day through his actions and his way of approaching life.
As the MP for Ottawa—Vanier since 1995, Mauril was an ardent defender of his community for decades. A staple at local events and much beloved by all who knew him, Mauril understood the importance of connecting with people on a real personal level, and he always made sure that their voices were heard.
It is for these reasons that he was elected for the seventh consecutive time this past October. Over 36,000 of his neighbours cast their votes for him. Make no mistake: it is not a testament to the party he represented; it is a testament to the man himself. A pillar of the Ottawa—Vanier community, Mauril was a tireless advocate for the people he represented. I know he will be sorely missed by all of them.
No one in the House can deny that Mauril was frequently the voice for the underdog. He believed in fairness and justice for all, and championed inclusion and equality at every turn. Whether pushing for francophone rights, advocating for Canada's co-operatives, or fighting time and time again for a gender-neutral national anthem, Mauril Bélanger was often the first to jump in and point out that we could do better.
Last summer, the Montfort Hospital awarded Mauril the Médaille du 22 mars, a symbol of determination, tenacity, and pride. This medal recognizes his efforts as a tireless defender of the rights of francophones across the country. A proud Franco-Ontarian, Mauril never missed an opportunity to remind me that, no matter how proud I am to be a Montrealer and Quebecker, I was born in Ottawa and I am technically a Franco-Ontarian.
One of Mauril's top priorities was the duty to serve. Throughout his career, he carried out that responsibility with pride and determination. Whether it was as a member of the government under prime minister Paul Martin or as the deputy House leader, Mauril listened to Canadians and was always ready to serve them.
He never let his parliamentary responsibilities cloud his commitment to his constituents. He made it to the barbecues, the town halls, and the community events with a tireless enthusiasm, an enthusiasm that would never fade with time.
Mauril was also an important fixture within the Liberal Party of Canada. He always challenged us to do better and to be better. When I was just starting out as an MP, he was a close ally, teacher, stern warner of things to come, and, ultimately, an extremely close friend.
In March, Mauril took the Speaker's chair for an emotional and moving round of question period. While it is easy to get caught up in the rough and tumble adversarial nature of politics, on that day our parliamentary colleagues rallied together to honour a great man.
The last time that Mauril was here with us in the House was to vote on the final stage of his private member's bill to make our national anthem more inclusive, a bill that he had introduced and reintroduced a number of times during his career. I think that, for him, that was the best way to end his parliamentary career: by fighting for his convictions and demonstrating strength and courage up until the very end.
To his dear wife Catherine and his family: we are with you during this difficult time and we hope that you will take comfort in the indelible mark that Mauril made in the House.
To our dear Mauril: I already miss your sense of humour, your courage, and your compassion. I will never forget our friendship and the moments that we shared.
Rest in peace, my friend.