Ottawa-area Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger says he has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and has dropped out of race to become the new Speaker of the House of Commons.
Bélanger, 60, spent the weekend calling family members informing them he had been diagnosed with ALS. He told staff Monday morning and informed his fellow MPs of the diagnosis in a statement on Monday afternoon.
"Last Friday, I met with highly respected Ottawa neurologist Dr. Pierre Bourque. After undergoing a series of tests, he has diagnosed me with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It is an incurable disease," he wrote in an email.
Mauril Bélanger is shown speaking in the House of Commons in 2009. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that leaves sufferers paralyzed as motor neurons degenerate and cause muscles to atrophy. There is no known cure. Life expectancy is about three to four years.
"Under the doctor's advice, I have decided to withdraw my candidacy for Speaker of the House of Commons today but shall continue as the proud member of Parliament for Ottawa-Vanier."
Bélanger mysteriously lost his voice in the last month of the election. He thought it was the result of too much yapping during the long campaign, although he said his throat wasn't irritated and it didn't hurt him to speak. His voice was just weak and wispy.
He told The Huffington Post Canada last week that his physician had been unable to determine the cause. He had undergone a CT scan and two MRIs of his neck and head and all three were deemed normal, he said. "There is no stroke, no cancer, no tumour," he said.
As he awaited a series of tests last week, he promised his colleagues that if he didn't recover his "out-loud" voice, he wouldn't compete for the Speaker's job "out of respect" for them.
Bélanger has represented Ottawa–Vanier since winning a byelection in 1995. He served as a junior minister of internal trade, official languages, democratic reform and national defence and had competed for the Speaker's job once before — in 2006 —
but was quickly eliminated from the contest.
"Under the doctor's advice, I have decided to withdraw my candidacy for Speaker of the House of Commons today."
In an interview last week, Bélanger said he hoped to do two things as Speaker: 1) re-establish committees as an important and influential body in legislative process; and 2) re-establish the supremacy of Parliament by ensuring that the presence of the RCMP on Parliament Hill was answerable to the Speakers of the House of Commons and the Senate rather than the government of the day.
"I'm hopeful that committees will become stronger, because the last government did quite a number on them. I think the committees are the most important instrument of the House and I'm hopeful that they regain more importance, both in the legislative process and the studies they undertake."
Bélanger told HuffPost he thought he was particularly well-suited for the role because he had a demonstrated record of "reaching across party lines." He served as co-chair, with a Conservative senator, of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association and worked with other parties to form an all-party caucus focused on co-operatives.
"I'm fair and I'm objective," he told HuffPost.
Bélanger was considered a front-runner in the Speaker's race. He counted strong support among the NDP bench, he said, as well as on the Conservative side. He noted that Rick Anderson, the Conservatives' election campaign strategist, was supporting him.
In his email to his colleagues, Bélanger wrote that he wished to thank everyone who had encouraged him and supported his bid for Speaker.
"I will be eternally grateful."
On Twitter, Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote: "My thoughts are with my friend @Mauril_Belanger today. Stay strong. We will always have your back, Mauril."
My thoughts are with my friend @Mauril_Belanger today. Stay strong. We will always have your back, Mauril.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) November 30, 2015
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose wrote: "Thoughts and prayers are with @Mauril_Belanger today. We are all together with you in this fight against ALS."
Thoughts and prayers are with @Mauril_Belanger today. We are all together with you in this fight against ALS.
— Rona Ambrose (@RonaAmbrose) November 30, 2015
Electing the Speaker is the first order of business when the 42nd session of Parliament begins on Thursday. Liberal MPs Geoff Regan, Denis Paradis and Yasmin Ratansi, as well as Conservative Bruce Stanton have also expressed a public interested in running for the Speaker's chair.
--With files from the Canadian Press
Belanger's full statement:
Last Friday, I met with highly respected Ottawa neurologist, Dr. Pierre Bourque. After undergoing a series of tests, he has diagnosed me with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It is an incurable disease.
Under the doctor's advice, I have decided to withdraw my candidacy for Speaker of the House of Commons today but shall continue as the proud Member of Parliament for Ottawa-Vanier.
I wish to thank everyone who has encouraged me and supported my candidacy for Speaker. I will be eternally grateful. Thank you to my election team and the voters of Ottawa-Vanier for the privilege of serving them.
I look forward to seeing you all at the Opening of Parliament.