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Mauril Bélanger, Liberal MP Battling ALS, Serves As Honorary Speaker

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Mauril Bélanger dreamed of becoming Speaker of the House of Commons, of trying to make Canada's Parliament and politics a bit better from his perch in that big, green chair.

Those hopes were cruelly dashed last November when the veteran Liberal MP was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

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Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger gives a thumbs up as he sits in the Speaker's chair Wednesday. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

There's no cure. No stopping the hateful deterioration.

It started to take his voice on the campaign trail. He's now lost it completely.

But Bélanger has shown up for work, woes be damned, to represent the constituents of Ottawa-Vanier as he has since 1995.

On Wednesday, his colleagues paid special tribute to his courage.

In an historic first, Bélanger served as honorary Speaker for the day. He described it as a "dream coming true."

He was applauded loudly as he walked the Speaker's parade — a ceremonial procession through the aptly named Hall of Honour — to open the sitting. He took his spot in the best seat in the House.

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Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger takes par in the Speaker's parade as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others applaud. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Just as he did in a memorable address in January, Bélanger used a tablet computer to convert his typed speech to audio, introducing MPs for member's statements and the start of question period.

The bickering and partisanship that so often permeates in the chamber was replaced instead with the sight of Parliamentary pages running tissues over to members overcome with emotion.

"It is a great honour to call you Mr. Speaker," Bloc MP Louis Plamondon, the longest-serving member and "dean of the House" told Bélanger.

"You look great up there," interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose offered. "You've achieved in a very short time what many Speakers dream of … which is a well-behaved chamber."

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Liberal MP Mauril Belanger is given a standing ovation as he makes his way to the Speaker's chair in the House of Commons. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Ambrose asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to join her in urging Canadians to support organizations fighting to find a cure for ALS.

Trudeau obliged, and saluted the Speaker for the "dignity and grace" he brings to the House as he battles his disease. Bélanger wiped away tears. The eyes have it.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who earlier in the day called the occasion a rare moment of grace in Parliament, lauded Bélanger's years of work on behalf of official bilingualism and francophone Canadians.

Mulcair asked the prime minister how he might follow up on his MP's "exceptional contribution" to minority language rights.

Trudeau conceded "no one in this House has done more" on the issue. The prime minister pledged his government will bring in a new official languages plan.

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Liberal MP Mauril Belanger is helped by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he prepares to leave the Speaker's chair. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Bélanger honoured his colleagues — in French and English — with words that rang out clearly.

"I would like to thank you all dear colleagues of this House for the great privilege you have bestowed upon me to serve as honorary speaker of the House of Commons today," he said via his tablet. "Thank you very much."

He received a standing ovation. Some MPs banged on their desks, as if words wouldn't suffice.

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