OTTAWA — Liberal backbencher Arnold Chan, whose eloquent, emotional tribute to democracy earlier this summer moved many in the House of Commons to tears, was remembered Thursday as a good friend, a wonderful husband and a dedicated public servant.
The 50-year-old Chan died of cancer three years after he was first diagnosed with the disease.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called him "a thoughtful, kind and, above all, tireless advocate for Canadians."
"He believed deeply in our democracy and became one of its most faithful and eloquent guardians," Trudeau said in a statement, noting that most of Chan's brief time as an MP was shadowed by his illness.
"Even at his sickest, he found the strength to stand up in the House of Commons and represent his constituents, who he cared about so deeply."
Chan learned he had nasopharyngeal carcinoma not long after he won the Toronto-area seat of Scarborough-Agincourt in a 2014 byelection. He embarked on a difficult treatment regime of radiation and chemotherapy, which seemed to have won him a reprieve.
He was re-elected in 2015, but revealed in March 2016 that the cancer had returned.
"It sucks the energy out of you," he said at the time about the difficulties of chemotherapy. "It literally sucks the energy out of you and sometimes it hits you at times you had no idea it is coming."
Chan was the father of three sons, Nathaniel, Ethan and Theodore. His wife, Jean Yip, expressed her sadness in a statement released on Twitter.
"He was a loving father, wonderful husband and dedicated public servant," she said, adding that while he "courageously fought" cancer, he "always continued to work hard for his constituents."
Chan's health was clearly failing when he made an emotional speech in June to his fellow MPs in the often-acrimonious Commons, urging them to embrace decency and civility in debate and to abandon what he called "canned talking points."
He asked them to "bring the experience of our constituents here and impose it upon the question of the day, and ask ourselves how we get better legislation and how we make better laws."
He urged MPs to pay attention to others.
"That is the challenge that is going on around the world right now," he said. "No one is listening. Everyone is just talking at once. We have to listen to each other."
Chan also expressed his love of country: "I would ask Canadians to give heart to their democracy, to treasure it and revere it."
Fellow Liberal MP Judy Sgro broke the news of Chan's death at a committee meeting.
"He was a member that we all very much respected and appreciated and it is with great sadness that I have to give you that announcement," said Sgro.
"So, take a deep breath and I'm sure all of us will send our sympathies out to his wife and family."
Devastating. ArnoldChanLib was the best of the best in politics. He reminded us why what we do matters. Love to his family & all his friends https://t.co/ZvZ84HzdZp— Catherine McKenna (@cathmckenna) September 14, 2017
In Toronto, provincial Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, who represents the riding of Scarborough Centre, asked for a moment of silence in the legislature for Chan, a former executive assistant to then-premier Dalton McGuinty.
"It's a gut-wrenching day for us here at Queen's Park and I think across the country," Duguid said.
"He was a breath of fresh air in this business — always positive, always optimistic and always full of energy. He's going to be missed incredibly by all of us on all sides of the House. You could feel the emotion today in the legislature from all sides. He's one of those people that are a real gem and a real asset to politics in general across the country."
Ontario International Trade Minister Michael Chan, who had Arnold Chan as his first chief of staff 10 years ago, called it a very difficult day.
Even at his sickest, he found the strength to stand up in the House of Commons and represent his constituents, who he cared about so deeply.
"Three weeks ago he called me. (He said) 'Michael, I want to talk to you. Come on over.' I went to his house, sat there, he bowed his head. He told me, 'Michael, I'm dying. I'm going to die....' He was a courageous man.
"A man committed to his family, three kids, still growing, fantastic wife, a great, great family man and 50 years old. It's not fair."
Toronto Mayor John Tory said Chan was passionate about public service.
"Notwithstanding his illness, Arnold carried on representing his residents in the humble and decent way that he always had and I know we are all inspired by his call for Canadians to 'give heart to their democracy.'
Chan grew up in Toronto. He studied at both the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia and earned a law degree and masters degrees in both political science and urban planning.
After the Liberals took power in Ottawa, Chan was named deputy House leader.