I want to tell you a story – a personal one, filled with anguish, recovery and hope. Ultimately it’s the story of one Member of Parliament and the remarkable difference she made in what, for a time, was a devastating situation.
It had only been about a year since I was elected and it had been eventful. Two of my kids – Achan and Ater – had arrived from Sudan following the conclusion of adoption procedures. I was attempting to learn the procedures of Parliament and there was a heavy schedule. Suddenly a critical medical emergency happened in the family, life threatening, and urgent.
I immediately went to our party Whip, the House Leader, and Stephane Dion, explaining the circumstances. They wished me God speed and assisted me in getting to the airport and getting to where I belonged.
Diane Marleau, MP for Sudbury and a former Minister of Health under Jean Chretien – a woman I barely knew because of my recent arrival to Parliament – called and said. “Come see me, right away if you can,”
In a word, Diane became “indispensable.” She quickly informed key people in Parliament and immediately a web of support emerged that was to strengthen me in the coming months.
Later I returned to Parliament,. Diane had done her work. MPs and staff from all parties came forward and the next thing I knew there were cards from many other politicians, including the Prime Minister. Minister Stockwell Day asked me to a special meeting of Conservative MPs, where they gathered around and expressed all the support and prayers they could give. I got to my office at five o’clock the next morning and there was Jack Layton, asking if there was anything he could do. Friends from the Bloc approached me repeatedly, especially Nicole Demers, who worked with me on the Status of Women Committee. Irene Matthyssen (NDP), Sue Barnes (Liberal), and Joe Preston (Conservative) from London stayed in steady contact.
As the situation improved and political life got back to about as normal as it gets, Diane always stopped to ask me how I was. I asked to join the Liberal Women’s Caucus, of which she was chair, and she strongly encouraged it. Along with Ken Dryden and Irwin Cotler (already members of that caucus) we sought to bring women’s issues to a higher level of recognition in the House. Diane always appreciated that.
Diane Marleau passed away this week in Sudbury at 69 years of age. She had returned home with her husband Paul from Mexico only to discover she had cancer at a late stage. She had served her city as a faithful MP and had occupied various ministerial portfolios while in government. Her vast efforts, regardless of political affiliation, should be commemorated and respected.
Diane’s actions during those devastating months were exemplary, but they were not unique. In fact, so many MPs roused themselves from their partisan stupor during those times that they provided me a memorable glimpse of how Parliament could function if we could just all get out from behind our party labels. Keep in mind that most of them barely knew me and yet they extended their compassion in remarkable ways.
My time in Ottawa taught me well that this is what your average MP is like – caring, attentive to detail, sympathetic, and capable of important interventions of human compassion. Should they be permitted to extend those traits into the nooks and crannies of Parliament it would be a different place. They must be permitted to be who they truly are.
Farewell, Diane. You taught me what a good MP is and what Parliament could become if we listened to the better angels of our nature. For your service to this country we thank you, and for you care of me … well, I thank God for the memory of you.