Canadian MP Mauril Bélanger looses battle to ALS at 61


Mauril Belanger, a Liberal member of Canadian Parliament for more than two decades and a lifelong advocate for francophone rights in English Canada, has died after a very public battle with an incurable neurodegenerative disease.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used Twitter to announce Belanger's death on Tuesday night.

"Mauril Belanger has passed away. He was a great friend, tireless MP and brave fighter," Trudeau tweeted. "The entire Parliamentary family mourns his loss."

Belanger, 61, died after a fight with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

He was diagnosed with the devastating disease in November 2015, just weeks after winning re-election in his Ottawa-Vanier riding for the eighth consecutive time since entering federal politics in a February 1995 byelection.

News of Belanger's death triggered a flood of tributes from those of all political stripes on Tuesday night.

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose called Belanger a friend and a "great parliamentarian," saying on Twitter that she would miss him.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair described Belanger as a "very well-liked and respected colleague," and sent condolences to the politician's loved ones.

And a number of Liberals expressed their sadness at losing one of their own.

"Mauril Belanger's fight for language rights and women's equality will be his lasting legacy," tweeted Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. "Rest in Peace, mon ami!"

Immigration Minister John McCallum added: "He was a champion of the people."

ALS began its progressive toll on Belanger by affecting his power of speech, a doubly cruel blow for a man dedicated to language rights who was poised as the front-runner to be elected Speaker of the House of Commons under the Trudeau Liberal government.

He withdrew from the race, but not from public life.

On Jan. 27, 2016, Belanger made history when he became the first MP in the House of Commons to use an electronic voice, re-introducing his private member's bill on gender neutral lyrics for O Canada using tablet software that converted pre-programmed text to speech.

excerpt © 2016 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.