OTTAWA—Jim Carr, one of the Liberal government’s top Western political lieutenants who served in a series of cabinet posts for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has died after battling blood cancer for the past three years.
He was 71.
A statement from Carr’s family said he died peacefully at his home on Monday, after “battling multiple myeloma and kidney failure since 2019.” The cancer forced Carr to undergo chemotherapy, dialysis and a bone-marrow transplant, the statement said.
“As a dedicated elected official, business and community leader in Manitoba for over 30 years, Jim was loved and respected by so many and we know he will be profoundly missed,” Carr’s family said.
“We want to thank all the doctors, nurses and medical staff for the care Jim received since he was diagnosed and throughout his courageous battle.”
After Carr’s death was announced Monday in the House of Commons, Speaker Anthony Rota adjourned the sitting for the rest of the day, by unanimous consent, “out of respect” for the Manitoba MP whose death left politicians from all parties visibly shaken.
“Our team has lost a valued member, our country has lost a dedicated parliamentarian, and so many of us have lost a close friend,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on social media Monday.
“Jim Carr’s passion, tenacity, integrity, humour, and commitment to the Prairies were second to none — and we’ll miss him dearly.”
Just last week, Carr had received an ovation in the House of Commons after his private member’s bill — a proposed law to help build a “green economy” for the Prairies — passed third reading.
He told the CBC that day that, though he was “physically not great,” he felt “emotionally really, really solid and grateful for the chance to continue to contribute to my country.”
A former journalist and provincial legislator in Manitoba, Carr was first elected federally in 2015, in the riding of Winnipeg South Centre.
For the next three years, he served as the Liberal government’s natural resources minister, then took over the international trade portfolio until 2019.
He was diagnosed with cancer that year, on the day after the 2019 federal election, and then was named Trudeau’s special adviser for the Prairies.
He was handed the job after an election that saw the Liberals decimated in the West, losing all three seats they had in Alberta, their lone outpost in Saskatchewan and three out of seven seats in Manitoba.
Dominic LeBlanc, currently the Liberals’ intergovernmental affairs minister, recalled Monday how he’d been going through cancer treatment of his own at the time and the two men formed a “sad bond” over their shared experiences with cancer.
Carr, however, never lost his voice around the cabinet table, LeBlanc said, and always pushed his colleagues to think about how their decisions would reverberate “on the prairie.”
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“In the sense that his voice was a loud and important one for many of us, we’ll have to double our own efforts to understand and listen to our colleagues from that part of the country,” LeBlanc said.
MPs from other parties said they too appreciated Carr’s work being a voice for his home region, calling him a friend and champion of Manitoba.
Among them was the NDP’s Blake Desjarlais, who had served as the director of the Metis Settlements General Council prior to becoming an MP.
Desjarlais said Monday that Métis communities in Winnipeg and beyond looked to Carr as an advocate for their rights, and someone who wasn’t stuck in what Desjarlais called the “Ottawa bubble.”
“He was someone you can always go to, someone you can always talk with, and someone who would always give you his best word,” Desjarlais said.
He was also someone, many MPs said, who stressed the need for respect and decency in politics — an approach that would be missed.
Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault, the federal tourism minister and MP from Edmonton, called Carr like “my parliamentary dad.”
“It’s fitting to pause and to remember the life of a businessman, a great Canadian patriot, an oboist, a humanitarian,” Boissonnault said.
“My deep condolences to the Carr family and to everybody who’s been touched by the love and respect of the Honourable Jim Carr.”
Joe Pickerill, a former Liberal staffer who was Carr’s director of communications when the MP was Trudeau’s international trade minister, told the Star on Monday that Carr was a “genuinely lovely guy with the best hug on the Hill.” Working with Carr in 2018 and 2019, Pickerill said they routinely ran through “marathon sessions” of early-morning radio interviews, starting before dawn with stations in Newfoundland and trying to squeeze in as many as possible in the rest of the country before 9 a.m.
“At one point, he put his hand up, covered the mouthpiece while he was live on air, and said in that storytelling tone of his: ‘Joe, this is a conversation. You, me, two coffees, and a few people on their way to work,’” Pickerill recalled.
“He had a way of cutting to the heart — I choose that word on purpose — of everything.”
In what would become his final speech in the House of Commons, on Dec. 6, Carr spoke of his admiration for Canadian democracy and his love for “every square metre” of the country.
“My respect for Parliament has grown by leaps and bounds. The wisdom of inviting witnesses to add thoughtful commentary, and an opposition that has been respectful though occasionally dissenting, are what a democracy is all about, and it is always rooted in strengthening the national fabric, woven as it is from those mini threads that make Canada the envy of the world,” Carr said.
“With resources, natural and human, comes responsibility to each other and to the world itself. How could we not be humbled by the greatness of this magnificent country?”
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga
Stephanie Levitz is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @StephanieLevitz
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