Ottawa-Vanier member of Parliament Mauril Bélanger, died August 16 following a short battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. At his memorial service, in the presence of the prime minister and other dignitaries, Cantor Daniel Benlolo recalled Bélanger’s long friendship with the Jewish community. In this piece, former MP Richard Marceau of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs remembers his friend.
I had the honour to serve for nine years in the House of Commons with Mauril Bélanger.
While we sat on opposite sides of the House, it quickly became clear that Mauril was a gentleman, a politician who, while a staunch Liberal, knew how to build relationships across the aisle. That is why he was appointed deputy leader of the Government in the House of Commons and chief government whip in December 2003. Those positions require an ability to work constructively with people whose chief objective is to oppose and replace you.
Mauril and I quickly developed a relationship that was friendly and respectful. His defence of the French language in Canada could not but endear him to me – and to other francophones of all stripes.
Mauril was a close friend of David Goldstein, a former board member of the Canada-Israel Committee. David suggested that the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) invite Mauril and his wife Catherine – whose father was a Hungarian Jew – on one of the parliamentary fact-finding missions that we organize. Thus, in September 2014, CIJA hosted Mauril and Catherine for a week in the Jewish state.
The trip was very special for Mauril on several levels. It was Catherine’s first visit to Israel, an opportunity for her to connect with her Jewish roots – a meaningful personal connection for Mauril and an important one for his beloved wife. Professionally, Mauril immensely enjoyed the opportunity to be in Israel, not only with his parliamentary colleagues, but also with the group of young Jewish leaders who made up part of the delegation.
As has been articulated often in the media, Mauril loved to engage with young people, and he thoroughly enjoyed spending time and conversing with these emerging leaders of Canadian Jewry while in Israel. For him, this made the trip very special, and it solidified an already strong relationship between Mauril and the Jewish community, particularly in Ottawa.
Indeed, Mauril often participated in events at Congregation Beth Shalom, which was located on Chapel Street in his riding of Ottawa-Vanier. I remember fondly that he came to my talk at Beth Shalom about my book A Quebec Jew when I published it. I was thrilled to autograph a copy for him – the French version, of course!
While he was sad to lose ‘his synagogue,’ Mauril embraced Beth Shalom’s decision to relocate to the west end. More than that, he stood in the House of Commons to announce his decision to participate in the Torah procession during Beth Shalom’s Farewell Weekend on March 29, 2015. He did even more: Mauril marched all the way from Chapel Street to the Soloway Jewish Community Centre. Talk about a supportive and engaged MP!
This past winter, Beth Shalom held an honorary Shabbat service for Mauril to celebrate his service to his riding, our city and Canada. I was proud to speak on behalf of our whole community when I conveyed our appreciation for his work. But that pride was bittersweet: to see such a voluble person needing an electronic voice generator to address the congregation at the end of the service was heartbreaking.
Mauril Bélanger died too soon, taken from us by a merciless disease that has no cure.
We will remember him, fondly, and with great respect.