MP Deepak Obhrai remembered by Calgarians as a ‘true statesman’

Deepak Obhrai, a beloved long-time MP, is being mourned by Calgarians, Canadians and people he met in his travels across the globe.

The Calgary Forest Lawn representative died Friday after a short battle with Stage 4 liver cancer.

He was 69.

Obhrai was the first Hindu politician elected to the House of Commons, the longest-serving Conservative MP, the longest-serving parliamentary secretary to a minister of foreign affairs, and the first person of colour to vie for the leadership of the Conservative party.

To Calgary South Asian radio host Kumar Sharma, Obhrai was a community advocate and good friend.

“He was a true statesman in a way that I don’t think there’s any member of parliament who has visited so many countries, serving Canada, bringing Canada’s flag up throughout the world,” Sharma said through tears on Saturday.

“For anyone to fill these shoes, I think it will take at least 10 decades, a century I’ll say, for somebody to come like a Deepak Obhrai in the world … this man, he was a godsend.”

Obhrai was born in Tanzania, studied in India, and worked as an air traffic controller in the U.K. before settling in Calgary with his wife and eldest child in 1977.

He served as MP for 22 years.

Sharma said Obhrai never turned someone away from his constituency office if they were looking for help, regardless of if they were actually from his riding or not. 

“He would do anything if it was in his power to [help] anyone,” he said. “He has helped more people probably than all members of parliament combined in Calgary.”

Politicians from all levels of government and across party lines mourned Obhrai on social media.

Obhrai was about to contest his eighth federal election. 

Gar Gar, a former Sudanese refugee and community advocate who has run for both municipal and provincial politics in Calgary, was out doorknocking for Obhrai’s campaign just last week.

“It’s a big hole within the community, it’s a big hole within the province, within the country,” he said, adding that he’s glad to see community members put politics aside and come together to support Obhrai’s family.

‘A big legacy’

Gar said Obhrai was a human rights leader.

“Deepak Obhrai’s legacy is a big legacy I think, he still remains with us,” he said.

During his run for leader of the Conservative party in 2016, he spoke out against what he saw as fellow candidates’ fear mongering over immigration. 

He was also the first to declare that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” a line later repeated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (who, along with all the federal party leaders, shared his condolences on social media for Obhrai’s loved ones).

Just last month his campaign office compiled a video collecting highlights from his political career, from his first and last times swearing in as MP, to meeting the Dalai Lama, Pope Benedict and Aga Khan.

Colleagues and friends posted that Obhrai was known both for his sense of style, with his many silk scarves, as well as his sense of humour — often referring to himself as “the Deepakage.”

But most of all, he was known for being a fierce advocate for his community.

“Calgary has lost their South Asian voice,” Kumar said.

He leaves behind his wife Neena, children Priti, Kaajal, Amman, and three grandchildren.

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