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Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr speaks to reporters regarding the Keystone XL pipeline at a Liberal cabinet retreat in Calgary, on Jan. 24, 2017.Todd Korol/The Canadian Press

Jim Carr was running out of time, but he was wont to say that every day, every hour, every minute counts. For years, he had dreamed that the Prairies he so loved would be transformed into a place that produced green energy, thus contributing to a healthy, cleaner environment for generations to come. As a Liberal MP first elected to represent Winnipeg South in 2015, who served as the minister of both natural resources and internal trade diversification, and as a man diagnosed with a blood cancer called multiple myeloma and kidney disease, he needed to give the private member’s bill he introduced in Parliament last winter every chance of being adopted.

That is why the week before he died, Mr. Carr made the arduous trip to Ottawa. He needed to speak on behalf of the Building a Green Prairie Economy Act and appearing as a little talking head on a computer screen would not do – not for the impassioned speech he wanted to give, which strayed from the nuts and bolts of the proposed legislation to encompass his love of Canada in all its permutations, “in English, in French, in Indigenous languages and in the languages of the newly arrived.”

He lauded the state of Parliament and the country’s state of democracy, where dissention does not rip the country apart but rather, helps to strengthen a national fabric that itself is woven from those mini, multicultural threads that “make Canada the envy of the world.”

The bill was granted Royal Assent on Dec. 15, three days after Mr. Carr died at home in Winnipeg, surrounded by family in the city where he lived within the same 10 blocks for most of his life. He was 71 years old, a man who lived by the maxim drummed into him by his maternal Aunty Fran that the glass always had to be half-full, no matter what one was facing, even death.

“Dad was the poster boy for how to live when you know you’re dying,” his son, Ben Carr, said. “He didn’t have to physically go to Ottawa, with the hybrid conditions for parliamentarians in place, but he jumped on a plane every time he had some sort of obligation to the bill because he wanted to look people in the eye, to be there to listen and respond to criticisms. All of those things made up the core of who he was.”

That last speech, the son continued, represented everything that was best about his father: He was a bridge builder and consensus seeker, a diplomat, a non-partisan and a person who cared deeply about the country.

Indeed, Mr. Carr, who was awarded the Order of Manitoba in 2011, was not a typical career politician, not with a curriculum vitae that ranged from playing oboe as a teenager with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and writing editorials for the Winnipeg Free Press, to becoming the founding president of the Business Council of Manitoba, a deputy leader of the provincial Liberal party and finally, in 2015, the MP for Winnipeg South. Throughout, he was driven, not by a desire to succeed so much as his own curiosity, morals and principles.

It’s why he once spent two hours chatting with a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses who showed up at the family’s Winnipeg residence and nurtured friendships with both New Democrat Gary Doer and Progressive Conservative Gary Filmon.

“He wanted to open himself up to see the world from a different perspective,” the son said. “With the Jehovah’s Witnesses, with Gary Doer and Gary Filmon, both political rivals during his time in the Manitoba legislature, with countless others, he was teaching us that just because you don’t see the world the same way, or agree on every issue, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for friendship and mutual respect.”

When he went knocking on doors during 15 election campaigns with his long-time friend, former Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy, the latter would look on in wonder as Mr. Carr engaged often-reluctant voters in conversations that invariably began with comments such as “I know your second cousin and …”

“He knew the geography of Winnipeg, not just the borders and neighbourhoods as an abstract notion but the people who lived in them,” Mr. Axworthy said. “When you encounter people whose initial reaction may be to chase you off their porch, you really get know someone – their strengths and their talent. Jim was the whole package, funny, direct, committed and a fantastic friend.

“He was master of the hood.”

James Gordon Carr was born in Winnipeg on Oct. 11, 1951, the youngest of David and Esther (Golden) Carr’s three sons. His father, who was legally blind, co-owned and operated a number of local movie theatres, while his mother worked at times as a theatre usher and as a receptionist in her brother-in-law’s legal office, while she also baked cheesecakes that she transformed into a burgeoning home business.

Both sets of grandparents emigrated from eastern Europe in the early 1900s – Jews fleeing anti-Semitism and searching for a better life in a place where hard work and determination could make all the difference. In a story posted to the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba’s Book of Life, Mr. Carr recalled his paternal grandmother, Baba Liba, smiling and hugging him while uttering what was probably the only English expression she knew: “A million dollars.”

Summers were spent at Winnipeg Beach with cousins whom young Jim considered siblings, and in day camp. He participated in various sports throughout his youth, including football and one unfortunate outing as a hockey goalie. In high school, he also began to play the oboe, becoming so adept, he played for the Winnipeg Symphony from the ages of 16 to 21 and he was awarded a Canada Council grant to study for a year in San Francisco under the tutelage of master oboist Marc Lifschey.

In the end, Mr. Carr would use his experience as part of a vast musical ensemble to show how people from all political and socio-economic backgrounds could, and should, work together to make the country work, even if the sound could be disharmonic at first listen. After spending a year at the University of British Columbia, he transferred to McGill University in Montreal, from which he graduated in 1979 with a joint honours BA in history and political science.

Upon graduation, Mr. Carr returned to Winnipeg where, before entering public life, he served as executive director of the Manitoba Arts Council. From 1988 to 1992, he sat in the provincial legislature as a Liberal, after which he moved to the Winnipeg Free Press, working there until 1998, continuing to hone his voice in both editorials that represented the opinion of the paper and in columns that represented his own. He wrote about human rights, about rapprochement between communities historically at odds with each other and the need to make amends.

In 1998, he demonstrated yet again an ability to pivot: Discerning a need for the provincial business community to have a stronger linked voice, he became the new Business Council of Manitoba’s founding president and CEO, working there until he successfully ran in 2015 for the federal Liberals in the riding of Winnipeg South Centre.

Upon his election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Mr. Carr as Minister of Natural Resources, an appointment that Ben Carr noted would have had Prairie oil lobbyists “shaking in their boots,” especially with headlines across the country that emphasized the new minister’s history as an oboist rather than someone with an oil background.

In the 2019 election, he gamely campaigned while feeling unwell, receiving the cancer diagnosis the day after he won. During the pandemic, he underwent a stem-cell transplant.

Always straightforward about his diagnosis, Mr. Carr was praised at a memorial service at Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall; speakers included Mr. Trudeau, who assured that his friend’s legacy would live on, and Mr. Axworthy, who recalled being invited to participate in a sweat lodge while paddling along the Assiniboine River a number of years ago with Mr. Carr and Phil Fontaine, now the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. It was a ceremony about looking inward, where each spoke of what had helped shaped them – of being the son of a soldier who fought in the war, the grandson of immigrants who had come to Canada with nothing and the trauma of residential schools.

“Afterwards, Jim said, ‘This is a time of special bonding, making us brothers. We’ll always be there for each other.’ And he became a champion of Indigenous rights and reconciliation.

“Jim Carr was no tourist,” Mr. Axworthy continued. “He shared with the world his passions, his values and dreams.”

Mr. Carr leaves his brothers, Al and Robert Carr; his wife, Justice Colleen Suche of the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench; his children from his first marriage, Ben, Rachel and Rebecca Carr; his stepchildren, Daniel, Jesse and Kiernan Gange, whom he considered his own; and three grandchildren.

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