Manmeet Bhullar was one of the rising stars of Alberta's Progressive Conservative party, a young and determined MLA who had been entrusted with tough assignments in his party's final years in power.
Mr. Bhullar, 35, was killed in a car accident on a snowy Monday afternoon while driving from Calgary to Edmonton. According to first reports, he had stopped on the side of Alberta's Highway 2 to assist a motorist whose car had rolled out of control. Mr. Bhullar was outside of his vehicle when he was struck by a semi-truck that had also lost control.
"The light in our lives went dark today. Manmeet Singh left us while he was doing what he loved more than anything – helping someone else," his family said in a statement on Monday evening.
A Calgary native, Mr. Bhullar was born on March 1, 1980, and raised in the city's northeast, the area he would serve as the MLA for Calgary-Greenway. He was first elected in 2008 as one of Alberta's youngest MLAs. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi kept close contact with the MLA and was one of the first to react to his death. "I am utterly gutted to hear of the sudden passing of Manmeet Singh Bhullar. A public servant, a true warrior for fairness and justice, a big man with a giant heart, a friend."
Whether he was asked to speak about the construction of hundreds of new schools across Alberta or children who died in provincial care, Mr. Bhullar was one of his party's most articulate and well-prepared spokesmen."He was one of those people who was respected across the aisle. He was a great public servant and he had a great career ahead of him. He was a future leader of the party," said Duane Bratt, the chair of policy studies at Mount Royal University who had Mr. Bhullar as a student in the late 1990s.
Tall and imposing, Mr. Bhullar immediately put people at ease with his laid-back manner.
Mr. Bhullar was a champion at getting out the vote for his own campaigns as well as those of his political allies and harboured ambitions of becoming leader of the PCs – which he spoke about to an inner circle. However, when Jim Prentice decided to throw his hat in the ring last year, Mr. Bhullar was the first cabinet minister to publicly support him.
Recently Mr. Bhullar had taken up the cause of religious minorities in Afghanistan and was pressing Ottawa to speed their refugee claims. He travelled to New Delhi earlier this year, where he met with Sikh refugees. He said there are at least 300 Sikh and Hindu families living in Afghanistan who face constant discrimination, the inability to fully practise their faith and threats of violence.
"Manmeet accomplished more in his brief time than most people accomplish in their lifetimes," interim PC Leader Ric McIver wrote in a statement.
Mr. Bhullar was also one of only 10 Tories to survive the party's fall from power in the spring. "This is a land of opportunity filled with abundant natural beauty, a high standard of living and a can-do attitude," he wrote during the campaign.
From Ottawa, Premier Rachel Notley responded to the death: "We have lost our colleague, Calgary-Greenway has lost a friend and effective voice in the legislature, and most of all, we have all lost a passionate advocate for Alberta."
In 2014, he became one of Mr. Prentice's chief lieutenants, installed as infrastructure minister at a time when Alberta embarked on a wave of public works projects worth billions of dollars. Mr. Bhullar had worked with Mr. Prentice when the future premier ran for the leadership of the federal Tory party. In 2011, Mr. Bhullar entered cabinet for the first time as Alberta's service minister. In that role he lobbied federal regulators to protect consumers from what he considered unfair cellphone rules.
In 2013, he took over the province's human services ministry at a time when reports emerged that more than 700 children had died in provincial care since 1999. After a four-year investigation by the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald, Mr. Bhullar lifted a publication ban on the names of Albertans who had died in provincial care.
"I believe it is a basic right of each and every one of us to express grief publicly. This decision is not one for the government to make; it is one for those closest to the child to make," he said in a statement in 2014, explaining why he had lifted the ban.
A turbaned Sikh, Mr. Bhullar delivered an emotional address in Alberta's legislature in early November about violence that had claimed thousands of Sikh lives in India in 1984. During his time as a legislator he worked to build relations between Alberta and India, helping negotiate a partnership between the province and the state of Punjab.
All flags on Alberta provincial buildings will be lowered to half-mast until sunset on the day of Mr. Bhullar's funeral and the legislature will not sit on Tuesday, observing a day of mourning.