Conservative Jim Hillyer was a quiet, if quirky, presence in this political town – not the type who aggressively pushed an agenda or saw his name in the headlines, save for a few occasions.
But the 41-year-old Alberta MP's sudden death Wednesday morning from as-yet-unknown causes while in his office near Parliament Hill served as a vocal reminder to politicians of all stripes to sever their partisanship, if only for a day.
Instead of debating the Liberals' inaugural budget, all five party leaders paid emotional tribute to Mr. Hillyer in the House of Commons before cancelling Question Period out of respect for the married father of four who represented a riding in Medicine Hat, Alta. His death also inspired tributes from MPs across the board, including former prime minister Stephen Harper.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the Commons that if Mr. Hillyer's death has any positive outcomes, it's that "we take a little time to get to know each other a little more."
Mr. Hillyer, who was recovering from recent surgery to remove an infection in his leg after breaking it badly three years ago, flew back to Ottawa this week so he could be in town for the budget. Ottawa police would only say they attended a medical call on Ottawa's pedestrian Sparks Street early Wednesday, the same street as Mr. Hillyer's office, and that no foul play is suspected.
Conservative Interim Leader Rona Ambrose choked back tears in the Commons as she recalled the "passionate" two-term MP who played both hockey and the violin and was first elected in 2011 in the southern Alberta riding of Lethbridge.
"When one talked to Jim, it was like talking to a neighbour. It was clear that he loved his life, he loved his wife, he loved his community, and he loved his job," she said.
She also recalled Mr. Hillyer's "goofy sense of humour," including a recent comment about Republican candidate Donald Trump. "Where I come from is redneck, and we're not that redneck," she quoted him saying.
"He was also a fighter," Ms. Ambrose said.
Mr. Hillyer survived both leukemia and a bone marrow transplant in 2003, and three years ago, badly broke his leg in a skiing accident. After that accident, Mr. Hillyer needed a motorized scooter to get around Parliament Hill. But he never complained, Conservative MP Erin O'Toole said.
"A few times, I walked up to the Hill with him and just really admired the tenacity," Mr. O'Toole told The Globe and Mail. "He wasn't somebody to make a lot of fuss, even when he was going through his own challenges."
Mr. Hillyer's political career wasn't without controversy: Even before he was elected, he was dubbed "the man who wasn't there" because he avoided interviews and public forums during the final month of the campaign. There were also questions about the former Mormon missionary's credentials, after he claimed to hold a PhD from an unaccredited university in Utah. In 2011, he was forced to apologize to the House after making gun gestures following the vote to abolish the gun registry.