Diane Marleau, who held four cabinet posts in the Liberal government of Jean Chretien, has succumbed to cancer, it was announced Jan. 30.
Marleau, who was 69, is survived by her husband, Paul, and their three children. She had a long record of public service, dating back to 1980, when she was elected to city council. She was a strong advocate of the region’s pay-as-you-go policy in the 1980s, which has helped make the now City of Greater Sudbury almost debt free.
She was elected MP for Sudbury in 1988 and became a cabinet minister in 1993, when the Liberals gained a majority under Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Her first post was minister of health, where she is remembered for forcing provinces to back away from attempts to introduce private care.
She penalized provinces that allowed extra billing, and most famously forced colourful Alberta Premier Ralph Klein to back off attempts to fund private clinics that charged users fees.
Lynne Reynolds, who was Marleau’s political assistant for Northern Ontario in the 1990s, said the showdown with Klein was the political event of which she was most proud.
“I think that was what she considered to be her greatest accomplishment,” an emotional Reynolds said Jan. 30. “She felt that the universal health care system that we have was worth fighting for. She was able to face (Klein) and get what she wanted.
“She fought him on it and she won. I know she was extremely proud of that accomplishment.”
She was public works minister in 1996-97 when she brought millions of infrastructure dollars to Sudbury, including a multi-million dollar renovation of the downtown federal building that houses the post office.
“She brought a lot of dollars to Sudbury during that period,” Reynolds said. “There wasn’t much infrastructure building going on at the time. But there were a lot of projects that she gave funding to. She always brought dollars to the riding. There were announcements going on all the time.”
She was minister of international co-operation and for le francophonie following her time at public works. She remained MP after Chretien left office until she was defeated by current NDP MP Glenn Thibeault in 2008.
In addition to the politician, Reynolds said Marleau was a generous and warm person who touched the lives of the people she served.
“Today, I’m remembering her as a great mother and wife,” Reynolds said. “She was always such a warm-hearted and gracious person. And I’m thinking about Paul and the three children.”
Reynolds said there are countless stories of people Marleau helped while she was in public life, accomplishments that match her major achievements in politics.
“She has left us quite a legacy,” Reynolds said. “She was one of the most accomplished politicians in the history of Sudbury ... I remember her for service to the community and her service to the country. She was a warm friend. She always extremely gracious and generous of spirit.”
In a statement, Thibeault sent his condolences to Marleau’s family.
“Diane spent 25 years working tirelessly as an elected official for our community,” Thibeault said in his statement. “Her hard work both in and for Sudbury will not be forgotten, and regardless of our political allegiances, no one could doubt Diane’s commitment to the community.”
Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk said in a statement that Marleau’s death is a big blow to all of Sudbury.
“Diane Marleau was a political pioneer in Sudbury,” Matichuk said in her statement. “Her commitment to public service at all levels, and her passion for public health care in particular, served as an inspiration in our community.”
Marleau was an inspiration for all women entering politics, Matichuk said.
“We will keep family and friends of Diane Marleau in our thoughts during this difficult time.”
Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci extended his condolences to the community and Marleau's family.
“It is my hope that the condolences and heart-felt expressions of sorrow by many, can provide some measure of comfort to the family and friends she leaves behind,” said Bartolucci.
Bartolucci and Marleau served as representatives for Sudbury at their respective levels of government for many years. Prior to that, the two worked together on Sudbury’s city and regional councils for a number of years.
“Diane had strong ideas as do I, and we often had healthy debates over politics and our community,” said Bartolucci. “Our shared love of Sudbury served as a bond throughout our ups and downs. I am proud to have known her and privileged to have worked with her. Sudbury has lost a true advocate. It’s a significant loss.
“We can honour her legacy by working together to ensure the voice of Sudbury is heard at the federal and provincial levels of government. She will not be forgotten.”