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Remembering Manmeet Bhullar

At 35-years-old, Alberta MLA, Manmeet Bhullar, has touched more hearts and done more heroic deeds than most people do in a lifetime.

“Manmeet left us while he was doing what he loved more than anything – helping someone else,” his sister comments. On November 23rd, Bhullar stopped to come to the aid of passengers in a car that had lost control and rolled over on a snowy Alberta highway. While trying to reach the passengers, Bhullar was struck by a semi-truck and died on the way to the hospital. Fittingly for a man with a reputation for helping others, Bhullar died because of his instinctual desire to help someone who needed it. “His death was a tragic testament to how he lived” reporters conclude.

At 28-years-old, the Conservative party member broke records for becoming the youngest member elected to Alberta’s legislature. In 2011, Bhullar was appointed to Cabinet as Minister of Service in Alberta, making him the first turbaned Sikh to hold such an esteemed position within the ministry. Surprisingly, these achievements aren’t even the biggest headlines Bhullar made.

There was once ban on the release of the names of children who had died in provincial care. After Bhullar was named Human Services Minister, he took it upon himself to change the law to lift this ban. There had been suspicions of children in welfare and social services being mistreated and by lifting the ban, Bhullar ensured greater safety of children in Alberta. Bhullar is also widely recognized for his efforts in helping refugees in India and Afghanistan as well as cracking down on dishonest contractors who took advantage of citizens following Alberta’s flood in 2012. In September 2014, he became the infrastructure minister in the short-lived Prentice government. In his time in office Bhullar was elected three times before his the Conservative party was succeeded.

Political figures such as Calgary Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, agree that Bhullar was extremely kind hearted but also stressed that he “wasn’t naïve.” The respect he received from his peers was immense as he had all the great qualities of a great politician, but one without a personal agenda—a trait rare in many politicians. He carried his position strategically and with dedication and intellect. “He was a great political player” Mayor Nenshi comments. “He was a backroom master. It was one of the reasons why he was so successful. But he always did it out a deep and abiding love for community.” Bhullar was noted as the “peaceful warrior” as he was a fierce fighter but ultimately was fighting for justice and peace.

Calgary activist, Saima Jamal, was so touched by Bhullar dedication to youth and activism in the community, that she is pushing for a school to be named after Bhullar. “How many politicians do you know die on the road while assisting someone else?” she said. “He died a hero, and we need to pay proper tribute.”

Fittingly, Bhullar received the honor of an Alberta State funeral (the last of which was held in 2012 for the former premier Peter Lougheed). Thousands of individuals packed Calgary’s Jubilee Auditorium to say goodbye to the local hero. The crowd at his service included cabinet ministers, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, over 40 MLAs, family, friends and thousands of citizens who wanted to pay respects to Bhullar’s legacy. Former premier Jim Prentice acted as the master of ceremonies.

To open the ceremony, the Canadian and Sikh national anthems were sung and Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau’s, official statement addressing Bhullar was read aloud. With great pride, Prentice read Trudeau’s words:  “Today we remember an exemplary man who devoted his life, publicly and privately, to helping others.”

In the midst of solemn speeches and tearing eyes, friends and fellow caucus members paid tribute to Bhullar’s famous sense of humor. Under his blazer, PC leader Ric McIver, even adorned a shirt with one of Bhullar’s favourite catchphrases “with great beard comes great responsibility.”

The memories shared during both his funeral and a recent caucus meeting highlighted Bhullar’s character as well as his humor. McIver told the house that Bhullar loved to joke around with MLA Sandra Jansen about watching her as a news anchor for Calgary TV. MLA’s remembered how Bhullar would often ask her to sing the station’s promotional jingle. McIver went further to recall how Bhullar would tease fellow MLA. Richard Starke, that his moustache couldn’t match the ‘stache Bhullar had acquired by age 12. Fellow caucus members recall how Bhullar was infamously known for belting out the national anthem loud and off-key. Each MLA fought back tears through their laughter as they remembered their beloved departed friend.

McIver expressed the thought every caucus member was thinking “One of our family members is missing,” he said to a room full of glazes eyes.

“I know you’re smiling because you oversold the Jubilee,” Tony Dhaliwal, one of Bhullar’s close friends, said during the funeral.

Dhaliwal revealed that just last week Bhullar had crashed his friend’s movie date just to throw candy at the couple’s head as they watched.  Stories of his light heartedness quickly turned to stories of his undeniable love and devotion to others. Dhaliwal highlighted how Bhullar was there for him during hard times and the how the 200 pound football player-esque looking MLA would actually hold Dhaliwal while he cried.

Dhaliwal commented on how he returned the favour, but there was one crucial difference.

“I cried for myself and you cried for others,” he said.

Dhaliwal is speaking of Bhullar’s struggle watching others stuffer while he was minister of human services. That was the difference between Bhullar and the everyday man.

It is with a heavy heart that his family, friends, the premier of Alberta, fellow MLA’s and what seems to be every Canadian citizen, mourns the death of such a heroic member of the community.

McIver revealed the touching response Bhullar’s tragic death brought. They received an overwhelming number of calls to confirm what happened. People were devastated and eager to commemorate the amazing figure. This was, however, was not restricted to just his party. MLAs from each party visited, said McIver.

At one point over 40 members, including people from opposing parties sat in unison, sharing drinks and telling stories of Manmeet.

“For a very short period of time, there were no teams,” said McIver. “There was just one team.”

That was the kind of mac Bhullar was: his life was one of togetherness and community—so  much so that even after his death, he was bringing people together.

Manmeet Bhullar is a man that will always be remembered for his bravery, love and unconditional devotion to those around him: the epitome of a true Canadian hero.

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