'My priorities have not changed,' says MP diagnosed with ALS
Emily Chan, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, March 9, 2016 8:44AM EST
Only a few months after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, Ottawa-Vanier MP Mauril Belanger's condition is worsening.
Belanger is no longer able to speak, and though he was walking on his own as late as January, he now relies on a walker.
But the MP's deteriorating health hasn't silenced him. With the help of an iPad and voice-generating program, Belanger is continuing his work as a member of Parliament.
"My priorities have not changed, even after being diagnosed in late November," He told CTV Ottawa. "I remain committed to serving the constituents of Ottawa-Vanier and representing them in the House of Commons."
Belanger says his voice first started to give out in the fall, during the federal election campaign.
At first, he thought he had a cold. But in November, doctors delivered a far more serious diagnosis: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, is a neurodegenerative disease which causes nerve cells to die and leaves muscles paralyzed, the ALS Society of Canada says.
ALS is degenerative, and there is no known cure.
For Belanger, the diagnosis dealt a serious blow to his career ambitions.
At the time of the news, the veteran MP was considered a front-runner for the position of Speaker of the House, and his condition forced him to drop out of the race.
"I wanted to be Speaker in order to devote my parliamentary knowledge and expertise to the service of the House of Commons and its members," Belanger said.
Instead, the politician is focusing his energy on his riding, and on a bill to amend the lyrics of O Canada so that the words are gender-neutral.
"I go to work every day and endeavour every day to advance important files for the riding and also files that are important for the country," Belanger said.
Long-time friends and co-workers say they are unsurprised by Belanger's dedication.
"He's very determined not to let the people of Vanier down. He is their member of Parliament and that's what he wants to do," said Alain-Michel Sekula, a friend of Belanger's who has known the Liberal MP since university.
Gatineau MP Greg Fergus, who has also known Belanger for decades, said he expects the Ottawa-Vanier politician to continue his work for as long as possible.
"He will continue as long as he's able to make his wishes known, I'm sure," Fergus said. "He has not stopped making interventions in caucus or committee with his office staff or his parliamentary colleagues. Everybody's around to help."
But despite Belanger's own determination and the support of his colleagues, the MP's condition is undeniably in decline.
There is no set timeline for how long Belanger will be able to continue working, but the effects of ALS are already apparent.
Before his condition worsens further, however, he will be honoured with a unique tribute in the House of Commons.
On Wednesday, Belanger will temporarily assume the role of Speaker of the House, and spend an hour or so in the job he aspired to.
Beyond that, he says, he will continue working "to the best of my abilities, (for) as long as possible."
With files from CTV Ottawa