Conservative MP Jim Hillyer has died at the age of 41, according to a release from the Conservative Party.
Initial reports suggest Hillyer, who represented the riding of Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner and previously, Lethbridge, died in his office, just off Parliament Hill. Ottawa Police confirmed that they attended a medical call on Sparks Street around 5 am, that the person has died, and no foul play is suspected.
Hillyer was a cancer survivor and had a bone marrow transplant in 2003. He had broken his leg in a skiing accident in 2013 and took three weeks away from his job for surgery and rehabilitation. But he was plagued with infections that required subsequent surgeries. He often walked with a cane and some were surprised to see him back on the Hill this week after his latest hospital stay, following a surgery to deal with an infection on his leg.
“I used to see him quietly navigating the snow and obstacles on the Hill to make it to QP or votes,” said Tory MP Erin O’Toole.
“I walked with him a few times and saw how frustrating it was, but I never heard him grumble about it. Recently, that same determination led him to get back to Ottawa for the budget despite some other recent health challenges. His quiet dedication is something that will remain with me.”
Hillyer had told the Medicine Hat News on Tuesday he felt it was important to be in Ottawa this week for the budget.
“I’m OK,” he said. “I’m still on antibiotics three times each day but they set me up with a portable pump for the week so I could make it to the budget.”
In a YouTube video apparently posted in February 2015, Hillyer discussed his family, his bouts with illness, his political career, and his religion.
“I broke my leg and I broke my arm and I had tumours in my spinal cord and I had leukemia, which proves I’m in good health because I’m still alive,” he said at that time.
He was first elected to the House of Commons in 2011 as the MP for Lethbridge. He was re-elected in 2015 in a different riding: Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner. He was a member of the Standing Joint Committee of the Library of Parliament and various other committees.
He has worked as a consultant, educator and entrepreneur.
In his 2011 campaign, Hillyer was dubbed “The Man Who Wasn’t There” by local media after he avoided interviews and refused to participate in public forums.
Nonetheless, he won easily.
“I was deeply saddened to learn of the sudden passing of our friend and colleague, Jim Hillyer,” Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said in a statement.
“Jim was a valued and hardworking member of the Conservative team, and a passionate advocate for those he represented. More than that, he was a dedicated husband and father, and a man of strong faith and conviction. I pray that his and his family’s faith will help them through this very difficult time.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he learned of Hillyer’s death with “great sorrow.”
“The parliamentary community is a tight-knit one, and I want to say how much of a privilege it has been to serve with Jim. I know he will be greatly missed on the Hill and in his constituency,” he said in a statement.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper also expressed his shock at Hillyer’s death.
A statement from Hillyer’s chief of staff, Colleen Valin, said, “It is with profound sadness that the Office of Jim Hillyer, Member of Parliament for Medicine Hat – Cardston – Warner has learned of his passing.
“On behalf of Jim’s staff in Ottawa and in the riding, I extend our heartfelt sympathies to Jim’s wife Olivia and their children during this difficult time.”
Hillyer leaves behind his wife and four children. A book of condolences will be made available Wednesday afternoon in the House of Commons antechamber for MPs who wish to convey messages to his family and the House was set to adjourn for the day after tributes to Hillyer from party leaders.
Many MPs expressed their condolences on Parliament Hill Wednesday.
WATCH: Reaction to MP Jim Hillyer’s death
With files from the Canadian Press