Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc stepping away from cabinet after cancer diagnosis

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. Adrian Wyld/CP

OTTAWA — Dominic LeBlanc is stepping away temporarily from his duties as intergovernmental and northern affairs minister after being diagnosed with a form of blood cancer.

“A few weeks ago, I consulted with my doctor for what began as flu-like symptoms,” the veteran New Brunswick Liberal MP said in a joint statement Friday with Dr. Nicholas Finn, his hematologist-oncologist.

“After a series of tests, my doctor has diagnosed me with a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”

The 52-year-old plans to go back to work once treatment is completed and he still intends to run for re-election this fall in the New Brunswick riding of Beausejour, which he has held since 2000.

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This is LeBlanc’s second bout with cancer; he was diagnosed in April 2017 with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and was declared to be in “complete remission” last October.

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In a separate statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called LeBlanc “a trusted cabinet minister and a close friend.”

“I’m happy you made the decision to focus on your health and your family during this difficult time. You have our full support, and we look forward to having you back at the cabinet table soon,” Trudeau said.

In the meantime, Trudeau has asked Finance Minister Bill Morneau to take over LeBlanc’s duties on the intergovernmental and internal-trade files. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett will take on issues related to northern affairs.

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LeBlanc’s leave of absence comes at a difficult time for the Trudeau government, which has been battered for the past few months over allegations that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was improperly pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office and others to halt a criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

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As well, intergovernmental affairs has become increasingly challenging for the Trudeau government as friendly provincial governments across the country have been replaced by conservative regimes, including openly hostile ones in Ontario and Alberta.

LeBlanc, known as a canny political strategist with a disarming sense of humour, would have been a key player in federal efforts to confront or mollify Ontario’s Doug Ford, Alberta premier-designate Jason Kenney and other conservative premiers in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

The son of former governor general and federal minister Romeo LeBlanc, LeBlanc is one of the best known Liberals in Atlantic Canada, which delivered all of its 32 seats to the Liberals in 2015. Heading into this fall’s election, the Liberals are running behind in the polls in the region and a number of their veteran MPs have announced they won’t seek re-election – the latest being Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner, who joins fellow Nova Scotians Mark Eyking, Bill Casey and Scott Brison in deciding to retire from politics.

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