Former prime minister Stephen Harper told a memorial service Monday that former Calgary member of Parliament Deepak Obhrai opened doors for new Canadians to become involved in politics.
“Deepak lived the Canadian immigrant dream and he led a generation of Conservatives in demonstrating how to build relationships in communities of different backgrounds across the country,” Harper said at the public service held in Calgary.
“He reminded us that the strength of free and democratic societies is not in the virtuous narratives and vanity of our leaders, but in the simple aspirations of everyday hard-working families for a better life.”
Obhrai, 69, died earlier this month from liver cancer.
WATCH: Former prime minister Stephen Harper remembers former Calgary Member of Parliament Deepak Obhrai during a memorial service on Monday.
Born in Tanzania to parents from India, he settled in Calgary with his family in 1977. The businessman became the first Hindu elected to the House of Commons in 1997 when he won the Calgary East riding for the Reform party.
He was re-elected six times under the banners of the Canadian Alliance and Conservative parties.
“He never looked back,” Harper said.
“There can be no doubt that, had God been willing, he would have made it eight successful campaigns in a few short weeks from now.”
Obhrai was the longest-serving parliamentary secretary to a minister of foreign affairs in Canadian history — from 2006 to 2015 — and was also the longest continuously serving Conservative MP, “as he frequently reminded me,” Harper said.
Obhrai’s family said they want to continue his legacy.
Aman Obhrai is seeking a federal Conservative nomination in hopes of filling his father’s seat in what is now called Calgary Forest Lawn.
Priti Obhrai-Martin said she will continue what was supposed to be her father’s retirement project. The Obhrai Canadian Refuge Opportunity Foundation plans to build centres in refugee camps around the world that will provide Canadian-based education, post-traumatic stress counselling, and training and business skills, she said.
“So that when they arrive, it will ensure a higher success rate of making the most of this new opportunity,” she said.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told the service that he was working with the Reform party when he met Obhrai in 1999.
“Deepak was the one who was building bridges in every community across Canada, not just in the South Asian community,” Scheer said.
WATCH: Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer explains the impact Deepak Obhrai had on Canadian politics during a memorial service for the longtime Calgary MP.
Obhrai later competed against Scheer in the crowded competition to replace Harper in the 2017 Conservative leadership race. Scheer is now vying to replace Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the federal election in October.
Obhrai believed every person on Earth was worthy of dignity, freedom and opportunity, said Scheer, who added that he continues to meet “Deepak fans” everywhere he goes.
“Let’s honour Deepak the best way we can by carrying on his fight and his commitment to those core Canadian values.”
There was more laughter than tears at the service which lasted over two hours. Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay said nobody visited more countries than Obhrai.
“More than anything he was a global citizen. And I don’t say a global citizen because he had logged more Air Miles than five Air Canada flight crews and the Rolling Stones and their roadies,” MacKay quipped.
“Wherever he went, he brought with him hope from caring Canadians. He was a living symbol of what Canada had to offer.”
Watch below: Condolences have poured in from across the country after longtime Calgary MP Deepak Obhrai died at the age of 69.