Obhrai, who had represented the Alberta riding of Calgary Forest Lawn since 1997, died on Aug. 2, just weeks after receiving a diagnosis of Stage 4 liver cancer.
He was 69.
Normally when a member of Parliament dies during a parliamentary session, their colleagues hold a tribute that includes marking their seat in the House of Commons with white flowers, a glass of salt water and a lemon to signify the bitterness of their loss.
But since Obhrai died while the House of Commons was on summer recess prior to the fall election, that wasn’t immediately possible.
All parties agreed, though, to extend the same respect now that the House of Commons has resumed.
MPs took turns giving remarks in memory of the former dean of the Conservative caucus, wearing scarves in honour of Obhrai’s trademark fondness for wearing the garments over his suit jacket, before rising for a moment of silence.
Conservative MP Scott Reid gave his party’s tribute to their caucus colleague.
“When we left here, there was at least one fixture on the Conservative side of the House who seemed eternal,” Reid said, pointing to Obhrai’s seven terms in office.
“It is a testament to the fundamental decency of this place that the House leadership of all parties granted us the time today to give tribute to Deepak.”
As Reid noted, more than half of Obhrai’s time living in Canada was spent serving as a member of Parliament.
He had been born in what is now Tanzania, spoke three languages and was a prominent advocate for human rights, serving for years as the parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs during the government of former prime minister Stephen Harper.
“Deepak had a huge personality and no one ever forgot the experience of meeting him and his remarkable wardrobe of scarves for the first time,” Reid said.
His noted sense of humour was a popular focus for the tributes from all parties.
“He loved to tell me stories of his travels and his meetings with foreign leaders, not so much to promote himself but to entertain me,” said Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, who gave the government’s tribute remarks.
“He loved to tease and even to torment me, taking great glee in his gentle and persistent partisan ways,” Oliphant added, prompting laughs from the other members of the House of Commons.
Obhrai ran for the Conservative leadership in 2017 and while he did not win, he was often described as “stealing the spotlight” from the other candidates with his humour and charm.
“Parliament and all of Canada lost our fun uncle, but not before he mentored us all,” said the NDP’s Brian Masse in his party’s tribute.
Obhrai was the longest-serving Conservative MP as well as the first Hindu to be elected to the House of Commons.
All of that, as the Bloc Quebecois’s Louis Plamandon noted, made Obhrai “nothing but an inspiration for younger generations.”