Former Liberal cabinet minister, Sudbury MP, passes away at age 69
Marleau, who was 69, is survived by her husband, Paul, and their three children.
She had a long record of public service, dating back to 1980, when she was elected to city council.
She was a strong advocate of the region’s pay-as-you-go policy in the 1980s, which has helped make the now City of Greater Sudbury almost debt free.
“She was a value-oriented person who really cared deeply about the individuals she met with and took care of problems very well,” said former Sudbury Mayor Jim Gordon, who said her death “is a great loss to Sudbury.
“This was a person who served us very well and this was really an untimely death.”
Gordon was mayor when Marleau was elected to city council in 1980, and later was an MPP and mayor when Marleau was in former Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s cabinet. Gordon credited her with pushing for the pay-as-you-go policy when she was a city and regional councillor, which helped the city reign in its debt.
“We followed the principles of zero-based budgeting, and tracked our costs right down to the last shovel, I think,” Gordon said. “And as a result, today, it means we’re in a better position if we have to spend money on things as a municipality.”
In addition to her political legacy, Gordon said Marleau’s personal values set her apart.
“(Gordon’s wife) Donna and I met with both her and Paul on many occasions at official functions and social functions,” he said. “And I quickly learned she was a person of her word and a person of real values.”
Marleau was elected MP for Sudbury in 1988 and became a cabinet minister in 1993, when the Liberals gained a majority under Chretien. She would go on to hold four cabinet posts. Her first was as minister of health, where she is remembered for forcing provinces to back away from attempts to introduce private care.
She penalized provinces that allowed extra billing, and most famously forced colourful Alberta Premier Ralph Klein to back off attempts to fund private clinics that charged users fees.
Lynne Reynolds, who was Marleau’s political assistant for Northern Ontario in the 1990s, says the showdown with Klein was the political event she was most proud of.
“I think that was what she considered to be her greatest accomplishment,” and emotional Reynolds said Jan. 30. “She felt that the universal health care system that we have was worth fighting for. She was able to face (Klein) and get what she wanted.
“She fought him on it and she won. I know she was extremely proud of that accomplishment.”
She was public works minister in 1996-97 when she brought millions of infrastructure dollars to Sudbury, including a multi-million dollar renovation of the downtown federal building that houses the post office.
“She brought a lot of dollars to Sudbury during that period,” Reynolds said. “There wasn’t much infrastructure building going on at the time. But there were a lot of projects that she gave funding to. She always brought dollars to the riding. There were announcements going on all the time.”
She was minister of international co-operation and for le francophonie following her time at public works. She remained MP after Chretien left office until she was defeated by current NDP MP Glenn Thibeault in 2008.
In addition to the politician, Reynolds said Marleau was a generous and warm person who touched the lives of the people she served.
“Today I’m remembering her as a great mother and wife,” Reynolds said. “She was always such a warm-hearted and gracious person. And I’m thinking about Paul and the three children.”
Reynolds said there are countless stories of people Marleau helped while she was in public life, accomplishments that match her major achievements in politics.
“She has left us quite a legacy,” Reynolds said. “She was one of the most accomplished politicians in the history of Sudbury ... I remember her for service to the community and her service to the country. She was a warm friend. She always extremely gracious and generous of spirit.”
In a statement, Thibeault sent his condolences to Marleau’s family.
“Diane spent 25 years working tirelessly as an elected official for our community,” Thibeault said in his statement. “Her hard work both in and for Sudbury will not be forgotten, and regardless of our political allegiances, no one could doubt Diane’s commitment to the community.”
Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci also paid tribute to Marleau, saying their shared love of Sudbury motivated them to work hard to promote the city’s interests over the years.
“It is my hope that the condolences and heart felt expressions of sorrow by many, can provide some measure of comfort to the family and friends she leaves behind,” Bartolucci said in a statement. “She will not be forgotten.”
Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk said in a statement that Marleau’s death is a big blow to all of Sudbury.
“Diane Marleau was a political pioneer in Sudbury,” Matichuk said in her statement. “Her commitment to public service at all levels, and her passion for public health care in particular, served as an inspiration in our community.”
Marleau was an inspiration for all women entering politics, Matichuk said.
“We will keep family and friends of Diane Marleau in our thoughts during this difficult time.”