EDMONTON — Donald Frank Mazankowski, a former Tory deputy prime minister, has died at the age of 85.
Speaker Anthony Rota announced the news in the House of Commons Wednesday and MPs held a moment of silence in his memory.
Whether working as Brian Mulroney’s right-hand man in Ottawa or selling cars in his hometown of Vegreville, Alta., “Maz” was known as a down-to-earth farm boy who got the job done.
The son of Polish immigrants, Mazankowski served in several top cabinet positions including finance and agriculture under Mulroney and transport under Joe Clark.
In 2003, Mazankowski was involved in behind-the-scenes talks to broker a deal to unite the former Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties.
During his 25 years in Parliament, Mazankowski also served as president of Treasury Board, government House leader, minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board and privatization minister.
Mulroney once called the tall, burly man who could play a mean fiddle and liked to croon old cowboy songs his “minister of everything.”
First elected to the Commons in 1968, Mazankowski strived to keep in touch with constituents in his sprawling rural riding east of Edmonton.
He was so popular that thankful citizens commissioned a statue of Maz in Vegreville before he retired from elected office in 1993.
“For 25 years Don Mazankowski has served his constituency, his party and his country,” reads the dedication for the one-tonne bronze depiction of Maz giving a speech.
“Even though he has risen to great prominence nationally and internationally, he has maintained a humbleness and genuine friendliness.”
Following his retirement from the Commons, Mazankowski remained active in politics and continued to draw the public spotlight.
Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein appointed him to lead a controversial commission to review Alberta’s health-care system.
The commission’s report in 2001 recommended dropping coverage for some medical services and drugs, increasing health-care premiums and expanding the use of private health clinics.
In 2008, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially opened the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute in Edmonton that was named in his honour. The facility is a world leader in complex cardiac care and surgery.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Mazankowski was a champion for his community and the country.
"Don Mazankowski dedicated his life to serving others. As Minister of Transport, of Agriculture, and of Finance, and as Deputy Prime Minister, he contributed a lot to Canada. My deepest condolences to all who are mourning his passing," Trudeau said in a statement.
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said he was saddened to learn of the passing of Mazankowski.
"His service and dedication to Canadians and Albertans is reflected in the Heart Institute that bears his name," O'Toole said in a statement.
"He will be greatly missed and my thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time."
Former Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose recalled sitting with Mazankowski at the opening of the Heart Institute.
"Not many months later that facility saved my dad’s life," she said in a statement. "We are forever grateful. He epitomized what public service is about."
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Mazankowski personified the virtues of humility and servant leadership.
"Don and his wife Lorraine stayed true to their rural roots, continuing to live in Vegreville, and more recently Sherwood Park," Kenney said in a statement.
“At the heart of his public service was a belief that Western Canada needed strong voices to defend its economic and political interests in the Canadian federation. Maz was such a voice for decades. For that and for all that he did, Albertans are deeply grateful."
Mazankowski was named as a companion of the Order of Canada — the highest civilian honour — in 2013. He had been an officer of the Order of Canada since 2000.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2020.
John Cotter, The Canadian Press