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Sudden death of young PC star Manmeet Bhullar in road accident stuns Alberta legislature

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Manmeet Bhullar

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The sudden death of Calgary-Greenway MLA Manmeet Bhullar in a traffic accident yesterday on the highway between Calgary and Edmonton was a shock to everyone involved in the political life of this province and a profound blow to his Progressive Conservative Party.

RCMP said Bhullar had been on his way to Edmonton on Highway 2 from Calgary when he stopped north of Red Deer to help another driver who had gone off the road in yesterday's icy conditions. He was struck by a semi-trailer that had lost control.

Barely 28 when he was elected in 2008 and only 35 when he died, Bhullar had been frequently called a rising star in the cabinets of premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford and rose to be a genuine star under premiers Dave Hancock and Jim Prentice, who turned to him as a strong and capable hand at a time the party was increasingly on the ropes.

If the May 5 Alberta general election was a catastrophe for the Tories, which for four decades had played the role of Alberta's Natural Governing Party, Bhullar emerged as one of its few bright lights afterward, someone who seemed certain to play a major role in putting the party back on its feet.

He got his start in cabinet as minister of Service Alberta, historically a testing ground for politicians with cabinet potential, and was soon given more important posts, the Ministry of Human Services, and later under Mr. Prentice, the Ministry of Infrastructure as well.

Bhullar, a turbaned and magnificently bearded Sikh who cut an imposing figure around the Legislature, had worked as an organizer for Prentice's 2003 bid to become leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party and first earned the last Tory leader's confidence in that role.

After the May 5 election, Bhullar became finance critic for the 10-member PC Caucus, arguably the second most important post in any party with seats in the Legislature after that of party leader.

MLAs and others in political life, who are often at each other's throats, were united last night in their shock and grief at the loss of Bhullar.

"It breaks our hearts to know we have lost such a great soul," said PC Interim Leader Ric McIver. "Manmeet accomplished more in his brief time than most people accomplish in their lifetimes."

"All Albertans should be proud of his significant contributions to public life," said Premier Rachel Notley. "We have lost our colleague, Calgary-Greenway has lost a friend and effective voice in the Legislature, and most of all, we have all lost a passionate advocate for Alberta."

"The absence of our friend Manmeet will be felt across the great province that he loved," said Wildrose Leader Brian Jean.

In a very emotional message, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi called Bhullar "a public servant, a true warrior for fairness and justice, a big man with a giant heart, a friend."

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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