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Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc diagnosed with leukemia

He begins treatment next week for a kind of cancer his doctor described as 'a chronic disease' that must be monitored, but can be controlled.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced Wednesday he has been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, but says he will continue to serve in cabinet as he seeks treatment. The Hill Times file photograph

PUBLISHED :Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017 2:40 PM

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced Wednesday that he has been diagnosed with cancer, but has ruled out resigning from cabinet or Parliament as he seeks treatment.

Mr. LeBlanc (Beauséjour, N.B.), who turns 50 next week, revealed his diagnosis in a statement to the media, saying the chronic lymphocytic leukemia was detected during his annual physical exam last spring when his family doctor noticed an anomaly in his white blood cell count.

The longtime Liberal MP said he was immediately referred to specialist Dr. Nicholas Finn, a hematologist-oncologist at the Dr. Georges-L. Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, N.B., and after more tests and consultations was diagnosed in April.

He said he would continue serving as an MP and cabinet minister, including during treatments.

  

The statement, released through Mr. LeBlanc’s ministerial office, quoted Dr. Finn. “CLL is a chronic disease in the sense that it must be closely monitored and sometimes treated, but can be controlled. CLL is one of the most common types of leukemia in adults,” said the doctor.

The stage of the condition leaves the minister with flexibility to schedule treatments that fit his work schedule. They will start next week and conclude this spring, according to the statement, at which point Mr. LeBlanc can then expect “a pause in treatment for many years, with only routine follow-up.”

Mr. LeBlanc said the parliamentary calendar gives him the flexibility to start the treatments now, as MPs are about to embark on a winter break scheduled to run Dec. 15 to Jan. 29.

“I am confident that this will not impact the work I will continue to do for Canadians,” he was quoted as saying. Within a few hours of his announcement Wednesday, Mr. LeBlanc was answering questions from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) in Question Period, as the prime minister was away on a trip to China.

  

Mr. LeBlanc also expressed gratitude for the “kind attention” he was receiving from doctors, saying he and his wife, Jolène, “realize many Canadians face health challenges much more difficult than this.”

Mr. LeBlanc was first elected to the House in 2000. His late father, Roméo, was governor general from 1995 to 1999. Dominic LeBlanc served as a parliamentary secretary and chair of the Liberal Atlantic caucus during parts of the Chrétien and Martin governments.

After the Liberals were defeated in the 2006 election, he held a number of high-profile critic portfolios and later launched a leadership bid to replace Stéphane Dion after he announced his intention to step down after the party’s poor showing in the 2008 vote. However, Mr. LeBlanc bowed out of the race less than two months later to throw his support to Michael Ignatieff, who was eventually acclaimed leader after Bob Rae also stepped aside.

Mr. LeBlanc won his toughest re-election fight in 2011 amidst a disastrous showing for the Liberals nationwide that saw the once-dominant party slip to third place, but recovered by winning nearly 70 per cent of the vote four years later as the Grits swept the Atlantic provinces en route to a majority government.

  

Seen as a close friend to Mr. Trudeau, Mr. LeBlanc was appointed government House leader immediately after the Liberals assumed power in 2015.

He was handed the additional portfolio of Fisheries and Oceans in the spring of 2016, replacing Hunter Tootoo (Nunavut) after he resigned to seek treatment for his alcohol addiction. Mr. LeBlanc was replaced as House leader months later by Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.), but kept the fisheries role.

Many of Mr. LeBlanc’s Hill colleagues were quick to offer their support after news broke on Wednesday, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) taking to Twitter to commend his close friend.

“We’re all thinking of you today…but we also know you’ll continue to excel as a minister and MP,” the prime minister wrote. “My friend, you have my full support, always.”

United Conservative Party of Alberta leader and former House sparring partner Jason Kenney also chimed in on Twitter, calling Mr. LeBlanc “one of the best” and saying he was rooting from him as he dealt with the health problem. Green Party leader Elizabeth May said she was “sending much love and support” to the minister and his family.

And NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.) wrote that the diagnosis was “difficult news to hear,” and said his thoughts were with Mr. LeBlanc and his family.

mvigliotti@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times