Former Alberta MP, deputy prime minister Don Mazankowski dies at 85

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Don Mazankowski, a longtime Conservative from Alberta who served in Parliament for 25 years — including a stint as deputy prime minister — has died at the age of 85.

His death was confirmed in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Raised on the family farm near Viking, Alta., Mazankowski moved to Vegreville, Alta., in 1960 and opened an automotive dealership with his brother, Ray.

"His life and career took on a new direction when he met Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who was travelling through Vegreville on a speaking tour," says a biographical note on the Alberta Order of Excellence website.

"Inspired by Diefenbaker's insistence that the West play a meaningful role in the nation's business, Don began working behind the scenes in local politics."

In 1968, Mazankowski won a close race to become the member of Parliament for Vegreville. He ran for the seat in seven general elections and served the constituency for 25 years.

As an opposition member, he was his party's critic for transportation and economic policies.

When the Conservatives came to power in 1979 under then-prime minister Joe Clark, Mazankowski was appointed minister of transport.

He was appointed deputy prime minister in 1986 and held the position until his retirement in 1993.

Mazankowski was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000.

The $217-million Mazankowski Health Institute at the University of Alberta Hospital opened in 2008 to bring together heart specialists and researchers in complex cardiac care.

'A truly great Albertan'

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called Mazankowski "a truly great Albertan" who served his community and country.

"Even after serving in the highest offices in the land, he continued to be known by his countless friends simply as 'Maz,' a man who personified the virtues of humility and servant leadership," 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."

Flags at the Alberta legislature have been lowered to half-mast to honour his memory, Kenney said.