Former federal Agriculture Minister Bob Speller has passed away at the age of 66.

Speller (above left) was named Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food by Prime Minister Paul Martin in December 2003, during the Canadian cattle industry’s BSE crisis.

He passed away on Dec. 16 at a care facility near Waterford, Ontario, following an illness.

“Bob was a good friend, a dedicated parliamentarian, and a relentless fighter for farmers,” tweeted his long-time Liberal colleague Ralph Goodale.

Current Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau also tweeted “I would like to send my thoughts to the friends and family of the Honourable Bob Speller, an excellent ambassador for Canadian agriculture.”

As minister, albeit for less than a year, Speller announced a nearly $1 billion aid package for producers affected by the BSE discovery and subsequent export market closures.

The riding he represented from 1988 to 2004 — Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant — was redrawn for the June 2004 federal election, which he lost to the Conservatives’ Diane Finley in 2004, 2006, and 2011. The riding is now held by Conservative Leslyn Lewis.

Since running for office, Speller had worked as a consultant and lobbyist with The Villa Nova Group. His clients included the Ontario Ginseng Growers Association.

A visitation will take place Dec. 21 in Hagersville, Ont.

Speller’s obituary says donations in his memory can be made to the Norfolk County Fair Foundation or the Canadian Cancer Society.

He is survived by his wife, Joan Mouland, and his children, Christopher and Victoria.

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