Former Ontario health minister David Caplan dead at 54

Former Ontario Health Minister David Caplan

Former Ontario Liberal MPP and cabinet minister David Caplan is being remembered as an effective politician who served in important portfolios.

Among a handful of Jewish MPPs, Caplan represented the ridings of Oriole and Don Valley East from 1997 to 2011.

He died on July 24 at the age of 54. Cause of death was not immediately known, but on July 25 Toronto police  launched a sudden death investigation at his home in conjunction with Toronto Fire.

Caplan followed in the footsteps of his mother, Elinor, succeeding her as MPP for the Oriole riding. Both also served as Liberal ministers of health in Ontario.

Premier Doug Ford tweeted his condolences: “I’m sad to learn that David Caplan passed away. Too young. My sincere condolences to his family and friends. I’m grateful to David for his years of service to our province and his community.”

Current Health Minister Christine Elliott tweeted she was “tremendously sad” to learn about Caplan’s death. He was “a dedicated and honourable public servant.”

Former premier Kathleen Wynne said she was “shocked and saddened to learn of David Caplan’s death. He was a friend and a colleague.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory served with Caplan in the legislature, and “while he was an energetic partisan, he served with diligence and determination,” Tory tweeted.

Born in Toronto in 1964, Caplan attended the University of Western Ontario and worked as a real estate agent and in the recycling business before entering politics. He was elected as a school trustee in North York and later Toronto from 1991 to 1997.

The same year he won Oriole riding in a byelection, his mother was elected to the federal House of Commons, where she served until 2004.

The redistricting of ridings saw Caplan move to Don Valley East, where, in the provincial election of 1999, he defeated then-education minister David Johnson by 3,000 votes in a closely watched race.

In 2002, he took some heat in Jewish circles for opposing the Conservative government’s popular tax credit for parents of children in faith-based schools.

When the Liberals under Dalton McGuinity formed the government in 2003, Caplan was named infrastructure minister. In 2007, he received the health portfolio.

In 2009, he resigned – many said he was forced out – as health minister in the eHealth Ontario scandal, in which millions of dollars went to consultants with government ties, and over expense account abuses. He decided not to run in the 2011 provincial election.

“Many felt Caplan had been treated unfairly, particularly since most of the abuses at the agency took place under his predecessor,” noted Canadian Press.

“I’ve reached the point in my life when it’s time to do something else,” Caplan told the Toronto Star when he retired.

“When I arrived (at Queen’s Park), the province was in chaos. There were protests on the front lawn of the legislature and our schools were a war zone,” he said. “So I’m really proud to be part of a government that has improved health care and education and brought innovation to infrastructure investment. I’m leaving feeling that I’ve accomplished a great deal.”

A 2011 profile praised Caplan for pushing for improvements to children’s mental health and for his private member’s bill in 2010 that paved the way for Liberal legislation banning strikes and lockouts at the Toronto Transit Commission.

Last year, Caplan attempted a return to politics when he ran in Toronto’s municipal election in Ward 16 (Don Valley East), ultimately losing to longtime city councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. He told The CJN at the time that he was hearing a lot about the need to take more action against “the rising tide of intolerance and racism, specifically anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.” He also expressed an interest in efforts to provide genocide education in schools.

Caplan is survived by his parents, wife Leigh, and sons Benjamin and Jacob.