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Don Mazankowski is an ardent Canadian who has played an important role in shaping the country’s modern history. While his career has taken him around the world and into the highest echelons of political and corporate governance, he remains humbly committed to his prairie roots and thankful to be a citizen of a country where anyone can get involved and make a difference.
Don was born in Viking, Alberta to U.S. immigrant parents of Polish descent. He was raised in Viking and educated in a one-room country school. His early years on the family farm and his experiences as a young farmer and businessman fuelled Don’s passion for rural life and instilled a deep understanding of the economic and political challenges facing western Canada.
His early career was spent farming and building an automotive dealership in Innisfree, Alberta. The latter allowed Don to exercise his business acumen and talent for dealing with people. In 1960 he moved to Vegreville and opened an automotive business with his brother, Ray. His life and career took on a new direction when he met Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who was traveling through Vegreville on a speaking tour. 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. Five years later, in 1968, the local Member of Parliament asked Don to consider running in the upcoming election. He threw his hat in the ring and won a closely contested race to become the Member of Parliament for Vegreville.
Don successfully contested a total of seven general elections, serving his constituency for 25 years. The first nine years were spent as an opposition member, where he became an outspoken critic of transportation and economic policies that hampered trade in the West. He assumed a leadership role in 1979 when his party came to power and he was appointed Minister of Transport. He immediately set to work redrafting the National Transportation Act and instituted a series of initiatives to lessen regulatory burdens on business and create a more market-oriented economy.
He took on a wide range of responsibilities and portfolios during his political career, leading one journalist to dub him “the minister of everything.” Don was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Government House Leader in 1986 and held that position until his retirement in 1993. He left politics with a reputation as a fair and respected leader who patiently heard all sides of an issue, thus building consensus and finding workable solutions to problems. He also built a legacy of programs and policies that continue to benefit the and the country as a whole, including the Farm Income Protection Act, the North American Free Trade Agreement, of which Don was a strong supporter, and the Western Diversification Program, which has strengthened and broadened the West’s economic base.
While his main interests have been trade and economics, Don has also applied his talents to a number of other areas in service of his fellow Canadians. In 1985, he established the Don Mazankowski Scholarship Foundation, which has since distributed more than $250,000 to some 150 youth from across Canada. His support for post-secondary education led him to serve as a member of the University of Alberta Board of Governors and to co-chair a highly successful U of A fundraising campaign. He is currently a member of the U of A’s Business Advisory Council.
Don is also involved with programs to improve the health and quality of life of Canadians. He is Chairman of the Canadian Genetics Diseases Network, which brings together the nation’s top scientists to share knowledge and encourage the development of treatments for a wide range of diseases. He serves as Chair of the Institute of Health Economics and completed an extensive review of Alberta’s health system as Chair of the Premier’s Special Advisory Council on Health. In addition to his service in education and health, Don shares his expertise with a number of national and international corporate boards, where he stresses the importance of making environmental protection an integral part of corporate budgets.
Don was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000 and has received an Honourary Doctor of Engineering degree from the Technical University of Nova Scotia and an Honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Alberta.
When asked what he most appreciates about Canada, Don points to the beauty of the land and its people. He continues to reside in Vegreville and, despite his many accomplishments, remains in awe of the opportunities his country has afforded him. He draws encouragement from working with young Canadians and urges them to follow his early example and get involved in the political process. “It’s incumbent on everyone to get involved, at any level and in any capacity,” he says, adding “it’s amazing what can be achieved when people put their minds to it.”