Pucks and Politics
On Monday, Canadians will go to the polls to elect the nation's 42nd Parliament. As a result, it is impossible to watch a Canadian broadcast of an NHL game without being exposed to a barrage of related ads. In honor of the upcoming election, I thought it might be appropriate to take a look at five former NHL stars who ended up (nearly) entering politics in the Great White North.
The most recent member of this club is none other than Montreal Canadiens legend Ken Dryden. Dryden was chosen by none other than then-Prime Minister Paul Martin to run as a star candidate in the Toronto area riding of York Centre. Dryden was elected handily with nearly 55% of the vote and a margin of over 11,000 votes. Following his election, Dryden was named Minister of Social Development and even ran for the leadership of the Liberal party after Martin's resignation.
In 2006 and 2008, Dryden won re-election, but by a reduced margin each time, winning by barely 2,000 votes on the latter occasion. Following that campaign, Dryden's luck ran out. When the Greater Toronto Area was washed in blue for the first time in he history of the modern Conservative Party, Dryden was one of the victims of the surge.
Can you imageine the schedule that would result from being an NHL player and an MP at the same time? Red Kelly can. He maintained that schedule through two minority governments during the 1960's, representing the riding of York West from 1963-65.
As is the case with any politician, Kelly had opponents. Ironically, at one point, Conn Smythe, the owner of the Maple Leafs (whom Kelly played for at the time), was one of those opponents. During the Great Flag Debate of 1963-64, Kelly was a supporter of Prime Minister Lester Pearson's campaign to adopt the Maple Leaf flag as Canada's official standard, while Conn Smythe was utterly opposed to the move as a strict monarchist. Kelly likely would have won a third term as an MP in 1965, but chose to stand down rather than run for the 27th Parliament.
If we take a step further back into history, we come across a man who participated in politics at both the provincial and Federal levels, Hall of Fame defenseman Lionel Conacher. In 1937, Conacher was elected to the Ontario Provincial Parliament as the member for the Bracondale riding. He lost the riding nomination for the 1943 election to a Toronto city alderman, E.C. Bogart. That might have been just as well for Conacher, as Bogart lost the election to the CCF candidate.
Two years later, Conacher made his first attempt to enter the federal parliament, but was defeated in Trinity. In 1949, on his second attempt, he was successful and was re-elected in 1953. Conacher died in office not long into his second term, however, while playing in a sotball game pitting MP's against the parliamentary press gallery. After hitting a triple, he collapsed, and despite the efforts of a fellow MP who was also a doctor, Conacher was pronounced dead within minutes, only one day before he was to attend his daughter's university graduation.
Our next member of the political gallery was not an MP but a Senator. Frank Mahovlich was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Jean Chretien, where he served for over 14 years. "The Big M" was probably known as much for his silence as anything during his time in the Upper Chamber, as he spoke on few occasions, and those speeches were often short.
Mahovlich retired from the body in December of 2012, with the mandatory retirement date of his 75th birthday just around the corner. Not surprisingly, his farewell speech was also short.
Jacques Demers never played in the NHL, but he coached in both that league and the WHA. He is also a current Senator and a former colleague of Mahovlich. Demers was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2009. Interestingly enough, Demers credited Mahovlich for making it possible for him to reach the Senate. At the time of Mahovlich's retirement, he credited Frank's jump to the WHA for making it possible, as such stars gave the upstart league, and Demers himself by extension, credibility.
The final subject of our glance into politics is at a man who never entered the fray, but he had multiple opportunites, both as a Senator and as the Crown's representative in the government, "Le Gros Bill," Jean Beliveau.
On two occasions, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney offered to appoint Believeau to the Senate, but the hockey legend declined. Beliveau was a firm believer that all members of the legislature shuold be elected, and as such, an appointment to the Parliament at any level was unacceptable.
Prime Minister Chretien summoned Beliveau to 24 Sussex in 1994, and offered him the position of Governor General of Canada. Since Beliveau is as good as hockey royalty anyway, the offer seemed approprate. Beliveau declined, but his reason was nothing less than honorable. Beliveau was more interested in spending time with his daughter and granddaughters as his son-in-law, a former Quebec City police officer had committed suicide a few years earlier. Showing the quality of his character, Beliveau said, “I strongly believe it is my duty to be the father those girls need for the next five years or so. What I told Mr. Chrétien was that to take my wife and move to Ottawa would be deserting my family.” His state funeral, where the above photo was taken was well-deserved.
Hockey and politics are both full contact sports and can engender deep emotions, so these crossovers seem appropriate. Full honor is due to those who serve their nation, so long as the service is rendered faithfullly and for the right reasons. Maybe even more honorable is the attitude of men like Jean Beliveau who put family above all else.