As it is recounted in Peter C. Newman’s book The Secret Mulroney Tapes, Harvie Andre walked into the Ottawa-area mansion of a well-known lobbyist and delivered one of the most delicious quotes ever uttered by a politician of his era.
At the time, Andre was consumer and corporate affairs minister and was among a number of federal cabinet ministers invited to a housewarming hosted by Harry Near, a former energy-minister aide who had become a well-heeled oil-patch lobbyist. Andre stood in the marbled foyer, according to the Newman book, and made a single observation: “I’ve never understood why it’s so much more profitable to know Harvie Andre, than to be Harvie Andre.”
During his 21-year tenure in public service – with six consecutive election wins – as a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament for Calgary Centre, which was followed by a lengthy career in the private sector, everyone, it seemed, wanted to know Harvie Andre.
Former Tory Prime Minister Joe Clark said Andre was always his go-to man, as well as that of his successor, Brian Mulroney.
“He really was the guy that the prime minister asked to solve the impossible questions,” Clark said, “He took them on, and he solved them.”
“I always thought Harvie Andre was the smartest guy around our cabinet table, just in pure intellectual power,” he added.
While in government, Andre was responsible for turning around the flailing Canada Post. While in opposition, the West embraced him for standing up to the Trudeau government’s National Energy Program. Upon his return to private life, Andre was credited with saving a Calgary-based energy company from near-certain bankruptcy. He remained a mentor to political leaders including Alberta Premier Alison Redford as well as her Energy Minister, Ken Hughes.
After a year-long battle with esophageal cancer, Andre died in Calgary on Oct. 21. He was 72.
Andre was born in Edmonton on July 27, 1940. His parents, John Andre and Doris Ewasiuk, didn’t have a lot of money, but they happily raised their four children – Harvie, Ann, Edith and Milton – in a working-class neighbourhood not far from the city’s downtown.
Andre showed an intellectual spark early in his youth. He wasn’t afraid of taking on his teachers and challenging what they said in their lectures, according to his family. He was rewarded with scholarships for his academic achievements. He went on to study chemical engineering at the University of Alberta and graduated with a bachelor of science in 1962.
It was at the University of Alberta where he first met Clark, who was working on an arts degree while also editing the campus newspaper, The Gateway. That’s where Clark noticed that Andre was often in the student lounge playing bridge, so often that he wondered how Andre also managed to maintain marks at the top of his classes.
The two would become friends and were drawn into politics – and the PC Party – for the same reason as so many other young Westerners at the time. They were both impressed by the leadership of John Diefenbaker – the “Man from Prince Albert.”
Andre would go on to receive a master’s degree a year later while studying at the California Institute of Technology. Despite the opportunities California offered a man in his field, his family said the U.S. experience “proved to strengthen his patriotic pride,” and so he returned home.
“He could have done anything,” Clark said, “but I believe as what happens with a lot of people – Canadians – we take our country for granted until we go somewhere else.”
Andre returned to the University of Alberta to pursue a PhD. His membership in the Kappa Sigma fraternity brought him to a bonfire party where he would meet Joan Smith, who was then working in the school registrar’s office. Immediately “smitten,” and after an 18-month courtship, the pair would marry in 1965 at St. Paul’s United Church in Edmonton. They would raise three children, Coryn, Lauren and Peter, and Joan would prove to be the perfect partner for him in life and in politics. In 1966, Andre received his doctorate in chemical engineering and then taught at the University of Calgary. In his Varsity neighbourhood near the university, friends of his kids would rush to “Dr. Andre” to tend to their scraped knees and the like, even though his medical skills were no greater than most parents and amounted to affixing a bandage.
“The students nominated him as the dullest professor in their faculty,” recalled former Calgary Tory MP Jim Hawkes, who served as government whip under Mulroney. However, he added, Andre was never accused of being a dull politician – far from it. Andre was outspoken and larger than life.
Hawkes, who first met Andre before either entered politics, considered his friend “brilliant” and as possessing an infallible memory, ready to quote from exact page numbers in books he had read years earlier, if the need arose. Other friends and colleagues described him as “fearless” and someone “not easily intimidated.” He had a knack for getting under the skin of the opposition. Bob Rae, the current interim leader for the federal Liberals, called him a “fierce debater.” But he was well-regarded by all sides of the House for his integrity, loyalty and for being an affable and humorous guy.