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Over the course of 21 years of public service, Harvie Andre was a minister for three different departments and represented Calgary Centre riding before excelling in business afterward. (Ron Poling/The Canadian Press)
Over the course of 21 years of public service, Harvie Andre was a minister for three different departments and represented Calgary Centre riding before excelling in business afterward. (Ron Poling/The Canadian Press)

Obituary

For two different prime ministers, Harvie Andre was asked to solve the impossible Add to ...

“He was a no-nonsense type of public servant,” said former senator and former Alberta Tory MLA Ron Ghitter, “When he got the bit behind his teeth, he ran with it, and some would say, took no prisoners.”

Ghitter, who first encountered Andre during the 1968 election as they both tried to help the local PCs withstand Trudeaumania, would go on to support Andre’s political aspirations, and vice versa.

As the 1972 federal election approached, Clark asked Andre to support him in a bid to represent Alberta in Ottawa.

“He sort of cleared his throat,” Clark recalled, “And said, ‘Well in fact, I’m considering standing for office too.’”

After winning their seats, the rookie politicians shared an old apartment on Cooper Street in the nation’s capital until Clark got married the next year. In 1974, Andre uprooted his young family to move them to Ottawa, but they would return to Calgary each summer.

Andre would be among three members of the Tory caucus to support Clark’s leadership bid and surprising subsequent win in 1976. In the opposition benches, he was an outspoken critic of the NEP and creation of Petro-Canada as a Crown corporation. Once the Tories reclaimed power, he became “one of Brian Mulroney’s most reliable troubleshooters,” according to a 2006 article in the University of Alberta’s engineering magazine.

He held numerous portfolios including minister of supply and services, associate defence minister, minister of regional industrial expansion, minister of state for science and technology and government house leader. And, as he recalled to his alumni magazine, Mulroney went to him in 1987 with “bad news” – tasking him with the overhaul of the money-losing post office. He cut costs by shedding jobs and introducing “superboxes,” while he hiked profits by increasing stamp prices and wooing corporate clients. Within two years, Canada Post churned a historic $98-million profit.

“Harvie Andre was a force of nature,” Mulroney said of his friend, and as someone he admired “greatly, and deeply appreciated his wise counsel.”

Andre’s colleagues often joked that he was the only politician they knew whose golf game improved while in office. Serving in the defence portfolio, Andre spent time getting to know Canada’s military leaders on Canadian Forces base golf-courses, which helped eventually bring his game to a pretty impressive 14 handicap.

“He hit a ball a mile,” Ghitter recalled, “Maybe around the green he wasn’t as auspicious, but certainly he could drive the ball a long way.”

His passion for golf continued long after he was no longer responsible for defence and into private life.

In 1993, after more than two decades in office, Andre retired from politics, but denied he was running from a troubled party. The Tories would be cut down to two seats in the federal election that year.

Still, nobody was banging at his door to offer him work in 1993, but as Hughes, who previously served as a Tory MP, put it, he “pursued the classic Calgary entreprenurial thing” by serving on boards and working with smaller businesses.

Notably, he settled in with Wenzel Downhole Tools Ltd., where he served as a board member for 17 years, and president and chief executive officer for the past six. When the Calgary-based oil and gas drilling equipment manufacturer hit the skids, mired in litigation, Andre worked on a rescue plan, even persuading Hughes to jump aboard to help.

“It was a turnaround circumstance where, had Harvie not stepped in to become the CEO, the company may well have been taken over by the bank,” Hughes said.

Ron Patterson, Wenzel’s current CEO, agreed: “I don’t think Wenzel would be where it is now if it wasn’t for Harvie’s leadership.”

A year ago, Andre received his cancer diagnosis – one that usually comes with a grim prognosis – but he maintained a presence at work. He attended his last board meeting in August, where Patterson was convinced he had the disease beaten.

“He was a tough guy,” Patterson said, “Even through chemo and radiation therapy, he was still coming in from time to time.”

His death came as a shock to co-workers as well as family.

“Harvie had a deep passion for his province and country,” his loved ones said in a statement, “but his first dedication was always to family.”

Andre leaves his wife, three children, four grandchildren and a brother. A memorial service is planned for Oct. 29, in Calgary.

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