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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 ...

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.

“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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