Skip to main content

Heward Grafftey, known affectionately as the Gnome from Brome during his years in politics, was the maverick Progressive Conservative MP from Quebec who served as minister of science in Joe Clark's short-lived government.

A scrappy, grass-roots politician, Mr. Grafftey represented the Brome-Missisquoi riding as a Conservative for 18 years during a time when Liberals dominated federal politics in the province. He lost two elections as an MP, once during the wave of Trudeaumania that swept the country in 1968, and again in 1980, when he rebelled against his party leader, Joe Clark.

Mr. Grafftey, who died Thursday in Montreal at 81, was a gadfly who often feuded with the establishment. He had a wife and children, but was adept at artfully dodging questions about his sexuality. Although he never declared his homosexuality until he left politics, he never denied it.

"I never had to come out, because it was never an issue. I was never in. I was always me," he once said.

Did you know Heward Grafftey? Send us your recollections.

Conrad Black, a long-time friend, described Mr. Grafftey as "an irrepressible character, and generous and convivial host. He was one of the pioneers in promoting French-English relations, and in trying to put down roots for the Progressive-Conservative party in Quebec," Mr. Black wrote in an e-mail. "He also achieved broad recognition as a champion of automobile safety, where he must be considered ahead of his time."

Heward Grafftey was born into a respected family. His father, Major Arthur Grafftey, was a chairman of the Board at Montreal Lumber Co. and distinguished himself as a hero during the First World War. After Heward's mother committed suicide when he was 15 years old, he was sent to boarding school at Lower Canada College. He later attended Mount Allison University, in Sackville, N.B., and McGill University, in Montreal, where he served as president of the Young Liberals. After he received his law degree from McGill in 1950, he became enamoured with John Diefenbaker. He ran for Parliament as a Progressive-Conservative for the first time in 1957. He was defeated in that election, which produced a minority government, but rode Mr. Diefenbaker's coattails to victory in the election that followed, in 1958.

Once in Parliament, he quickly established himself as a contrarian and an insouciant debater. His enthusiasm for Mr. Diefenbaker waned when the prime minister reneged on a promise to name Mr. Grafftey his parliamentary secretary.

"I never ran with my party after that," Mr. Grafftey explained. "The party was run by an elitist clique. I was always progressive in social policies, which put me at odds with the rednecks, and economically, I was a conservative, and never could be reconciled with the red Tories."

He had a major falling out with Mr. Diefenbaker during the acrimonious debate over a new Canadian flag. Mr. Grafftey favoured the Maple Leaf; Mr. Diefenbaker wanted a Union Jack. When Mr. Grafftey lost his seat in 1968, he cooled his heels writing The Senseless Sacrifice: A Black Paper on Medicine , which anticipated a health-care crisis in Canada. He also wrote three guides to automobile safety.

Re-elected in 1972, he was one of the few Progressive Conservative MPs from Quebec to keep his seat during the Trudeau years. But he continued to feud with the party leadership and opposed Robert Stanfield's so-called two-nations approach to Confederation.

In 1976, Mr. Grafftey ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party; but he was considered a little too flaky to be taken seriously and polled only 33 votes before throwing his meagre support behind Joe Clark, who went on to win the 1979 election. Mr. Clark rewarded Mr. Grafftey by appointing him minister of science.

Mr. Grafftey's most significant political accomplishment as a cabinet minister was to introduce a five-year plan for scientific research. He was about to hire David Suzuki as his deputy minister, but the Clark government was defeated before the appointment could be made.

Mr. Grafftey once said that after he left politics, he declared his sexuality in his characteristically dramatic fashion. He described disrupting a service at St. George's Anglican Church in Montreal by upbraiding the priest for delivering what he called a homophobic sermon. Mr. Grafftey said he stormed out of the church in protest in front of the entire congregation and later built his own private chapel - complete with stained-glass windows - on the deck above the garage of his house on St. Louis Square.

"He enjoyed his role as bad boy of Montreal's blue bloods," said his publisher, Simon Dardick of Montreal's Véhicule Press. "He enjoyed provoking people into common sense."

Mr. Grafftey attempted a political comeback in 2006 but was soundly defeated by the Bloc Québécois candidate. He published two memoirs, Portraits from The Past and Portraits from a Life , and wrote a political treatise, Democracy Challenged: How to End One Party Rule in Canada .

William Heward Grafftey was born in Montreal on Aug. 5, 1928, and died at Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital, where he had been taken about a month ago after he was found in a weakened state in his home. He was suffering from Parkinson's Disease. He is survived by his three children, Arthur Heward, Clement Tae Yong and Leah Yoon Hee.

Editor's Note: Incorrect information appeared in an earlier online version of this article. This version has been corrected. The Globe apologizes for the error.