Rev. Reginald Stackhouse, who died in Toronto on Dec. 14, was a man of strong convictions whose first pulpits were at the Anglican churches where he served as rector. His next two pulpits were the House of Commons, where he sat as a member of Parliament for nearly six years, and the editorial pages of The Globe and Mail and other newspapers, where he penned powerful op-ed pieces on subjects ranging from prison reform to ending mandatory retirement at age 65. In each case, he expressed his views with clarity and passion.
One of the issues he spoke out about was gay marriage. Unlike many members of his church, he supported it, and wrote about the different perspectives of church and state. "I am a person who is not supposed to exist: a churchgoing, Bible-reading creed-affirming Christian who accepts the Supreme Court's judgment that [gay marriage] is a valid option within the Constitution. What my church does about permitting or forbidding gay marriages is something else," Dr. Stackhouse wrote in The Globe and Mail in December, 2005. "No Canadian has to go to church. But all Canadians must live within the law."
As a politician, Dr. Stackhouse was the reddest of Red Tories, and would have been out of place in the Conservative House of Stephen Harper. The last Conservative government was in favour of longer and harsher jail sentences, for example, but as a Progressive Conservative MP more than 40 years ago, Dr. Stackhouse campaigned in favour of putting fewer people in prison.
"Canada has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the democratic world. If you look at Europe, where rates are much lower, you see there are other ways to keep society safe," he was quoted as saying in the Anglican Journal. During his first term in the House of Commons, from 1972 to 1974, he was the Opposition critic for penal reform and was part of an all-party fact-finding mission that visited 15 penal institutions across Canada. The report died when the 1974 election was called.
"Reg Stackhouse was a kind and thoughtful man, but he had steel in him when it came to a cause he believed in," former prime minister Brian Mulroney said. "He worked very closely on my initiative on the liberation of Nelson Mandela."
Reginald Francis Stackhouse was born on April 30, 1925, in Toronto and grew up in the city's Dupont and Dovercourt area. His father, Edward, had moved to Toronto from New Brunswick. Edward Stackhouse met his wife, Emma (née McNeill), at a Salvation Army meeting and the family read the Bible every day.
Reginald had to drop out of Oakwood Collegiate on his 16th birthday to help support the family after his father became disabled. The teenager got a job as a copy boy at the old Toronto Telegram newspaper and eventually worked his way up to junior reporter, all while finishing high school at night at Jarvis Collegiate.
"His first big story was covering the Mimico council, where he heard there were plans to build a munitions factory and staff it with Japanese-Canadian internees," said his son, John Stackhouse, former editor in chief of The Globe and Mail. "He was shocked, and the story made the front page. It shows he was aware of human rights at an early age."
After earning his high school diploma at night school, in 1943, Reginald began studying at the University of Toronto's Wycliffe College, an Anglican-affiliated theological school. While at university he was with the Canadian Officers' Training Corps, but by the time he was ready to serve, the war was over. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1946 and a master's in political economy in 1951. Later he earned a doctorate at Yale University in the United States, a qualification that allowed him to teach at U of T.
He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1950 and his first church was St. Matthew's Islington in Etobicoke, a suburb in Toronto's west end. Later he moved to St. John's West Toronto near High Park.
After returning from Yale in 1962, Dr. Stackhouse moved his family to Scarborough and he soon became involved in local politics as a school trustee.
In 1965, Bill Davis, who was then Ontario's minister of education, had a plan to open community colleges in the province and he approached Dr. Stackhouse about playing a role in the initiative. So Dr. Stackhouse and a brother-in-law, Sheldon Lush, scouted locations and found an abandoned factory that produced radar equipment during the Second World War. It was owned by Canadian Arsenals Ltd., a federal government agency, whose bureaucrats said it was not for sale. Dr. Stackhouse travelled to Ottawa and convinced the Minister of Public Works, George McIlraith, who had a connection with Scarborough, to give the building to the fledgling community college.
"The building was converted into Ontario's first college campus in just four hectic months, opening its doors to 514 students on Oct. 17, 1966. We have Reg to thank for that," said Ann Buller, president and CEO of Centennial College. Ms. Buller called Reginald Stackhouse "Centennial College's founding father."
Dr. Stackhouse was the founding chair of Centennial College's Board of Governors, while continuing his academic career at U of T. Today Centennial College has close to 40,000 full and part-time students at four separate campuses. Many of them are university graduates looking to acquire practical and marketable skills.
Dr. Stackhouse ran as a Progressive Conservative in the 1972 election, defeating the Liberal member Martin O'Connell. The Conservatives won 107 seats, the Liberals 109 and former prime minister Pierre Trudeau led a minority government for a year and nine months with the support of the NDP.
Dr. Stackhouse decided not to run in the 1974, 1979 or 1980 federal elections. He returned to teaching at Wycliffe College and was its principal from 1975 until 1986.
He ran for the Tories in Brian Mulroney's first election campaign, in 1984, and again he defeated a sitting Liberal member, in Scarborough West.
In his second term in Parliament he chaired the Standing Committee on Human Rights, served as Canadian Representative to the United Nations and was a member of five overseas missions, including one to renegotiate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
His son, John, recalled one of his trips to Ethiopia, ravaged by famine at the time.
"He witnessed farmers being forcibly relocated to villages and put under the command of communist party officials. He told the Ethiopian president he could not support Canadian food aid propping up such a system. "Tell me of one country where this system has worked," he asked his startled hosts. He returned to Canada to successfully argue for aid to be channelled through non-government organizations. When the foreign service warned him that such groups had become political and were seen as anti-government in Ethiopia, his response was: "I hope so."
In the 1988 election he lost to Liberal Tom Wappel by 440 votes. He said it was because of industrial workers in his riding being nervous about the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which was the focus of the election. He also said the riding contained a large Roman Catholic population who supported his opponent's campaign to make abortion illegal. The group Campaign Life labelled Dr. Stackhouse a "baby killer" because he supported abortion in some circumstances. Dr. Stackhouse told the Toronto Star after the election: "That kind of personal attack by design has no part in a democracy."
"He lost in 1988 due to free trade. The provincial Liberals under David Peterson were against free trade and they worked to defeat Reg in his riding," Mr. Mulroney said. "It was a loss for us. You don't find many people like Reg Stackhouse in politics, believe me."
Dr. Stackhouse also lost in 1993, the year the Progressive Conservatives under Kim Campbell were reduced to two seats in the House of Commons.
He said he wished he could have stayed an MP to try to change public policy. But he managed to do that as a member of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and its provincial counterpart in Ontario. One of his successes was promoting the abolition of forced retirement at age 65.
"We advocated back then for the removal of the mandatory retirement at age 65," he told the Anglican Journal. In 2005, at the age of 80, he published a book called The Coming Age Revolution: When Growing Older Will Be Great. He taught at Wycliffe College until 2014, the year he turned 89.
Dr. Stackhouse was a sharp, concise writer and op-ed page editors were happy to receive his submissions.
His opinion pieces were printed in The Globe and other papers across Canada on subjects ranging from prison reform, gay marriage, abortion, retirement and ending the use of churches as sanctuaries from the law. These topics don't seem particularly controversial today but they were when he brought them up.
"He was an early proponent of the ordination of women, as deacons and later priests. He argued for the legitimate remarriage of divorcees. Years later, he advocated for the recognition of same-sex marriage," said his daughter Mary Hatt in a eulogy for her father.
He and his wife, Margaret (née Allman), who died in 2011, retired to Stephens Bay, near Bracebridge, in Muskoka, Ont. Apart from writing (he was the author of 10 books), his hobby was gardening, in particular raising potatoes.
"He said growing potatoes was an homage to his potato-farming roots in New Brunswick," his son said.
Dr. Stackhouse leaves his four children, Mary, Elizabeth, Ruth and John; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
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