I ran for the House of Commons in 1951. Toronto Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe was paying me $7,000 a season and an MP made $4,000. There was a byelection in my riding, Waterloo-South, Ont., and the Progressive Conservative Party drafted me as a candidate. I had my doubts.
Who could take the pay cut? I had no university degree, no wealthy family, no business interests. The nomination fee was $250; what if I ran and lost? Smythe called me up. He said, “Howard, you take that job. If there’s any shortage in expenses, I’ll pay it, with full Leafs salary.” I was elected by 2,500 votes.
In my years I’ve come in contact with many people who’ve helped me, encouraged me and put up with my troubles. Do you know what I learned? This country is full of neat people. And once you understand that, you want to do something for all those neat people if you can. That’s why I went to Ottawa.
I played in 54 of 70 games that season. I’d get the train out of Ottawa, play the game, return to Parliament for my day’s work and catch the 7 o’clock train back to Toronto.
MPs in those days were widely admired. Debate was civil. I was 26, the youngest member of the Commons. it was a wonderful experience. The House is like a hockey arena. You put your game face on, then get to know your opponent and learn to respect them. You bond. They were the finest damn people in the world.
I left the House in 1953. I was worried about my family’s security. I went to my leader, George Drew, and explained to him: “Look, I’m not a rich man, I’m not well-educated, I haven’t got a trade except hockey.” I could make a living at hockey, but what if I lost my Commons seat and wound up with nothing? I didn’t want to have to beg for some political appointment.
I never enjoyed anything as much as serving in the House, not even winning the Stanley Cup. I had the time of my life.
(Editor’s note: the author, a Hockey Hall of Famer and 1947 Calder Trophy winner, served a term as Conservative MP for Waterloo-South Ont. from 1951 while playing for the Maple Leafs. Mr. Meeker’s commentary was originally published Nov. 3, 2013. He passed away in 2020 at 97)