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 90 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 is a Hockey Hall of Famer, 1947 Calder Trophy winner, and retired parliamentarian who served as MP for Waterloo-South Ont. in 1951-3 while playing for the Maple Leafs. Mr. Meeker’s commentary was originally published Nov. 3, 2013)