Hockey and the prime ministers: Harper vs. Trudeau -

Hockey and the prime ministers: Harper vs. Trudeau

Don’t dismiss Trudeau’s shinny credentials, writes John Geddes


Over at the Globe and Mail, Lawrence Martin writes today that Stephen Harper is the first prime minister to use his passion for hockey to political advantage. Certainly Harper’s plan to finally publish his much-discussed book on early professional hockey history should allow him to stake a claim to being our most hockey-wonkish PM.

But I think Martin went off side in dismissing Pierre Trudeau’s shinny credentials, asserting that Trudeau preferred individual to team sports, and “could barely tell a hockey stick from a tennis racket.”

In fact, Trudeau biographer John English writes, in 2007’s Citizen of the World: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau Volume One: 1919-1968, concerning Trudeau’s schools days at Montréal’s College Jean-de-Brébeuf: “About sports, he never complained. He became the captain of the hockey team, played lacrosse, and went on ski excursions.”

Harper, by comparison, admits he was “pretty marginal” during a brief period as a kid player, and still doesn’t skate well, although his professed enthusiasm for road hockey, I would submit, counts as an entirely valid and admirable variation on the national obsession.

As for political overlap with hockey, there’s rarely been a more noteworthy example than Trudeau’s July 14, 1972 letter to Charles Hay, then president of Hockey Canada, concerning the Canadian lineup for what would be that fall’s epic Canada-Russia hockey series.

Trudeau wrote to Hay on an issue that I certainly remember (I was 11 years old at the time) as having been deeply upsetting: the decision by the NHL establishment to block Bobby Hull, who had defected to the upstart World Hockey Association’s Winnipeg Jets, from playing on Team Canada.

“You are aware of the intense concern,” Trudeau wrote, “which I share with millions of Canadians in all parts of our country, that Canada should be represented by its best hockey players, including Bobby Hull… in the forthcoming series with the Soviet Union.” He concludes with appropriate solemnity on this urgent matter of state: “In making whatever arrangements may be called for, I would ask you to keep the best interests of Canada in mind and to make sure they are respected and served.”

Of course, the Golden Jet was excluded despite Trudeau’s astute expression of grave misgivings as General Manager in Chief. Still, even if he was ignored, Trudeau’s letter ranks as arguably the highest-level political intervention in a crucial hockey decision in Canadian history.


Hockey and the prime ministers: Harper vs. Trudeau

  1. I can certainly imagine Pierre Trudeau as the captain of the hockey team at Jean-de-Brébeuf. Stephen Harper is more a hockey follower – did he play much, if at all?  Harper seems more like the couch potato hockey fan type. Trudeau was a leader, Harper is a follower.

    • Isn’t harper asthmatic?  I don’t imagine he’s much of a skater if he is, and asthma or not, he has a soft and clumsy look about him.  He lurches about when walking like the great A&W root bear.

      • He certainly does have that sort of waddle back and forth as he walks.
        From everything I have heard he does not skate very well.  Yet somehow he was able to construct this whole mini-van hockey dad persona instead of the brooding, policy wonk that he is.
        He is asthmatic but he ran cross-country in high school.  I remember seeing a photo of him but I can’t find it through the Google machine.  Anybody know how to get an electronic copy?

        • Are you saying that unless someone is athletic and has played hockey well themselves, they can’t be a hockey fan?

          • That was certainly not my intention and I apologise for any confusion caused by what I have written.

            I would just say that it is funny how Harper’s inability to play the game particularly well (on ice) contrasts with his constructed image as über-fan and all-round hockey buff.

            As two points of comparison both Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff are big hockey fans.  In the case of M. Dion, a hugely knowledgeable Habs fan and in the case of Mr. Ignatieff, a very good skater.  But a geeky, Québécois academic and a cerebral, elitist egghead could not be “real” hockey fans in the Don Cherry/Stephan Harper matrix of what constitutes a “good Canadian kid.”

          • Again, I don’t see the connection between being able to play a sport well and being a fan. There are a lot of people who appreciate sports which they are not physically capable of playing, for any number of reasons, and even fewer who can play them at a professinal level. I don’t see (apart from the obvious political partisanship of some of the people posting here) why the  PM couldn’t be as much a hockey fan as any of the other millions of Canadians who appreciate the game without ever having played it much, if at all.
            As for trying to bring Mr. Ignatieff or Dion into this, isn’t that a bit of a straw man argument?  Who on earth even mentioned them in regards to hockey?

          • The problem is that Harper has used being a hockey fan as part of his political brand – a large part of it.  Surely, you’re not going to deny that?

          • @MikeRedmond:disqus 
            I certainly agree that one doesn’t have to be skilled at a particular sport to be a fan.

            My main reticence with regard to Harper as fan is that I’m just not sure how much I believe him.  It does seem fairly contructed to confer on him this image as a double-double drinking regular guy hockey dad that rubs me as false.  I could be completely wrong on this front but it is just how it feels to me.

            As for mentioning Messrs. Dion and Ignatieff it was just to show how two people who I do know to be hockey fans were not thought of as such by the vast majority of the media or the general public.

          • At the risk of interrupting this new spirit of friendliness that Lib-supporters feel towards one another in this New Year, could you tell me why you would unconditionally accept that Dion and Ignatieff are  ‘ big hockey fans ” yet you feel free to question Harper`s affection for the game.

            If you tell me again that the reason is because Harper doesn`t look like someone who would enjoy hockey and Dion and Iggy—–well they just have that look of folks that like to hang around the rink, then I still won`t believe you.
            But if you tell me you that you don`t like Harper and you think he would use hockey as a means of identifying with the common man, then I would believe that would be your motivation.

            By the way, I believe you when you say that Dion and Iggy are big hockey fans—-but I don`t care that they are—but then again I don`t care that Harper is either.

          • What a PM’s hobbies are may be of interest, but have nothing to do with ability to the job.  I can’t think of another one that has used his to appeal to voters.  Harper doesn’t exactly ooze authenticity so the things that he keeps putting in the window are likely to be viewed with a certain amount of skepticism.  You need to accept this.

          • @4a64130278c80432e4d05477e5ee5a66:disqus 
            Bingo! (To the second part of your assertation)

          • If it means anything the PM took his son along with RCMP to play a Pee Wee game at the arena of the Blackburn Hamlet Stingers (east End Ottawa). He may not skate well but he is/was a Hockey dad that is confirmed( picture are hanging in Arena on Innes Rd.

      • Take a look at a few of the sports writers and coaches out there….notice that alot of them look like the A&W root bear……does that mean that they don’t know the game?

        • They have a different understanding from those who play it.  Same goes for music.  It’s one thing to listen to music and know everything about composers and their work, and it’s another to play an instrument or sing an aria. 

          • My question to you was whether you can know the game without excelling at it.  I can name you different successful coaches and sports writers…lovers of the games, who never excelled at them but knew them inside out and helped others develop their talent.  They may have a different approach than those who excelled at it but I fail to see how that matters.

    • These comments you and others are making about Harper’s appearance hindering his ability to scrutinize and appreciate the game of hockey in a meaningful way are ridiculous.  Do you realize that Scotty Bowman who still holds the record as the winnest coach in the NHL never played past minor league hockey.  He took a slash to the head and headed to the bench.  Another famous coach in another sport…Nick Bolletteri in tennis, never really played the game.  He studied it and went on to develop top players like Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova.  Wayne Gretkzy was the best player ever in the game but a dismal coach behind the bench.  You do not have to be a fantasitic athlete to understand and appreciate the strategy of a game.  In fact, if you look at the game of hockey, very few of the coaches were former stars or “captains of the team”.  Sometimes the followers have much insight because things don’t come as easily to them.

      • I meant to wish you a Happy 2012 a while back! I hope you had a great Christmas!

        • Thank you I did.

  2. I don’t think Harper has the slightest interest in hockey, anymore than most Canadians do.

    It’s just ‘handy’ so he can claim a connection to the Corner Gas crowd.  His version of Bush’s pose as a cowboy with a ranch.

    • His Son plays/played in Ottawa so he is interested

      • If your kid takes ballet, does that mean you’re interested?
        It’s a photo-op David…nothing more.

        • I will forgive Emily if your kid never took ballet or hockey because obviously you have no idea of the amount of fund raising a parent is on the hook for.  Yes, if your kid is in any sport or activity you have an interest…just because of the amount of time you as a parent spend at the rink or the dance theatre or the swiming pool…it is inevitable that parents take an interest.  To not take an interest is NOT an option.

          • You forget that Harper eats cute puppies for breakfast, plots the overthrow of Parliament during lunch, and replaces peoples’ Rogaine with Nair just for fun.

            Therefore, his supposed fondness for hockey is clearly all part of a cynical ploy to make ordinary Canadians think he’s not the love child of Lucifer, Hitler, and Genghis Khan’s threesome.

            Luckily we have level-headed geniuses like Emily to keep us apprised of what’s really going on here.

          • Well goodness knows, we can’t rely on you Gaunilon, to know what’s going on. You live in a bubble.

            It was Cons, I’m afraid, that came up with such comparisons….calling McGuinty an “evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet”.

          • True, true. What would us bubble dwellers do without you. Cons are such shady characters. I bet their next move is to paint the walls of the East Block green and the roof gray, those nefarious rascals.

          • No….it is cats he is eating…remember he is a cat man.

          • Oh be serious.

            Taking an interest in something because your kid is having lessons, is not the same thing as having your own personal interest in it.

            Parents whose kids are having piano lessons, don’t take up piano themselves…..or even start reading about Mozart.

            Harper takes an interest in hockey because he thinks it will get him votes ….he hadn’t the slightest interest in hockey until he was partway through his job as Opposition Leader, and realized one of his major problems was ‘connecting’ with people.

            Just like Bush was from a wealthy east coast family, but pretended to be some Texas cowboy for the duration.

          • Playing hockey is not like taking piano lessons.  There are 5 am practices and 10 pm practices.  The parents have to work at bingos and casinos to raise money.  Then there are the games…in town and out of town.
            Emily, unless a child is a concert pianist…which there are some, there is no comparison between taking your child to a half hour piano lesson and a child playing on a hockey team or doing another activity competitively.   You must have friends with grandchildren that compete…ask them.
            Now as for your failure to believe that Harper does anything just because he is a father, let`s just agree that he is a robot and has no softer human qualities at all…that way you and the other Harper-Haters can continue to believe he beats his children and his wife and tortures those cats he pretends to love.

          • I said…be serious.

            THIS is not serious.

        • You are so full of it! Are you that miserable in life?

          • I’m not in the least miserable, but you certainly sound as if you are.

            What…is your ‘happy-happy’ bubble bursting?

    • Oh, boy!

    • a meaningless assertion without evidence and posted only as a means of inserting your ego into a conversation for which you are obviously unequipped  to grace with any facts. ( as usual) 

      • Deb Grey said Harper never had the slightest interest in hockey before being leader of the opposition….and all his speeches and interviews before that time reflect that.

        He isn’t God, Darrent….just a politician

  3. Interesting. I read Martin column during lunch and it didn’t ring true to me either. Other than he was a cretin, I don’t know much about Trudeau, but he appears wiry/agile/athletic in video clips and photos that I have seen of Trudeau. And I have no idea what Harper was like in high school but I would bet that Harper was one of those nerdy types who tripped over his own feet on playing fields. 

    Didn’t Trudeau have a problem with football/CFL specifically because it wasn’t Franco game? Isn’t there a famous photo of dapper Trudeau and a bunch of Calgary guys in ten gallon hats? 

    I am kinda stunned that Harper has actually written a book and is going to be published. I thought Harper’s hockey book was urban legend and/or snarky comment from left wing types, but it might actually be real and published soon. Good luck to Harper, wonder if it will be decent read. 

    Do they still teach lacrosse in school? I remember we learned lacrosse for two weeks in Grade 9 and it was craziest two weeks of gym class ever. Giving hard wood sticks to teenage boys and then allowing them to whack one another with them is not path to harmony and tranquility.

    • ‘I don’t know much about Trudeau’  you announce, and then you go on to spout nonsense about him.

    • “Didn’t Trudeau have a problem with football/CFL specifically because it wasn’t Franco game? Isn’t there a famous photo of dapper Trudeau and a bunch of Calgary guys in ten gallon hats? ”

      Not as far as i know. In fact he was the only PM[ far as i know] who ever attempted the tradional kick off and did it well. But then he practised before hand – not bad for a cretin eh! 

      • The Trudeau YearsNo Canadian leader was a bigger booster of the Grey Cup than Pierre Trudeau, who attended the game a record seven times between 1968 and 1981. Indeed, Trudeau was the best half-time show in Grey Cup history prior to Shania Twain. The P.M. once showed up for a contest in Montreal dressed like he was headed out for a night on the town with Sly Stone, wearing a ranch’s worth of mink topped off by a gleaming white knit hat.
        I went to one Grey Cup game in 1973. I recall Pierre Elliot Trudeau performed the opening kick-off. The CN Tower was a half completed cement spear in the Toronto sky line and the Ottawa Rough Riders capital punishment defence and some timely offence beat Edmonton 22-18.

      • The Trudeau YearsNo Canadian leader was a bigger booster of the Grey Cup than Pierre Trudeau, who attended the game a record seven times between 1968 and 1981. Indeed, Trudeau was the best half-time show in Grey Cup history prior to Shania Twain. The P.M. once showed up for a contest in Montreal dressed like he was headed out for a night on the town with Sly Stone, wearing a ranch’s worth of mink topped off by a gleaming white knit hat.
        I went to one Grey Cup game in 1973. I recall Pierre Elliot Trudeau performed the opening kick-off. The CN Tower was a half completed cement spear in the Toronto sky line and the Ottawa Rough Riders capital punishment defence and some timely offence beat Edmonton 22-18.

      • Trudeau attended the Grey Cup 7 times, and was known for his colourful outfits.

        I would post the source urls, but the board doesn’t want to take the posts…I’ve tried twice now. LOL

        • I believe he wore the famous cape ensemble at a Vancouver Grey Cup. 

          • Yeah, his dad’s cape.

            I think he wore mink one time as well.

            One source [the board won’t let me post] said he was the best half-time show prior to Shania Twain.  LOL

          • I was wrong – it was Montreal 1970 where he wore the ‘pimp’ outfit.  I’d forgotten about the hat…

      • The picture is from the 1970 Montreal Grey Cup – Trudeau is coming down the steps in cape and very eccentric hat – a man sitting on the aisle, wearing a rather large white stetson is looking at him and obviously thinking it’s a really dumb hat.  It’s the two solitudes!

        • It’s the two solitudes!


      • Some analysts think Stanfield lost an election because of a well-known photograph of him fumbling the snap of a football.

        • Peter Lougheed and Don Getty played for the Edmonton Eskimos.  It might have worked for Lougheed but Getty….sheesh he was an idiot!

        • Yes i know. I also heard Trudeau say[ on his memoirs series?] that it was unfortunate. Trudeau was a far more generous soul then many gave him credit for – it’s one of the things i liked about him; he could of course be utterly ruthless, as in his marvellously pissy put down of Mulroney over Meech – who has i imagine, quite rightly, never forgiven him. 

      • That’s not what I meant. Football is not a franco sport – or at least it wasn’t – and hockey dominated Que. I can’t find it now but I thought I remembered reading something about Trudeau and how he thought football was ridiculous compared to hockey. Trudeau fan of sports in general but not football specifically – that was my impression. 

        • Nowadays, of course, football is as popular in Quebec as it is in Alberta & Saskatchewan.  

  4. kcm4
    12:52 PM on January 3, 2012
    I’m a fan LM but this isn’t one of your better pieces. Trudeau for instance was – according to John English – hockey capt at Brebeuf and also played lacrosse, he also liked to go to Royals baseball games. Not your best bit of fact checking.As for Harper – is there anyone who’s ever witnessed him attend any games prior to becoming a major political figure? Anyone seen him on skates even? I’ve heard rumours that Deb Grey claimed he had aboslutely no interest in hockey before his political days. I have no idea if that’s true and maybe it isn’t all that big a deal, the world is full of phonies, what’s another one – even if he happens to be PM?. But i’m damned if i’ll give him the sort of credit you appear to be giving him when there’s little or no evidence to support it, and a good deal of evidence Harper sees everything through a political lense. Unlike Trudeau i very much doubt the man would brag about an interest in say ballet – now that would be too big a risk to take in order to merely appear authentic. I mean, how many fans of ballet vote conservative? Just say’n.

    I posted this over at GM. I’ll thank you not to scoop me JG. :)

    The article by Harper was intersting – the first time i’ve seen anything about his hockey past.[ of course it undermines some of my assertions. Wonder who started the Grey rumour?]
    I can relate -i’m alousy skater but a pretty good floor hockey player – just loved it. I agreed with much of what Harper had to say, with one odd exception. He only chose two defining generational hockey moments – 72 and 2011. For those of us who missed 72 [ iwasn’t in the country] there were arguably three – the missing one being the 87 series and the Gretzky/Lemieux moment.
    I also missed the Trudeau letter but do seem to recall he became involved to some extent in the kerfuffle over whether to present the Soviets with a trophy of some kind – which he did. Although i’m not sure if i’m mixing up different series – was that 72 or not? Obviously the series was finished on Russian soil.
    I’m not put out that Harper isn’t a phony in this regard, i just wish he was more upfront about his past so these kind of silly stories didn’t linger around and become some kind of proxy political culture war. 

    • I hadn’t seen your reaction but fully credit you with moving first on this matter of vital national interest. 

      • Thank you sir, i shall pin it up on my wall of fame, and attach your kind remarks to my cv.

        • I’m enjoying this new spirit of friendliness on the boards so far this year. 

          3 down, 363 to go!

          • San Diego Dave, the new year has not been kind to your looks.

          • Really? Well I like to goatee. As for the grey, I leave a little on the side- the wife likes it. 

            (see if any of you can get THAT hockey reference)

          • Oh i dunno, not bad for a guy’s who’s been on a slab in Moscow for almost 90 years. 

          • see if any of you can get THAT hockey reference)

            SH…. It’s in his book.

          • @The_New_San_Diego_Dave:disqus 
            Hey San Diego Dave, two minutes for looking so good. ;-)

          • san diego dave:

            Rocket Richard in the Grecian Formula advert.

            Where do I collect my prize?

  5. Hey San Diego Dave, two minutes for looking so good. ;-)

  6. Could you imagine if Harper had written a letter like that today? He’d be called a bully, dictator, and fascist, and it would be characterized as a ” huge scandal” for about three weeks until Peter MacKay’s hangnail takes up the next cycle.

  7. Anything Trudeau do, we can do better,
    We can do Trudeau do better than you…

  8. There’s this old saying by Confucius,( yes, him) that goes “I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.” That is all.

  9. I can offer no insight into whether Harper’s professed love of the game is genuine.  I can certainly say he’d be the prime minister most likely to revel in a lie told for no other purpose but to feel good about duping people.

    • But only if it had a political purpose. Which imo is in some ways worse.

      • Gotta stay in practice, even with the small stuff!

  10. You give good examples.   I think Toe Blake was a better coach than Bowman.  Was it because Toe played in the big league and with fabulous colleagues?.  I don’t know that it made the difference, but Toe was definitely the most impressive coach I’ve seen behind the bench.  We’ll see what Mr.Harper’s book is all about but it will be a book written by a follower of the game and for followers of the game.  It will likely have a huge appeal as most Canadians are followers of the game, with many fans who don’t know how to skate.

  11. Reading almost all of the comments, one is reminded that Canadians do tend towards pettiness, asperity, and plain old fashioned begrudgery.  Why, oh why, do they wear their Harper hatred on their sleeves?  Lighten up and pay some respect to our PM.    

    • Reread your post and think “Irwin Cotler”

      Respect????I guess Canadians bear the reflection of their leaders, eh?

  12. I hear Canada is on suicide watch … we lost a game to Russians…   again.

  13. I have much greater respect for an individual who may have
    been a fine athlete as a youth – such as Mr. Trudeau – and who does not, as an
    adult, publicly proclaim their youthful prowess at their sport or display a
    boyish enthusiasm for the sport, as does Mr. Harper.

    Lawrence Martin is old enough to remember the Trudeau years.
    He should be ashamed of himself to be taking such a cheap shot at Mr. Trudeau’s

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