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Friday September 18, 2009

Liberal stalwart played key role in medicare

Canada's first multiculturalism minister also was instrumental in the passage of the Canadian Pension Plan and the Clean Air Act

Special to The Globe and Mail

In more than 50 years of public life in Ottawa, Stanley Haidasz accomplished much worthy of celebration.

He was an active contributor and a witness to many significant Canadian events and turning points in history in the latter half of the 20th century as a Liberal MP and senator.

In an incident that brought together his roles of doctor and politician, he was the one who rushed to the side of Paul Chartier, a deranged French Canadian who inadvertently killed himself in a botched attempt to bomb the House of Commons in 1966.

Dr. Haidasz, born to Polish immigrant parents in Toronto, showed promise early by excelling in elementary school and later at Saint Michael's College School, where he earned the gold medal for top student for all five years.

After high school, he entered the seminary and had intentions of becoming a priest with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate order. To reach that goal, he attended the OMI-founded University of Ottawa, gaining his BA and a licentiate in philosophy. However, during his stint in Ottawa, his conscience was shaken after he survived a canoeing accident that saw several other novitiates drown. The tragedy caused him to reflect on his decision to become a priest and he decided to change his vocation to medicine.

He returned from Ottawa to study medicine at the University of Toronto before doing postgraduate work in electrocardiology in Chicago. To add to his postsecondary résumé, he also took a one-year course in geriatrics at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

Dr. Haidasz interned at St. Joseph's Health Centre in Toronto. He ran a general practice and was on call at St. Joseph's for 40 years. He earned a reputation for his ability to diagnose ailments with a compassionate and respectful manner.

Then politics beckoned and he would flourish in a new role - back in Ottawa.

Dr. Haidasz was elected in Toronto's Trinity riding in 1957 as a backbencher for Liberal leader Louis St. Laurent, the only Liberal to be elected in the Toronto area when the Progressive Conservatives won a minority government under John Diefenbaker.

A handwritten note Dr. Haidasz attached to one of the many curriculum vitaes retained by the family read: "Entered politics to legislate medicare for all Canadians."

"One of his greatest accomplishments was to bring in medicare," his son Walter said. "Politics was his way to help the working people. Many of his patients were working class, so health care was very important to him and them."

Dr. Haidasz was defeated in the 1958 federal election when Mr. Diefenbaker swept to power with the largest majority government in Canadian history. By 1962, though, he was back in Ottawa after winning the Parkdale riding, upsetting Conservative Arthur Maloney, who was considered the most famous criminal lawyer in Canada at the time.

The year 1963 was a ground-breaking one for Dr. Haidasz because he would earn the trust of Prime Minister Lester Pearson and begin the first of many stints as a parliamentary secretary to a cabinet minister.

In this case, he was the understudy to Judy LaMarsh, the minister of health and welfare. It was also the year Mr. Pearson summoned Dr. Haidasz to teach English to a young freshman MP from the Quebec riding of St. Maurice-Laflèche. His name was Jean Chrétien.

In a video produced about Dr. Haidasz's life recently, he recalled how Mr. Chrétien admired the fact that his fellow MP would speak to him in French while getting acquainted.

"Dad had learned French while at the seminary in Ottawa so he was able to talk to Mr. Chrétien in French while also talking to him in English to help him," his daughter Marie Haidasz-Cybulski said.

It was also in 1963 that Dr. Haidasz was given the nod as Canada's head delegate to the UN General Assembly.

Over the course of the 1960s, Dr. Haidasz was parliamentary secretary to a number of other cabinet ministers, including Paul Martin Sr. (secretary of state for external affairs) and Ronald Basford (consumer and corporate affairs).

In 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau showed his trust in Dr. Haidasz by taking him to a meeting in the USSR. At the end of Dr. Haidasz's last stint as a parliamentary secretary, Mr. Trudeau appointed him minister of state for multiculturalism on Nov. 27, 1972, making him the first person of Polish origin to be named a cabinet minister. He travelled the world to represent Canada at numerous conferences.

He was the head delegate to the funeral of Pope Paul VI in August, 1978, and two months later, he was back in Rome as a delegate to the installation of Polish-born Pope John Paul II. It was the beginning of a close relationship between the two men.

When the Pope came to Toronto in 1984, he asked Dr. Haidasz and his wife to accompany him to a ceremony in North York.

In 1987, they met again at a private meeting in Lublin, Poland. The Pope's fondness for Dr. Haidasz saw him award the politician the Knight Commander Order of St. Gregory the Great with Silver Star in 1997.

In the Commons, Dr. Haidasz introduced or supported legislation for Unemployment Insurance, the Old Age Supplement, the creation of Petro-Canada and abolition of the death penalty, among other things.

"Few people would realize that he had a lot to do with the introduction of the Clean Air Act," his son said.

That act was approved in 1970 and regulated release of four specific air pollutants: asbestos, lead, mercury and vinyl chloride.

A doctor who delivered hundreds, if not thousands of babies, he was opposed to abortion, which he fought against in the Commons and as a senator, a post he held for 20 years.

In various speeches over the years related to contentious debate, he called doctors who did abortions "licensed executioners."

Dr. Haidasz introduced four bills that would protect the unborn and sponsored eight amendments to the controversial Bill C-43, the Conservative government's abortion bill, which was defeated in the Senate.

"Stan couldn't believe that there was no leadership shown by clergymen on the abortion issue, whether they were Christian or non-Christian," said Dick Hughes, an anti-abortion advocate. "He was surprised that clergymen weren't more forceful on the issue and telling people what was wrong. He felt they should be telling women what to do.

"He knew about the after-effects abortion would have on women and referred them to psychiatrists. He was quite compassionate. He did so much work as an MP and a lot of work as a senator, believe it or not, while he was still a doctor."

On a related note, Dr. Haidasz introduced a bill into the Senate seeking to amend the Criminal Code to protect health-care workers from having to assist in abortion and assisted suicide. He retired shortly after, and the bill was derailed.

Dr. Haidasz was the subject of a two-volume biography called Senator Haidasz, which was written and published in Polish by Aleksandra Ziolkowska.


Stanley Haidasz was born March 4, 1923, in Toronto. He died there Aug. 6, 2009, of cancer. He was 86. He leaves his wife Natalie and children Marie, Walter, Barbara and Joanne.

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