The fascinating life of footballer-turned-MPP Tim Reid
Given my outsized interests in politics and sports, you won’t be surprised to hear I’ve got a special interest in those Canadians who’ve managed to participate in both of those arenas.
Many of them you know doubt already know. Hall of Famer Frank Mahovlich — The Big M — played on six Stanley Cup champion teams. Nancy Greene Raine won gold and silver medals in alpine skiing at the 1968 Olympics. Jacques Demers coached the Montreal Canadiens to their last Stanley Cup win in 1993. All three were appointed to the Senate, and Greene Raine and Demers are still there.
The best examples I know from the House of Commons are former Maple Leafs Howie Meeker and Red Kelly, both of whom played in the NHL, astonishingly, while serving as MPs at the same time: Meeker as a one-term Progressive Conservative in 1951, Kelly winning two elections for the Liberals in 1962 and 1963.
So it was with extra interest that I sat down the other day with a former member of the Ontario legislature who served in the Liberal caucus from 1967 to 1971, having already enjoyed a fabulous football career with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues and the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Tim Reid would be the first guy to admit he’s not the household name that Mahovlich has been for the past half-century. But having just turned 80, he can look back at a fascinating life filled with an eclectic range of experiences.
Reid was a speedster in the backfield of the U of T Blues, when he scored a record 68 points during the 1958 season. His academic career next took him to Yale University and Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar.
He returned to Canada, was drafted by the Tiger-Cats, and played in the legendary Fog Bowl Grey Cup game in 1962, so named because the fog rolled off the lake and into Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium so densely that the game had to be postponed with nine minutes to play. The two teams returned the next day and completed the game. (The Ticats lost a heartbreaker 28-27 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers).
Tim Reid can be seen about to lay a tackle in the background of Canada Post’s commemorative Fog Bowl stamp.
But Reid had a big brain and big hopes to have an impact on society. After football, he went to work for Murray Ross, the founding president of York University, eventually teaching economics at York and writing a highly regarded book with his wife Julyan called Student Power and the Canadian Campus.
“It was the ’60s,” Reid told me over lunch last week. “There was such excitement and the sense of possibilities.”
Reid was making a name for himself in economic and social policy circles, and so the Liberals’ legendary political rainmaker, Keith Davey, approached him to run in the 1965 federal election in Danforth riding, which had been reliably Conservative for 30 years until the NDP won it in 1962.
“Keith told me the party would support me as best it could and that I had no chance at all of winning the seat!” Reid recalls with a laugh. “I decided to do it as a lark.”
Davey was right. Reid didn’t win, but he apparently caught a bit of a bug because two years later he ran again, this time provincially for the Liberals in Scarborough East.
Despite the fact the PCs under premier John Robarts won a second consecutive majority government in 1967, Reid took the seat away from the Conservatives by just 216 votes.
Reid had a passion for social and education policy. As the Liberal critic for education and university affairs, it disgusted him that when he looked at the Ontario curriculum we were still using textbooks written and published in the United States, with little to no understanding of Canadian nuances or values.
“I’d love to have been minister of education,” Reid confesses.
I joke with him that he showed up at Queen’s Park about 50 years too early. Today’s minister of education is Mitzie Hunter, who like Reid is a Liberal MPP from Scarborough.
Reid’s political career lasted only one term at the Ontario legislature. He was defeated in 1971 in the Bill Davis landslide by Margaret Birch, and again it was a nail-biter ̶ just a 670-vote margin of victory for the woman who would become Ontario’s first female cabinet minister.
But there were never any regrets or hard feelings about the loss. In fact, as Reid looks back on it now, it was the best thing that could have happened to him. His reputation for advancing progressive social policy took him to a job interview in Paris (that’s France, not Ontario).
“I called my wife and asked her whether she wanted to stay in Scarborough or move to Paris,” he recalls. “She took about half a second to answer.”
Reid took a job at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris. But after a couple of years, it occurred to him and his wife that their two children would be Canadian in name only, and were growing up not knowing anything about the country of their birth.
So it was back to Canada to work for the federal public service in the Treasury Board, eventually working his way up to assistant deputy minister in the Regional Economic Expansion, and Industry and Tourism departments.
But Reid’s fascinating career wasn’t done. In 1985, he became dean of the business school at what was then called the Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University).
In 1987, he was tasked by Howard Brown, chair of the federal Liberal party’s Ontario policy wing, to help mount a thinkers’ conference in Port Hope, Ont. The idea was inspired by former prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s thinkers’ conference, also in Port Hope, back in 1933.
Brown and Reid wanted Liberals to consider new ideas about how to advance social policy and wealth creation at “Canada 2001: Liberal Answers for Tomorrow.”
And he still wasn’t done. For nearly 10 years, Reid was president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and served on many boards, including Via Rail and U of T’s governing council.
Four years ago, his beloved wife, Julyan, died. The way Reid refers to her, you can tell that wound is still fresh.
“She was so smart,” he says. “And she was my best friend.”
Tim Reid celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year with a lovely family dinner. And even though most of his time is now spent playing tennis, it’s kind of neat to see the fire in his eyes still burning as he talks about education policy in Ontario.
“I’ve still got an old copy of that book I wrote with my wife if you’d like to read it,” he tells me.
You bet I do.