Grey Cup: Parliament, Politics, and Pigskin

Grey Cup 2010

Grey Cup: Parliament, Politics, and Pigskin

The Grey Cup in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill in 2010. The Canadian Press/Pavel Dwulit

November 22, 2017 3:46pmET



Millions of Canadians will watch the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders play the 105th Grey Cup game this Sunday, just a few kilometres from Parliament Hill at Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium.

Read and watch more about some of the political connections to Canada’s most-watched annual sporting event:

NOW YOU KNOW ** PARLIAMENTARY CONNECTIONS ** POLITICAL PLAYERS

 

NOW YOU KNOW

Governor General Earl Grey donated the trophy to Canada’s senior amateur football champion in 1909. The trophy sat dormant for three years during the First World War (1916-1918).

Watch Puneet Birgi’s 2012 look at the history of the Grey Cup and its namesake:

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PARLIAMENTARY CONNECTIONS

 

  • This week wasn’t the Grey Cup’s only recent visit to Parliament Hill. The trophy entered the chamber in October 2012 as part of the trophy’s centennial celebration, flanked by former Canadian Football League Commissioner Mark Cohon and legendary quarterback Russ Jackson. (Calgary and Toronto also played that year; the Argonauts triumphed 35-22.)
  • In October 1962, CTV bought rights to televise the game instead of the CBC. MPs worried that many Canadians without access to the fledgling network would miss out.Both networks agreed to simulcast the game — the infamous “Fog Bowl” won by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
  • When Paul Martin was about to become prime minister in 2003, he invited the premiers and territorial leaders to Regina to meet before watching the game. Stephen Harper, than the official opposition leader, criticized the move given that Jean Chrétien was staying in office until December. Martin pushed for annual first minister meetings; but no further Grey Cup gatherings took place under his watch. In 2004, he watched the game from an APEC summit in Santiago, Chile. The following year’s meeting on aboriginal issues took place in Kelowna, B.C.; no hotel rooms were available in Vancouver. Martin performed the coin toss at the Grey Cup. His government was defeated in Ottawa the following day.

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POLITICAL PLAYERS

Some parliamentarians have also hoisted the Grey Cup in previous lives as football players:

Lionel Conacher

The Big Train,” named Canada’s greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century, starred for the 1921 champion Toronto Argonauts, scoring 15 points against Edmonton in the first east-west championship.

He also played pro hockey and lacrosse and distinguished himself in several other sports before serving as a Liberal MP for the west-end Toronto riding of Trinity from 1949 until his death in 1954. Conacher was also an MPP in the Ontario legislature from 1937 to 1943.

 

George Hees

Hees won the 1938 Grey Cup as a Toronto Argonauts lineman.

He later spent over 30 years in the House of Commons as a Progressive Conservative MP, serving in the cabinets of two prime ministers more than 20 years apart: John Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney.

Hees also ran for the party leadership in 1967.

 

Larry Smith

As a Montreal Alouettes running back, he won the Grey Cup in 1974 and 1977. As CFL commissioner from 1992 to 1996, he presented the trophy to five different champions.

And as a Conservative, he has represented Quebec in the Senate since 2010 — with the notable exception of the 2011 federal campaign. He resigned and ran for the House of Commons in Lac Saint-Louis before being re-appointed to the upper chamber after his defeat. He now serves as Senate opposition leader.

 

Jim Silye

Silye was a defensive back on the 1971 Stampeders squad that defeated Toronto. He was one of Reform’s 1993 class of MPs with a victory in Calgary Centre.

Silye served as whip and national revenue critic, but left Parliament in 1997 after controversy over comments about extremism within Reform ranks. He later switched to the Progressive Conservatives and considered running for the leadership as a pro-merger candidate.

He lost in Calgary West in 2000 and has since run in provincial elections to select potential Senate nominees from Alberta.

 

Steve Paproski

Paproski won the Grey Cup in 1954 — one of the most famous games in the trophy’s history. It was the final season of a six-year career with the Edmonton Eskimos; future Alberta premier Peter Lougheed was a teammate in Paproski’s earlier years.

Paproski later represented Edmonton Centre and Edmonton North for the Progressive Conservatives from 1968 to 1993. He was a minister of state in Joe Clark’s 1979-80 minority government and deputy Commons speaker during the Mulroney years.

Grey Cup winners have also served in provincial office. They include:

  • Emery Barnes, a member of the 1964 B.C. Lions champion squad, and speaker of the British Columbia legislature from 1994 to 1996. That team’s general manager, Herb Capozzi, also served as a B.C. MLA.
  • Don Getty, Alberta’s premier from 1985 to 1992 and a two-time champion with the Edmonton Eskimos (1955-1956).
  • Normie Kwong, Alberta lieutenant governor from 2005 to 2010, who won four Grey Cups with the Stamepders and Eskimos (1948, 1954-1955-1956).
  • Gene Makowsky, a Saskatchewan cabinet minister and MLA for Regina Gardiner Park, who hoisted the cup with his Roughrider teammates in 2007. He spent 17 seasons wearing green and white as an offensive lineman.

There’s also J.C. Watts, who represented Oklahoma in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003, quarterbacked the Ottawa Rough Riders to the 1981 Grey Cup game, where they lost to Edmonton.

-Andrew Thomson

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