Your reading list

Harry Hays – Ag minister with an attitude

Harry Hays was federal agriculture minister for only two years, but the colourful Alberta Liberal left his mark long after he was defeated.

During his time as minister from 1963 to 1965, Hays established the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, expanded crop insurance, originated a national farm accounting system, helped farmers import exotic breeds of livestock from Europe, established showcase dairy and beef herds on experimental farms and created the Dairy Commission Act to help stabilize milk production and prices in Canada.

Prime minister Lester Pearson recruited Hays to run in the 1963 federal election. He was the only Liberal elected from Alberta and Saskatchewan and was then appointed agriculture minister.

Hays didn’t dedicate all his time to his new position. He continued to serve as Calgary’s mayor, kept up his auctioneering duties and continued to act as Rotary Club district governor.

During his time in office, Hays became known for his colourful expressions and language. “We want a flush toilet, not an outhouse, farm economy for Canada,” he once said.

He often found allies among rural politicians who he asked to help draft legislation, but often antagonized farm groups who opposed his ideas. Hays advocated a minimum farm income and a comprehensive marketing system for farmers.

He was defeated as an MP in 1965 but appointed to the Senate in 1966, where he continued to develop agriculture policy as a member of the Senate agriculture committee.

Hays was born in Carstairs, Alta., and was a successful farmer before entering politics. He was founding member and president of the Alberta Poultry Breeders’ Association and president of the Alberta Holstein Breeders’ Association.

He once owned Canada’s largest Holstein herd and held numerous dairy records. He sold his dairy herd in 1959 before entering politics.

Hays said he had “made his fortune as a rancher and dairyman and needed something to do in retirement.”

He also developed the Hays Converter beef cattle breed.

He led the Canadian Swine Breeders during the Second World War years and helped initiate the Bacon for Britain campaign. The campaign expanded pork production during the war and is said to have helped the war effort.

During the 1950s, Hays pioneered exporting cattle from the United States.

In 1965, he helped farmers import 113 Charolais cattle from Europe. Exports of Simmental, Limousin, Maine Anjou and Brown Swiss followed and European imports helped develop and improve Canada’s cattle industry.

Also in 1965 a travelling exhibit of Canadian Holsteins was flown to France for a two-month tour of agriculture shows to promote two-way trade. Similar tours were organized later to continue trade promotion.

Later in his career, Hays co-chaired a special joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons on the constitution. He played a key role in developing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and convinced fellow senators to dilute their power to veto legislation.

He died following heart surgery in 1982.

About the author


Stories from our other publications