Saying 'goodbye' to my friend, former lieutenant governor John Harvard

I began my life as a professional broadcaster on June 1, 1970. That's when I began my first of three lives at CJOB, at Portage Avenue and Lenore Street. Within the first hour, I was introduced to a man named John Harvard.

Former Liberal MP and CBC journalist dies at 77

John Harvard, 77, died Saturday. (Province of Manitoba)

I began my life as a professional broadcaster on June 1, 1970. That's when I began my first of three lives at CJOB, at Portage Avenue and Lenore Street. Within the first hour, I was introduced to a man named John Harvard.

He was three days shy of his 32nd birthday, and host of CJOB's open line show. He was known as a bit of a rabble rouser and loved nothing more than a lively political argument.

As a 23-year-old rookie, I should have felt a bit intimidated, but such inclinations disappeared almost immediately. I can proudly say that John Harvard was a true friend for more than 46 years.

By the end of that first summer, we were no longer colleagues. John left CJOB and began his 18 year career at the CBC. During his last year with the corporation, we once again became teammates when I was hired as a radio host by CBC. The next summer (1988), I ran into John outside the CBC on a beautiful sunny day.

"Hi Roger. Have you heard that I'm leaving CBC to run for Parliament?" he asked me.

"Really?! As a Conservative?" I responded.

He smiled broadly and told me of his plans to seek the Liberal nomination in Winnipeg St. James, which had been a Tory stronghold for many years at that point.

It seems I wasn't the only one who assumed that John's political career would point to the right of centre. As an open line radio host and an interviewer on CBC television, he was frequently confrontational and very much in the face of the interviewee. It was a style we seldom see these days, and most of his audience made the assumption that John's comfort level would be on the Conservative side of the House of Commons.

Much later in our friendship, I was surprised at John's answer when I asked him if he was close to Ralph Goodale, who was my Liberal MP during my second life in Regina from 2006 to 2012.

"Not really. Ralph is bit too right wing for my liking," he said.

Winning the election

Harvard won the election as a Liberal in the election of November 1988, and I dare say he might've still represented that area of to this day were it not for the events that transpired in the spring of 2004.

Harvard was a hardworking MP. He kept in shape by walking through the large constituency two or three times between elections. He was a great admirer of Herb Gray, the Windsor MP who was the senior member of the Liberal caucus.

"Herb told me not to wait until writs are dropped before finding out what your constituents are thinking," John once told me.

Harvard was a loyal backbencher, but a cabinet post was not in the cards as long as Jean Chretien was prime minister. He was a vocal supporter of Paul Martin for the Liberal leadership as far back as 1990, and in 2004, when Martin had finally taken over as leader, the party needed what they thought might be a safe seat for then-Winnipeg Mayor Glen Murray to run in. Murray turned out to be nothing like the campaigner that Harvard was, and Charleswood–St. James–Assiniboia was won by Conservative Steven Fletcher.

Lieutenant-governor appointment

John's reward for stepping aside was his appointment as Manitoba's 23rd lieutenant-governor.

When John was replaced as lieutenant-governor in 2009 by Philip Lee, his public profile largely disappeared, but he was by no means idle. Every couple of months he hosted a lively brunch conversation about his favourite subject — politics. The select private group was mostly capital "L" Liberals, and included a former MP and a former Senator.

I was delighted when John invited me to come along. Our last gathering happened just two days before the election saw the Liberals return to majority status in Ottawa under the leadership of Justin Trudeau last fall.

John Harvard's death at the age of 77 did not go unnoticed by the new prime minister. I felt blessed to be his friend. I and many others shall miss him.

Roger Currie is a Winnipeg writer and broadcaster.


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