Saturday, April 26, 2014

RIP Dan Heap, Priest, Member of Parliament

The Spadina byelection of 1981 was never supposed to be close, and New Democrat Dan Heap was certainly not supposed to be a contender. The national media, who consistently and incorrectly described Dan as a "former" Anglican Priest, treated him as an also ran, focusing all their attention on the perceived frontrunners, Liberal Jim Coutts and Progressive Conservative Laura Sabia.

It turned out the national media establishment were wrong on more than just Dan's canonical status.

Dan Heap with Olivia Chow in the 1980s
Dan Heap narrowly won the byelection - much to the annoyance of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who had engineered former MP Peter Stollery's summons to the Senate for the sole purpose of opening up a "safe" Liberal seat for his retainer Coutts. Heap bested Coutts again at the general election and that was the end of a once promising Liberal politician.

Once he was elected, the media dropped the revisionism about him being a "former" priest, which arose because he chose to be a worker priest at a time when the concept was still too new for a few bored reporters to bother with. Ironically, he was one of three Anglican priests in Parliament at the time, all three priests of the Diocese of Toronto and each belonging to a different party. Via Media indeed.

The byelection occurred just a couple of weeks before I arrived in Toronto to start my Divinity degree at Trinity College, which was in the Spadina constituency. (The neighbouring Trinity constituency was named on the basis of the former site of the College.) Shortly after the beginning of term, Dan was invited to speak to a Divinity class forum, and that is where I first met him.

As a campus NDP activist I crossed paths frequently with our MP and his staff - including his former assistant Olivia Chow who eventually won back Dan's old seat in Parliament (now rechristened Trinity-Spadina) and is the current leader in the race for mayor of Toronto. The last time I saw Dan was more than a decade ago when I was in Toronto for a public relations conference and attended Sunday service at Holy Trinity, Eaton Centre where he was an honorary assistant.

Back in 2011 I blogged a rather sad post about Dan who was at risk of being evicted from his seniors residence because he needed a higher level of care. Eventually he and Alice were able to move to an appropriate facility where Alice died a few months later.

Dan died earlier today. While most of our mutual contacts are political folk who remember him principally as an MP, I will mourn my brother priest who has died in the midst of our celebration of the resurrection, and will pray that he rest in peace and rise in glory.

1 comment:

Janis Belgum said...

Sorry to hear of his death.