After Stockwell Day resigned as leader of the Canadian Alliance to run against Stephen Harper for the leadership of the party, and before Harper took over as leader, a man served as the Leader of the Official Opposition for six months. That man was John Reynolds and his political career was much longer and more interesting than those six months would lead someone to believe.
John Reynolds was born on Jan. 19, 1942 in Toronto but he would be raised in Montreal.
After high school, he became a manager trainee at Woolworth’s and then was a pharmaceutical salesman with Johnson and Johnson.
In the early 1970s, he would move to British Columbia.
In 1972, he was first elected to Parliament as a member of the Progressive Conservatives and became a vocal critic of Trudeau, criticizing his treatment of the west.
In 1974, he would be elected with the highest winning majority in British Columbia, in his riding of Burnaby-Richmond-Delta, which had the highest number of voters of any riding in Western Canada.
After Robert Stanfield lost the 1974 election to Pierre Trudeau, Reynolds went on camera to state the party needed a new leader who was more right wing. Reynolds did not get along with Stanfield, who kept him in the backbench.
In 1975, at a $100-a-plate dinner hosted for himself at the Hotel Vancouver, he put his name forward to run for the leadership of the party. While he hoped 1,000 guests would show up, only 30 bought tickets and the event was cancelled and Reynolds abandoned his leadership bid.
In 1976, Reynolds would attack the Liberal government over the imprisonment of Canadians in Mexico and Saudi Arabia, stating quote:
“It is a bloody gutless policy. It is very nice for the cozy bureaucrats to say they’re doing everything they can, they aren’t in jail.”
The same year he was criticizing the government over the policy, Reynolds was named the worst MP in the House of Commons by Maclean’s magazine. The magazine would state quote:
“He would seem to have everything going his way. Reynolds instead has chosen the low road, the shallow route, the hot-line philosophy of life. There are giants on Parliament Hill and there are Lilliputians. John Reynolds is from Lilliput.”
The magazine would attack him further, stating quote:
“He has the attention span of a hummingbird. Disapproving press critics attempt to zero in on one of his spurious issues only to find he has fled the subject, flitting on yet another one-day cause. Mary Steinhauser is killed within a BC penitentiary? Reynolds in his far off Ottawa suddenly has evidence that 15 hostages were forced to drink massive doses of a hypnotic drug. How does he know? He can’t say. Documentation? Whoops, its tomorrow’s paper and another issue.”
It didn’t seem to bother Reynolds, who would say quote:
“I got elected. I like my job.”
In 1976, Reynolds would speak out against the abolishment of the death penalty in Canada. Until 1972, Reynolds was actually against the death penalty but after researching it, he decided that it should be retained, stating quote:
“I’ve talked to a lot of guys on death row. They’re not sick or deranged. They are sentenced to die by 12 average people. The jurors aren’t cold, ruthless murderers.”
In 1977, he would resign from the party and Parliament after he had a series of disagreements with new leader Joe Clark.
Reynolds would say quote:
“When Joe won I thought, that’s it. I’ve had enough of this. I’m going to do something else with my life. Not that Joe was a bad guy, but he was a Red Tory.”
Another reason for the decision to step down was what he felt was the low pay of MPs. A father of five, he made $26,300 per year, along with a tax-free allowance of $10,600. Today, this would be $109,697 and $44,212.
Reynolds, prior, to leaving Parliament, was offered the job of vice-president of Flecto Company, as well as the director position of Fletco Coatings Ltd. of Canada.
Before he left Parliament, Reynolds would join four other MPs in a tear gas demonstration. Reynolds would squirt three 10-foot streams of gas from a canister. A few minutes later, he and the other MPs were crying from the pepper in their eyes while on a helicopter back to Ottawa.
Reynolds would say quote:
Reynolds then began to work as a talk show host on CJOR in Vancouver, where he said he made four times more than he did as a Member of Parliament. He would also run a restaurant on Granville Street and participated in several venture capitalist investments.
In 1983, Reynolds was elected to the British Columbia Legislature as a member of the Social Credit Party of British Columbia.
In 1985, Reynolds attempted to run for the leadership of the Social Credit party but he would finish in fifth.
On March 9, 1987, Reynolds would be chosen as the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, a role he would serve in until Nov. 1, 1989.
In December of 1990, Reynolds would resign from his position as Environment Minister after Premier William Vander Zalm vetoed new pollution standards to regulate dioxin emissions from the pulp mills in British Columbia.
In 1991, Reynolds debated running for the leadership of the provincial party, stating that his phone had not stopped ringing after Premier Vander Zalm resigned. In the end, he chose not to run for the leadership.
On Oct. 17, 1991, Reynolds lost his attempt for re-election, ending his time in provincial politics.
At this point, Reynolds moved into the stock business and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona for a time.
On June 2, 1997, Reynolds returned to Parliament once again, this time as a member of the Reform Party. With the party now part of the Official Opposition, he was made the Chief Opposition Whip.
The Vancouver Sun would write quote:
“With his silver hair, broad shoulders and the powerful voice of a former hot-line radio show host, Reynolds was described as a politician from central casting.”
While Reynolds would attack the other parties in the House of Commons, he tended to keep his attacks professional and was often seeing talking and joking with Jean Chretien and Paul Martin before or after sessions in Parliament.
Reynolds would relate quote:
During the revolt in the party against Stockwell Day in 2001, Reynolds was made the House Leader.
Reynolds had been a loyalist of Manning, but upon the election of Day as leader, Reynolds put his support behind the new leader. He was the only Manning loyalist in the party to get a promotion as a result.
At the time, the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives were looking at a possible merger.
CBC UNEASY ALLIANCE CLIP
After Day resigned as leader of the party that same year, Reynolds took over as interim leader on Dec. 12, 2001. This made him the Leader of the Official Opposition, a role he would remain in until May 20, 2002. He was no longer the interim leader of the party after March 20, with Harper now leading. It would not be until May that Harper would be elected to Parliament though.
Talking of his rise to power, Reynolds would say quote:
“There’s no magic to it. It’s just experience. Experience counts.”
Reynolds was seen by some in the party as a person who could get things done during his brief time as leader, even if it meant taking a hard line.
Jim Abbott would say quote:
“If he can’t get them on side by cajoling them, he’ll threaten them. That’s John. And that’s exactly the kind of thing we need. We need a strong disciplinarian, someone who will keep us on track.”
Others saw Reynolds differently, including former colleague Val Meredith who said he was a quote:
“Consummate politician who is more or less concerned about his own placement rather than the public good.”
As per tradition, when Reynolds took his seat as the new leader of the Official Opposition, he was given a standing ovation by all five parties in the House of Commons.
Chretien would say that Reynolds was the seventh opposition leader he had faced in Parliament since 1993.
In 2003, Reynolds would be in a serious car accident that broke his leg badly, resulting in six screws and two pins going into his leg.
On Jan. 24, 2005, Reynolds resigned as House Leader but stayed on as an MP until he retired just before the 2006 federal election. He chose to retire in order to spend more time with his family. There were rumours of a dispute with Harper over the ad campaign against same sex marriage, but Reynolds would deny this stating quote:
“I told Stephen before Christmas, and I’d seen the ads by then by the way and I happen to agree with them.”
Reynolds would say along with spending time with his family, he needed to heed his doctor’s advice to lose weight having gone from 240 pounds to 285 pounds after his car accident.
Reynolds would state quote:
Stephen Harper would say quote:
“John has been a steadfast Conservative, a consummate politician and a great friend.”
During the 2006 election, he would work as the coordinator of the Conservative campaign. After the election, the Conservatives won a minority government.
The day after the election, Harper asked Reynolds to approach David Emerson, a Liberal MP, about crossing the floor and serving as a minister in the Conservative government. Emerson would accept this offer which resulted in a huge amount of criticism against him from the opposition parties.
Conversely, when Belinda Stronach crossed the floor to join the Liberals, Reynolds criticized her for doing so, despite convincing Emerson to do the same thing in the opposite direction.
He would say after Emerson crossed the floor quote:
“Instead of having someone in opposition, they have someone who is a cabinet minister of a new government.”
In 2021, Reynolds wrote an editorial piece for the Vancouver Sun in which he called for the Conservatives to not remove Erin O’Toole after the election loss. He would say quote:
“I chaired Stephen Harper’s campaign when we lost in 2004. I was also there when we won in 2006. I’ve got the scars from both of those campaigns. If we had decided to change leaders after 2004, we would have missed out on 10 years of good, Conservative government.”
Information from Macleans, Vancouver Sun, Parliament of Canada, Wikipedia, Edmonton Journal, CBC, Ottawa Citizen, National Post