The Rebel in the House: The Life and Times of A.A. Heaps, M.P.
Contains Illustrations, Index
Randall White is the author of Voice of Region: On the Long Journey to
Senate Reform in Canada, Too Good to Be True: Toronto in the 1920s, and
Global Spin: Probing the Globalization Debate.
Purchasers of Leo Heaps’s biography of his father, A.A. Heaps, back in 1970 might wonder if the addition of five tributes by well-known westerners justifies a new edition. I think it does, even if it only keeps this work in active circulation so a new generation can learn about this lone fighter and spokesman for Canadian wage-earners. The best essay is that by Maxwell Cohen, distinguished jurist and yet another product of Winnipeg’s remarkably talented Jewish community. His description of Abe Heaps “As I knew him” helps make up for the lack of details of Heaps’s home life and family relations in the son’s account.
The main part of this study seems relatively unchanged from the 1970 version, being drawn almost entirely from Heaps’s many speeches when he represented Winnipeg North from 1921 to 1940. After a detailed look at his father’s role in the Winnipeg General Strike, the son clearly if sometimes laboriously outlines Abe Heaps’s long and often lonely effort to convince the business-oriented House of Commons to pass long-overdue social legislation such as old age pensions and unemployment insurance. Heaps’s more famous colleague, J.S. Woodsworth, has received the lion’s share of credit for the Old Age Pensions Act of 1927, a view that this book proves is neither fair nor accurate. Heaps usually was the principal advocate and authority on this breakthrough legislation.
Another intriguing theme in this short biography is the ideological and personal gulf separating Heaps and Woodsworth. Heaps remained always a Labour man and trade unionist, while the CCF founding leader stood farther to the left as a pure socialist reformer. Close colleagues in 1925 when Heaps entered the House, by 1939 their differing views on reform and war policy were clearly apparent. Grace Woodsworth MacInnis neatly skirts this issue in her essay of tribute by including her lengthy description of the fiftieth anniversary of the CCF’s founding convention in Winnipeg in 1933 — an event Heaps did not attend. Judging by the Cabinet and Senate appointments he received and always turned down, Heaps was on far better terms with Prime Ministers R.B. Bennett and Mackenzie King.
What comes through from this academic and somewhat impersonal study is a portrait of a man dedicated to improving the lot of ordinary people by reforming rather than replacing Canada’s version of industrial capitalism. In his solitary way, Abe Heaps was very much “a rebel in the House”; and, as Tommy Douglas aptly noted in 1984, “rebels are still needed.”