Paul Hellyer | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Paul Hellyer

Paul Theodore Hellyer, PC, politician, engineer, businessman, writer (born 6 August 1923 near Waterford, ON; died 8 August 2021 in Toronto, ON). A long-time Member of Parliament (MP), Paul Hellyer served in the cabinets of prime ministers Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, and was the longest-serving member of the Privy Council at the time of his death. As defence minister, he oversaw Canada’s adoption of nuclear weapons and organized the unification of the armed forces. Hellyer contested the leadership of both the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties and led two small federal parties of his own creation. He was a notable critic of free trade and advocated for monetary reform. He also gained international notoriety for claiming that Western governments possess — and have been suppressing — evidence of UFOs and extraterrestrial life.

Early Life

Paul Hellyer was born and grew up on a farm near Waterford, Ontario. He took an interest in aviation at a young age. After high school, he attended the Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute of Aeronautics in Glendale, California. He graduated with a diploma in aeronautical engineering just before his 18th birthday. He also earned a pilot’s license.

Second World War

Hellyer’s technical skills were in high demand during the Second World War. He soon found himself in Fort Erie, Ontario, leading a group of engineers building trainers for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). However, the air force’s need for pilots declined toward the end of the war. Hellyer re-enlisted as an artillery gunner in the Canadian Army but never served overseas. For a short time, he guarded prisoners of war at a POW camp in Alberta.

After the war, Hellyer settled in Toronto. He and his wife, Ellen Ralph, married in June 1945. Hellyer purchased a women’s clothing store and ran it while simultaneously completing a BA at the University of Toronto. He and his family lived in the three-bedroom apartment above the store. He graduated in 1949 — the same year he was elected to Parliament as an MP for the Davenport riding.

Member of Parliament (MP)

Hellyer entered politics to pursue his interests in economics and housing. But his experience in defence led to positions in the defence department in the government of Louis St. Laurent; first as parliamentary assistant to the defence minister in February 1956, then as associate minister of national defence in April 1957. Only 33 when he joined cabinet, he was the first cabinet minister from Toronto in 12 years. It was a short tenure, however, as the Liberals were defeated in the 1957 election. Hellyer lost his races in the elections of 1957 and 1958.

By the late 1950s, Hellyer was also president of both a home-building company and a land-development company. His lifelong hobbies also included singing, which he studied at the Banff Centre for the Arts and the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now the Royal Conservatory of Music).

Cabinet Minister

Hellyer returned to Parliament in a 1958 by-election for the downtown Toronto riding of Trinity. He quickly rose to prominence as an effective critic of the government of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. When the Liberals won the 1963 federal election, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson appointed Hellyer the Minister of National Defence. During his tenure, Hellyer oversaw Canada’s adoption of nuclear weapons. He also organized the unification of the armed forces, merging the separate service branches of the Canadian military into the Canadian Armed Forces. This was a controversial decision that nonetheless remains the central organizing principle of the Canadian military to this day.

Hellyer became Transport Minister in September 1967. In April 1968, he contested the leadership of the Liberal Party, but withdraw on the third ballot and finished fourth behind the winner, Pierre Trudeau. Hellyer continued in his role as Transport Minister under Trudeau. He was also appointed Canada’s first senior minister (now deputy prime minister) in 1968.

That same year, Hellyer was made responsible for the Federal Task Force on Housing and Urban Development, which issued its report the following year. The report called for new approaches to housing and urban issues, including a bigger role for the federal government. However, Trudeau believed housing and urban issues belonged to provincial jurisdiction, causing a rift with Hellyer over the role of federalism. Hellyer, believing the federal government had a role to play in “housing, pollution, inflation and urban development,” resigned from cabinet on 29 April 1969.

Action Canada

Hellyer sat as an independent in Parliament until he attempted to form his own political party, Action Canada. The short-lived party was dedicated to creating full employment, sustaining low inflation, and improving Canadians’ quality of life. Macroeconomic issues were key features of Hellyer’s political interests and overall political orientation.

In 1971, Hellyer was asked by leader Robert Stanfield to join the caucus of the Progressive Conservative Party. He was re-elected to Parliament under the PC banner in his home riding of Trinity in 1972. He lost the seat in 1974.

Hellyer contested the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1976 but undermined his campaign by insulting Red Tories in his speech to the convention. He dropped out after the second ballot, finishing a distant sixth place behind the winner and future prime minister, Joe Clark. Hellyer returned to the Liberal Party in 1982 but did not return to Parliament.

Canadian Action Party

In 1997, Hellyer founded the Canadian Action Party (CAP), which he led until 2004. Like his earlier party, the Canadian Action Party was organized on principles of economic nationalism that opposed globalization and free trade. Hellyer ran for Parliament in both 1997 and 2000 as the leader of the CAP but could not secure a seat. In the mid-2000s, he attempted to negotiate a merger between his party and the New Democratic Party (NDP), though this too did not work out. The CAP dissolved in 2017.

Journalism and Writing

Hellyer was an early investor in the Toronto Sun, which made him a millionaire when it was sold in 1982. He wrote a regular column for the paper from 1974 to 1984. He also ran a successful building company in Toronto and purchased a resort in Muskoka.

Over the course of his life, he authored more than a dozen books, including such titles as One Big Party: To Keep Canada Independent (2003), The Money Mafia: A World in Crisis (2014), and the autobiography Hope Restored: My Life and Views on Canada, the U.S., the World & the Universe (2018). He was also a frequent panelist on CBC’s Front Page Challenge.

Personal Life

Hellyer’s first wife, Ellen, died in 2004. He and Ellen had three children: a daughter, Mary Elizabeth, and two sons, Peter and David. In 2005, Hellyer married Sandra Bussiere, a widow and long-time family friend.

UFOs and Extraterrestrials

Hellyer was a senior cabinet minister during two of Canada’s best-known UFO sightings: the Falcon Lake incident in Manitoba and the Shag Harbour incident in Nova Scotia, both of which took place in 1967. That same year, Hellyer opened a “UFO landing pad” in St. Paul, Alberta. It was created as a Centennial project aimed to symbolize goodwill between the people of Earth and any possible extraterrestrial civilizations.

In his later years, Hellyer earned international notoriety as the first cabinet-level minister of a G7 nation to allege the existence of extraterrestrials. Hellyer claimed to have personally seen an unidentified flying object (UFO). He also claimed that Earth had been visited regularly by sentient life forms from other planets for many years; and that the governments of high-income, highly industrialized nations like Canada and the United States were aware of this and were keeping it secret.

At various times, Hellyer claimed extraterrestrials possessed advanced technology that could be used on Earth — namely, to end our dependence on fossil fuels and help in the fight against climate change. He also stated that extraterrestrials would help the people of Earth if we weren’t so belligerent with one another. Hellyer’s claims were never confirmed nor denied by the Canadian government.

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