Andrew Telegdi was a skilled politician who remained a true idealist; a conciliator who could be a ferocious opponent; and a partisan Liberal who sternly criticized his party’s flaws. He could inspire and infuriate, but his loyalty, friendship, and devotion to principles made him a memorable politician, a great Liberal and unforgettable friend. Those who knew him best knew how deeply he cared for Canada, the Liberal Party and for the rights and freedoms of all Canadians.
The Member of Parliament for Waterloo and Kitchener-Waterloo between 1993 and 2008, Andrew died in Waterloo on January 23, 2017 at the age of 70. He was the devoted husband of Nancy Curtin Telegdi and the adoring father of Erin Telegdi. Born in Communist Hungary on May 28, 1946, he remained fiercely proud of his Hungarian heritage while enthusiastically embracing his Canadian nationality. With his family, he fled Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 arriving in Canada as a refugee the following year. His early experiences left him with a profound understanding of the concerns of immigrants and a deep commitment to social justice.
After attending schools in Vancouver and Toronto, Andrew chose the University of Waterloo as his university. In 1973 he became President of the Federation of Students and served two memorable terms at a tumultuous moment in student-administration relations at Waterloo. He fought with the Marxist, the Maoists, anarchists and capitalists who created a lively political arena at Waterloo in those times. His confrontations with radicals and his shrewd negotiations with administrators left an indelible mark on the university and its students. His passion for justice led him to help in the creation of Youth In Conflict with the Law in 1976, and he became its first director. His work with the justice system in Waterloo Region has left an enduring mark on the community, which is rightly proud of its national leadership in the field.
Andrew became active in the Liberal Party in support of his close friend David Cooke, who was the Liberal candidate in Kitchener in the 1979 federal election. David and Andrew had excellent ties with many of immigrant groups, and they attracted many of the great names in Kitchener Liberal history to the party. In the 1980s, he developed a deep interest in Waterloo municipal politics. I was his campaign manager for his first unsuccessful effort to become a councillor in 1981. After losing again in 1983, he finally won a council seat in 1985. On council, he became a vigorous champion of disadvantaged groups and a relentless foe of bureaucratic delays. By that time Andrew had shifted his interest in Liberal politics from Kitchener to Waterloo and soon was involved deeply involved in nomination and leadership campaigns in his new constituency. He lost in the provincial election of 1990 but won a stunning victory in the federal election of 1993.
In Ottawa Andrew championed his riding and was an early supporter of the high tech community and was instrumental in the creation of Communitech. He vigorously fought government waste, especially in the Department of National Defence, and helped thousands of individuals who brought their cases to his very active constituency office. As one who knew personally the character of an authoritarian state, Andrew strongly supported individual rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. He courageously resigned as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration as a protest against allowing politicians rather than courts to remove Canadian citizenship. His position was ultimately upheld by the all-party House of Commons Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and by the government under Paul Martin.
In his memoirs, Paul Martin writes admiringly of Andrew who was “not only an expert on immigration, he was hugely helpful on dealing with the challenges of Canada’s Aboriginal people.” As Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Andrew played an important mediatory role in the negotiation of the Kelowna Accord. His own close personal relationship with the Recalma family of Vancouver Island was important in giving him an understanding and credibility on indigenous issues. Chief Kim Recalma flew from Vancouver Island to pay tribute to Andrew and his contribution to indigenous issues in Canada.
Andrew Telegdi had many friends among Kitchener Liberals, an he was loyal to them, even when they disagreed with him about who was the best potential leader or where to hold the joint fundraiser or whether a LRT should be built. He will be remembered not only for his many contributions to the Waterloo Region and to Canada but also for his fierce commitment to individual rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedom. His voice is now silent, but his great legacy abides.
– John English, Former MP, Kitchener; and Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo.