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Erik Nielsen

Erik Nielsen
3rd Deputy Prime Minister of Canada
In office
September 17, 1984 – June 30, 1986
Prime MinisterBrian Mulroney
Preceded byJean Chrétien
Succeeded byDon Mazankowski
Leader of the Opposition
In office
February 2, 1983 – August 28, 1983
Preceded byJoe Clark
Succeeded byBrian Mulroney
Interim Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada
In office
February 19, 1983 – June 11, 1983
Preceded byJoe Clark
Succeeded byBrian Mulroney
Minister of National Defence
In office
February 27, 1985 – June 29, 1986
Prime MinisterBrian Mulroney
Preceded byRobert Coates
Succeeded byPerrin Beatty
President of the Privy Council
In office
September 17, 1984 – February 26, 1985
Prime MinisterBrian Mulroney
Preceded byAndré Ouellet
Succeeded byRay Hnatyshyn
Minister of Public Works
In office
June 4, 1979 – March 2, 1980
Prime MinisterJoe Clark
Preceded byAndré Ouellet
Succeeded byPaul Cosgrove
Member of Parliament
for Yukon
In office
December 16, 1957 – January 16, 1987
Preceded byJames Aubrey Simmons
Succeeded byAudrey McLaughlin
Personal details
Erik Hersholt Nielsen

(1924-02-24)February 24, 1924
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
DiedSeptember 4, 2008(2008-09-04) (aged 84)
Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada
Political partyProgressive Conservative
Spouse(s)Pamela June Nielsen (–1969)
Shelley Nielsen (1983–2008)
RelativesLeslie Nielsen (brother)
  • Politician
  • barrister
  • attorney
Military service
Branch/service RCAF
Years of service1942–1945

Erik Hersholt Nielsen PC DFC QC (February 24, 1924 – September 4, 2008) was a Canadian lawyer and politician. He served as the longtime Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament for Yukon, and was Leader of the Opposition and the third deputy prime minister. He was the elder brother of actor Leslie Nielsen.

Early life, family, and education

Nielsen was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, the eldest of three boys. His mother, Mabel Elizabeth (née Davies), was an immigrant from Wales, and his father, Ingvard Eversen Nielsen, was a Danish-born constable in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.[1][2][3] Nielsen's family lived mainly in Alberta during his formative years, and he graduated from high school in Edmonton in 1942.[4]

World War II

Nielsen joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942, just after graduation, and received his training mainly in Alberta. He flew 33 missions in No. 101 Squadron RAF in World War II, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (United Kingdom) for "courage and devotion to duty,". He earned the rank of lieutenant. [4] He rejoined the RCAF, 1946–51, as a legal officer, while earning a law degree at Dalhousie. He established his law practice in Whitehorse, Yukon.[4]


Nielsen was elected to parliament in late 1957 (Nielsen lost in the 1957 federal election, but the result was controverted and Nielsen won the resulting byelection) and remained an MP without interruption for 30 years. He was a backbench MP during the Diefenbaker government but became prominent during the Conservative Party's long period in Opposition during the 1960s and 1970s joining the shadow cabinet in 1964. In 1978, he ran for the leadership of the newly formed Yukon Progressive Conservative Party as it prepared for the territory's first partisan elections but was defeated by Hilda Watson by one vote.[5]

With the 1979 federal election, the Tories formed government for the first time in over 15 years and Nielsen was appointed Minister of Public Works in the short-lived minority government of Prime Minister Joe Clark. After the Tories were defeated in the 1980 election, he served as Opposition House Leader from 1981 until 1983, and engineered the "Bell Ringing Affair" to protest the Liberal government's omnibus energy bill. The business of the House of Commons of Canada ground to a halt for three weeks because the Opposition refused to respond to the bell summoning Members of Parliament to come to the chamber to vote.

Nielsen served as Leader of the Opposition in 1983 between the resignation of Joe Clark and the election of Brian Mulroney as PC leader, and continued to lead the party in the House until Mulroney won a seat in a by-election, at which point Nielsen returned to his previous position as House Leader.

When Mulroney became prime minister, he made Nielsen his deputy prime minister from 1984 to 1986, and President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada from 1984 to 1985. Nielsen was effectively the senior Government House Leader in all but name. He also served as Minister of National Defence from 1985 to 1986.

Nielsen was sometimes called "Yukon Erik",[6] (a reference to wrestler Yukon Eric of the 1950s) but he was also called "Velcro lips" for a tight-lipped reticence during his time in office.[7] The tenaciousness and aggressiveness that made Nielsen a successful Opposition MP made him a liability as a Cabinet minister as he gave the impression of being secretive and disdainful of criticism by the Opposition and the media. His habit of stonewalling questions had the effect of prolonging the shelf life of political scandals in Parliament, and thus hurt the government's reputation. This became most apparent during the Sinclair Stevens conflict-of-interest scandal, in which Mulroney was out of Parliament for two weeks while the opposition barraged Nielsen with questions. Shortly after Mulroney returned in June 1986, he forced both Nielsen and Stevens to resign from cabinet.

Nielsen resigned his seat in Parliament in January 1987 when he was given the position of chairman of the National Transportation Agency. He withdrew from the public service in 1992 to become president of Solar Engineering, Hawaii Inc. and Solar Electric Engineering Distributors Canada.

One of Nielsen's brothers was actor Leslie Nielsen. The relationship formed the premise of an HBO mockumentary titled The Canadian Conspiracy, comically alleging a Canadian subversion of the United States through its media. Nielsen was also a nephew of actor Jean Hersholt.

Nielsen wrote a memoir, The House Is Not a Home (1989, ISBN 0-7715-9426-7), noted for its bracing directness both about his colleagues and about his own personal life.

He died at his home in Kelowna, British Columbia on September 4, 2008, from a massive heart attack.[8] On December 15, the government of Yukon renamed the main airport at Whitehorse, the capital of the territory, to Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport in Nielsen's memory.[9]


  1. ^ Simpson, Kieran (1980). Canadian Who's Who, Volume 15. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-4579-0.
  2. ^ Lumley, Elizabeth (2003). Canadian Who's Who 2003, Volume 38. University of Toronto Press. p. 1,103. ISBN 0-8020-8865-1. Archived from the original on August 2, 2023. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  3. ^ "Leslie Nielsen, the comic with the Danish roots: "Comedy is what endures"". Scandinavian Press. Vol. 4, no. 1. March 31, 1997. ProQuest 218390756.
  4. ^ a b c Nielsen, Erik (1989). The House is Not a Home. Macmillan of Canada. ISBN 0771594267.
  5. ^ "Part 2: The Formation of the Yukon Party :: Yukon Party". Archived from the original on August 28, 2011. Retrieved June 6, 2022.
  6. ^ Jim Lotz, Prime Ministers of Canada, Bison Books, 1987, p. 154
  7. ^ Lotz, p. 150.
  8. ^ "Erik Nielsen dies in B.C. at 84". The Globe and Mail. September 5, 2008. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
  9. ^ "Yukon names airport after former MP Nielsen". CBC News. December 16, 2008. Archived from the original on August 16, 2014. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
Political offices Preceded byJoe Clark Leader of the Opposition 1983 Succeeded byBrian Mulroney Preceded byJean Chrétien Deputy Prime Minister of Canada 1984–1986 Succeeded byDon Mazankowski Party political offices Preceded byJoe Clark Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party Interim 1983 Succeeded byBrian Mulroney
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Erik Nielsen
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