Born in Carstairs, Alberta, Hays had several careers related to agriculture. He was an auctioneer, rancher and breeder as well as a radio broadcaster. He was a founding member and president of the Alberta Poultry Breeders' Association and also served as president of the Alberta Holstein Breeders' Association. He led the Canadian Swine Breeders during World War II when it initiated the "Bacon for Britain" campaign of increased production as part of the war effort. In the 1950s, he pioneered exporting cattle by airplane allowing the Canadian industry to develop new markets in Mexico and the United Kingdom.
Hays sold his dairy herd in 1959 in order to devote time to politics, becoming the 27th Mayor of Calgary. He was recruited by Lester Pearson to run for the Liberals in the 1963 federal election and was the only Liberal MP elected in Alberta or Saskatchewan. He became the Member of Parliament for Calgary South and was immediately appointed Minister of Agriculture. Hays was often absent from the House and initially continued to serve as Calgary's mayor after his election to parliament. He also continued his work as an auctioneer as well as his volunteer duties for the Rotary Club.
Hays had little formal education and was popular for his down to earth manner of living and talking and often swore and used poor grammar and colourful expressions. He described his agricultural policy by saying "We want a flush-toilet, not an outhouse, farm economy for Canada". However, some of his views were unpopular with farmers, such as his opposition to farm subsidies. He advocated a minimum guaranteed income for farmers and a system of marketing boards. During his tenure as minister the Dairy Commission Act was introduced establishing an agency to purchase, store and market dairy products. He was also responsible for the Farm Machinery Syndicate Credit Act which extended loans to farmers to buy machinery co-operatively. Journalist Walter Stewart once wrote of Hays that "No minister seems more inept inside Parliament and few get so much done outside it."
Hays also established the Veterinary College at Saskatoon and was responsible for expanding crop insurance and introducing a national farm accounting system.
He and Tory Alvin Hamilton were bitter rivals with Hamilton denigrating Hays' efforts regularly. Hays once challenged Hamilton to prove he could beat Hays in a cow milking contest but the competition never came to pass.
He was defeated in his attempt to retain his seat in the 1965 federal election due to the unpopularity of the Liberal government in Alberta but was appointed to the Senate of Canada in 1966 on the advice of Pearson and served on the Senate's agriculture committee for a number of years.
In 1980 he co-chaired the special joined committee of the Senate and House of Commons on the Canadian Constitution and was an advocate of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and of reducing the Senate's power to veto legislation approved by the House of Commons.
He died in office in 1982 following heart surgery.
His son Daniel Hays, was a former member of the Senate of Canada where he has been Speaker and was also Leader of the Opposition. A federal building in downtown Calgary, the Harry Hays Building, is named in his honour.
Donald Hugh Mackay
| Mayor of Calgary
John Walter Grant MacEwan
|Parliament of Canada|
Arthur Ryan Smith
| Member of Parliament Calgary South
Harold Raymond Ballard
John Alexander Buchanan
| Senator Alberta