Editors, Journalists, Publishers

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Mass Disruption

Mass Disruption

Thirty Years on the Front Lines of a Media Revolution
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Power, Prime Ministers, and the Press

Power, Prime Ministers, and the Press

The Battle for Truth on Parliament Hill
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One: At the Beginning
On Wednesday, November 6, 1867, official Ottawa was abuzz with excitement. A 19-gun salute from the Ottawa Field Battery greeted Viscount Charles Stanley Monck, the 48-year-old Governor General, as he arrived to preside over the first session of the new nation’s Parliament. After the formalities of swearing in MPs and the cabinet ended, Sir John A. Macdonald, the 53-year-old prime minister picked by Monck for the role, moved the appointment of the first House speaker. Seconding the motion was Macdonald’s seatmate, Sir George Etienne Cartier. Then, Joseph Dufrense, the Quebec Conservative MP from Montcalm, rose in his seat and, addressing the House in French, protested the election of Hon. James Cockburn of Northumberland West. In the words of the Toronto Globe the next day, Dufrense complained, “the gentleman could not speak the French language. He thought it was to be regretted that, at the inauguration of the new system, greater respect was not shown to Lower Canada in this matter. He looked upon this as a matter of national feeling.” Without further discussion, the House then went about its business in English. Along with the report, the Globe, a partisan Liberal outlet in its day, used an adjacent column in the November 7 paper to condemn Macdonald for using the Speakership as a reward for a loyal but unpromising follower.
So much for a smooth start for the first Parliament.
The Globe report was significant: it affirmed the vital role of the Press Gallery in national affairs, since there were no official records of debates — known as Hansard — until 1875. Indeed, the Parliamentary Press Gallery is as old as Confederation. While the great fire of 1916 that razed the Parliament buildings destroyed most of the official records, the first volume of the House of Commons Journals mentions the “reporters’ room.” In fact, pre-Confederation reporters covering the Parliament of Upper Canada actually worked out of the still-under-construction Parliament Buildings in 1866 — an anniversary the Press Gallery marked with the publication of a retrospective, Sharp Wits & Busy Pens, in June 2016.
The tradition of covering legislatures dates back to the colonial days. John Bushell published the first issue of his Halifax Gazette in 1752. Quebec’s pioneering paper, the Quebec Gazette, appeared in 1764. Journalists had reported on political debates in Quebec City since 1792 and established la Tribune de la presse Québécoise on November 18, 1871 . Étienne Parent, the young intellectual who was the guiding spirit of the nationaliste paper Le Canadien, later served as a senior cabinet official for the Province of Canada, moving as the seat of government shifted among Kingston, Montreal, Toronto and Quebec between 1843 and 1859 — and submitting occasional articles to his paper. Other pre-Confederation journalists led the fight for press freedoms and reform. William Lyon Mackenzie, destined to mount the Upper Canada Rebellion against the Family Compact, wrote in his Colonial Advocate: “Wherever the press is not free, the people are poor, abject, degraded slaves.” Halifax editor Joseph Howe of the Novascotian, George Brown of The Globe and Parent were among the influential journalists who later played strong, controversial political roles in shaping Canada. Of the 98-member Province of Canada delegation attending the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, 23 were journalists. As educator George Grant observed in 1828, “At this time in the history of the world, it was almost impossible to be an editor without being a politician also.”
And how the members of the Press Gallery could play politics. Thomas White Jr., called “the Father of the Gallery” by the Canadian Illustrated News in 1875, bought the Hamilton Spectator and The Gazette in Montreal before getting elected and becoming Macdonald’s influential minister of the interior. Another Macdonald backer was erudite Alfred D. DeCelles of the influential La Minerve who ultimately became the Parliamentary Librarian. Henry Bourassa left Laurier’s cabinet and founded Le Devoir in Montreal and turned over direction of the paper to a Gallery veteran, Georges Pelletier. In the 1900s, two English giants of journalism — friendly with the party in power — graduated from the Press Gallery to become editors of powerful newspapers: John Willison of The Globe in Toronto and John Dafoe of the Free Press in Winnipeg. In almost a direct line, Dafoe’s figurative descendants over the decades continued the close association and influence with Liberal governments, including Grant Dexter of the Free Press, Bruce Hutchison of The Sun in Vancouver and Blair Fraser of Maclean’s. For the Conservatives, there was the irrepressible Grattan O’Leary, who rose from poverty in the Gaspé to the editorship of the Ottawa Journal and was a confidant of three Tory leaders. In an era when there was no Twitter, SnapChat or email these were men who wrote diaries and exchanged letters with leaders and each other, providing a trove of archival material for historians about their thinking and their actions.
From all of that, we know that early Press Gallery members were a highly partisan lot. Indeed, the seating plan mirrored the one on the floor of the Commons below. London Free Press editor Arthur Ford, who covered his first Parliament in 1907 for the former Winnipeg Telegram, recalled in his memoirs: “When I first went to the capital, the Liberals were in power and sat, of course, to the right of the Speaker. The representative of the Liberal press sat in the Press Gallery also to the right.” When the Conservatives won the 1911 election, the Tory reporters swapped with the Liberals and moved over to the speaker’s right. So-called “independent” journalists were relegated to the cheap seats.
Until Laurier’s time, governments ladled out information — even including election calls — as patronage only to their friends in the Gallery, the “ministerial press” as they were known. Willison, who started in Ottawa in 1886 as a correspondent for the Liberal-leaning Globe, complained about his Tory-leaning rivals having access to official documents before they were tabled in Parliament. “Their dispatches would be in the telegraph office before less favoured rivals could examine the reports.” Ford acknowledged: “It was one way a grateful ministry paid newspapers for their support.”
And what support. Ford recalls that one of his freelance gigs was filing to the Fredericton Gleaner, then owned by a rabid Conservative, James Crockett. Prime Minister Borden had just finished outlining his proposals for the controversial naval assistance bill to provide England with cash. Wilfrid Laurier’s response was highly anticipated, given the opposition in his party ranks and the anti-Imperial furor in Quebec. Laurier happened to follow Sir Douglas Hazen, a Conservative cabinet minister who was a close friend of owner Crockett. When Ford asked his Halifax desk how much copy they wanted on Laurier, the response came back: “Ignore Laurier entirely. Send Hazen verbatim.”
That was the way it was, mainly because the parties owned the major papers. Macdonald invested his own money in repeated newspaper ventures that supported Conservative policies, including the Mail and then the Empire in Toronto. So did Laurier who worked to assure the welfare of Liberal-leaning papers, especially including Le Soleil in Quebec and La Presse in Montreal. At one point Laurier intervened personally to prevent a scheme by Conservatives to take over La Presse. Laurier did attempt to change the channel on access by offering off-the-record sessions with reporters from Conservative as well as Liberal papers. Revealingly, a Globe Ottawa correspondent protested, urging Laurier to maintain the previous practice of partisan publicity. He did not — on the advice of the reporter’s boss, Laurier’s friend Willison of the Globe.
From the beginning, journalists were active players in the government of the day, forming an intricate interlocking directorship between press and politicians. One season they might work in the Press Gallery, another time they would be in cabinet or the back room. Quebec journalists would bounce between federal and provincial politics and the Gallery. White, a respected Parliamentary reporter, got Macdonald’s help in his takeover of the Spectator in Hamilton. Later White and his brother Richard bought the Gazette in Montreal and turned it into the leading Conservative voice in the new country — helping Macdonald to secure his hold on Quebec. From that base, Thomas White won election to Parliament and became known for his prodigious work as Macdonald’s confidante and, until his death from pneumonia in 1888, a possible successor.
Likewise, lawyer-turned journalist Ernest Pacaud encouraged Wilfrid Laurier to get into politics in1874. Laurier, in turn, designated his friend as editor of L’Électeur, the newspaper the prime minister established with his wealthy friends as a counterpoint to Le Canadien, then run by Conservative journalist/ideologue Joseph-Isarël Tarte. Tarte later became Laurier’s public works minister. In 1896 Tarte and fellow Liberal MP Henri Bourassa were the federal negotiators in the settlement of the Manitoba schools crisis.
In the beginning, reporters would travel to Ottawa for the sessions, returning home after three or four months. In the dusty old lumber town, liquor flowed with the political gossip at the legendary Russell House on the corner of Sparks and Elgin streets, a favourite lodging for the “sessionals” who could afford it that pre-dated the Chateau Laurier. Stained-glass versions of provincial coats-of-arms graced a dome over the opulent rotunda. Liveried servants discretely worked the dining room to the dulcet strains of the house orchestra. Paul Bilkey, the Toronto Telegram correspondent at the turn of the century, noted in his memoir: “It used to be said that the Dominion was governed more from the lobbies and rooms of the Russell House than from the ministerial offices or from the House of Commons.” Journalist Augustus Bridle assured female readers of The Canadian Magazine, “Here you are more likely to discover the man you want than almost anywhere else in Ottawa, except up at Parliament.” Indeed the Russell was the temporary abode of senior politicians and bureaucrats, including Laurier, who penned letters from his bed-sitting room to his beloved Mistress Emile Lavergne. Lesser mortals settled into cramped rooming houses with no running water.

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Falling for London


“This … is London.”
— Edward R. Murrow

Murrow was the prototype for a foreign correspondent. From a distance, his heyday during the war seems hopelessly romantic. Under fire with the rest of London, living intensely, drinking, smoking, working all hours. He drank with Churchill and romanced the PM’s daughter-in-law. His resonant voice and powerful words evoked all the life-and-death drama of a struggle for existence. His brow seemed permanently furrowed in passionate commitment to his calling.

What young broadcast reporter would not want to be Murrow?

Many apply, but few are called.

After more than twenty years of local and national TV reporting in Canada, I had thought my time had passed. Overlooked several times for foreign postings, I was resigned to a comfortable and largely satisfying job covering the Ontario legislature, complete with my own modest, no-budget, political affairs talk show, which had won a few awards.

As I approached my midfifties, it seemed that my next move would be into public relations — perhaps making a bit more money than my journalism career had ever offered.

I would think sometimes that maybe it was time to grow up and get a real job before some new boss young enough to be my kid called me into his office to advise that he did not like my face on TV anymore and was calling security to escort me to the door.

Then the lightning bolt struck.

In early 2011 our London correspondent departed in favour of an anchor job back home. Do I apply one more time, I wondered?

“Go ahead,” said Isabella. “Don’t let me stop you.”

For as long as we had been together she had known I wanted to live and report from abroad, with London my top choice. She had never liked it, never wanted it, but equally did not wish to be my obstacle.

When I announced that I was going to Kosovo for a week in 1999 to report on the aftermath of the war, she wept fearful tears when I left for the airport.

When it seemed I was headed to Pakistan in the weeks after 9/11, she was inconsolable. As it turned out I never went anyway.

That was all before we had Julia. She was now in Grade 1, attached to her friends and her nanny. We had a circle of close friends and relatives. Isabella had a job she loved, producing and directing an online design show. We had just committed to a major kitchen renovation, adding enormously to our debt, but finally finishing off our house.

Life was pretty good.

I sat at my desk at Queen’s Park, staring off through the window. My stomach contracted.

Should I do this? If I get it, how will we do it? Am I just too old for this? Time to grow up and get a real job? Fuck it. Not going to get it anyway. Give it one more chance and then give it up.

I applied, pouring my heart into the email to the show’s producers, just as I had for so many other jobs before where I came close but missed.

The job interview was by phone, with me sitting in a deserted hallway of the legislature on a quiet day when most of the politicians were away. They asked me how I would get into Libya to cover the civil war.

“Well, I would just go to the border and start asking people for advice,” I said confidently.

I had absolutely no bloody idea how I would ever get into Libya if the time ever came. And Isabella would certainly hit the roof if I ever tried.

The producers were kind and genial. I respected and liked them both. But this felt different from all the job interviews I had had before — all those times when I knew I came close but was not the choice.

They clearly wanted someone younger, more ready to go into war zones. Someone more conversant with Twitter (I would tweet once a week to a tiny list of followers to advise them of the subject of my talk show). That’s it, game over, I thought. In a way, it was a relief. At least I tried.


A federal election was looming and I was angling to turn my provincial program into a national talk show during the campaign. But I was about to be banished to an early morning Sunday time slot that would make it impractical.

The producer who did the London job interview was among the executives I was lobbying to win a Saturday evening time. He sent an email asking me to give him a call. It was mid-March 2011.

“Hi. So, do you think we can find a time for this show?” I asked when he picked up.

“Well, we’re going to take it off your hands because I want to send you to London.”

A beat. I was the speechless broadcaster.

“Well … uh … good thing I’m sitting down,” I finally mumbled.

“I feel really good about this decision,” he said. “I’ve advised the vice-president and your boss that I’m making the offer and frankly they were both surprised, but also happy for you.”

Naturally they were surprised. I’m the one who never got these jobs.

My head was spinning. I looked out the window that overlooked the front lawn of the legislature from our fourth-floor perch. The red-tailed hawk that nested in the tree at our level was ripping apart a small animal that had made the mistake of straying into its territory.

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All We Leave Behind

All We Leave Behind

A Reporter's Journey into the Lives of Others
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The Story of CanLit
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[From Chapter 1: Surfacing]

He had a small cross tattooed on his chest and a significant scar on his throat. He told different stories about how he got them. In one version, the tattoo was a grateful reminder of his education in a Canadian church mission school and the scar the remains of a childhood surgery. At another time, for another audience, he might say he picked up the tattoo while drunk on shore leave, the scar in a knife fight.

Harold Sonny Ladoo emigrated from Trinidad to Canada in 1968, an early arrival in a wave of immigration made possible by a new point system that made Canada more open than ever before to immigration from non-European countries. Like most such immigrants, he came to Toronto. He came in his early twenties, already married, with children. And he came determined. You might doubt his stories, but no one who met Harold — never Harry — ever doubted he would tell them.

Two years and a lot of dishwashing later, he met the new writer-in-residence of the new Erindale College at the new Islington subway station. As Peter Such tells it, he noticed a young man in a cheap coat several sizes too large for him, a man “staring straight ahead, looking at somewhere else completely.” Whatever he saw out there, he wrote it down on the back of a TTC transfer. On a hunch, Such asked the young man if he was a writer; he said, yes, I am. Such invited him to see Erindale, and with the help of an equally impressed registrar, Harold Ladoo found himself enrolled as a mature student at the new Mississauga campus of the University of Toronto.

The calendar said 1970 but it was still the sixties, and the talk in his corner of the student cafeteria was of Marx and Fanon, Lenin and Mao, Che Guevara and Angela Davis. Ladoo joined the battle as if he had been waiting for it his whole life (because he had), arguing about anything and everything, vigorously, intensely, to win. The other students called him Plato, partly out of respect, partly to mock him. He liked it. He was of them but apart from them, disdainful even, caring more for the words he was forever writing than the words and worries of others. A writer.

At first, of course, his words were borrowed. He wrote carefully measured poems, finger exercises from the Empire’s song book. Peter Such told him about a Toronto publisher named after an African god; he sent the poems to them. Their editor rejected them and told Ladoo to write about what he knew. Ladoo wrote a spiteful letter back, but he also burned everything he had written to that point, two suitcases full of manuscripts. And a week later he showed up in Such’s office with a half-dozen stories about the village near which he had grown up. By the end of his first year at Erindale, he had the draft of a novel. He submitted it to the editor who had rejected his poems; they met at the Red Lion pub on Jarvis, the manuscript on the table between them. Again the editor said no, not yet.

That summer, Ladoo learned on the day of his father’s death — August 12, 1971 — that the people of Canada wanted to give him money to write a book. He used $300 of his $500 grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to return to Trinidad, where he found his mother drunk, his brother a confirmed lunatic, and his sisters and neighbours fighting over the property. When he came back to Toronto in September, he had no money, his wife was unemployed, his son was sick, and they were about to be evicted. A relative let the family move into the basement of her bungalow on Victoria Park Avenue. Ladoo borrowed enough money to go back to school for his second year, making the long commute from the edge of Scarborough to the middle of Mississauga. And he wrote the book he was being paid to write, the book he had learned to write, the book he was born to write:

In my long hours of aloneness, in my frustration and sorrow, in my sleeplessness and the painful awareness of impotence and doom, even during the illness of my wife and my son, I took to my typewriter to write a book. . . . For fifty days I heard only the groaning of my son as the keys of the typewriter went still. But I could not stop.

This time the editor said yes. In the fall of 1972, Harold Sonny Ladoo from Trinidad became a published Canadian author. His first novel, No Pain Like This Body, edited by Dennis Lee, was published by House of Anansi Press in Toronto for $8.50 cloth, $2.95 paper. On the back, a photograph by Graeme Gibson shows Ladoo smoking, staring straight ahead.

Harold Ladoo was part and product of a literary explosion unlike anything Canada has ever experienced, before or since. The long decade between the late 1950s and the mid-1970s saw the emergence of the best-known names in Canadian literature, writers to whom time (never mind subsequent events) has so far been kinder than it has to Ladoo. These are the names most people still think of when they think of Canadian writing, names like Margaret Atwood, Marie-Claire Blais, George Bowering, Leonard Cohen, Mavis Gallant, Margaret Laurence, Dennis Lee, Alistair MacLeod, Alice Munro, bpNichol, Michael Ondaatje, Al Purdy, Mordecai Richler, and Michel Tremblay.

It wasn’t just literary. Canada awoke in the 1960s, shaken by the excitement leading up to the party in Montreal. But the explosion was loudest and echoed longest in print. By the 1950s, Canadian art had a “distinct canon of images”: the lonely pine, the snow-covered village church, the canoe, the mountain. No such set of literary images existed in the national psyche until after the sixties — no double hooks, no stone angels, no beautiful beasts or beautiful losers. That’s partly the problem addressed by the Massey Report, the government’s 1951 enquiry into Canadian culture: the realization that, as a means of national expression, literature had “fallen far behind painting.”

This book tells the story of when all that changed. It’s a story about writers, publishers, and readers, people who in one way or another played leading roles. It’s also the story of the culture that created and sustained them, a society finally comfortable enough to think about something besides trees and wheat. Postwar prosperity created both an existential backlash — the nagging sense that this can’t be all there is — and the means to buy what was missing or the leisure to produce it. Few realized it at the time, but that’s what the hippies of Yorkville shared with their parents, and with the politicians in Ottawa: the desire to redirect affluence into immaterial rewards, the “intangibles” that the Massey Report said make up a nation. You can’t get much more intangible than barefoot in the park.

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