Saturday, December 13, 2008



An old wound ached the minute the Liberals and NDP fell into a passionate embrace in bed.
And afterwards the Bloc Quebecois smoked and said the coupling was a victory for separatism.
I remember when that happened provincially, fortunately without the BQ using the Grits and socialists in a coalition against our country.
It was early May in 1985 and the revolt was flourishing in Ontario over too many years of Tory rule.
Frank Miller just couldn't swim as premier with all that baggage on his back. So the Tories won only 52 seats with the Liberals under a new streamlined David Peterson coming close with 48. And the NDP were out of it. But...
Barbara Frum and the National needed a couple of "experts" to pontificate on national CBC TV on election night. So I agreed, even though I knew this was dangerous in only my fourth month as Editor of the Toronto Sun. I knew that Doug Creighton, the boss of Sun Media, hated his experts giving their views away on TV, especially the CBC, right in the heat of battle when they should be in the office.
I even knew when it all began, when Bob Frewin, the football expert for the Tely and Sun, was so busy with the electronic media that he couldn't file during the Grey Cup, leaving me to write the play-by-play of the biggest game of the year.
But I went to the studio convinced I would be back in an hour or so. But the election was so close, we did one National for the Maritimes, then a second for Ontario, then a final one for the West. And I returned feeling guilty.
At that time, the Sun was the largest Conservative paper in the country. And I wasn't about to jettison Miller when he was four seats ahead. After all, the Tories were masters at minority government. So I wrote the editorial that, of course, the Tories should continue in power.
Then my world collapsed. I was in the composing room putting in the final comment when Ed Monteith, the powerful news boss, said with a smirk that Creighton was furious and wanted to speak to me ASAP.
Creighton insisted my editorial say that the Tories had blown it, and Peterson, with whom he was friendly, should take over. I said no, that parliamentary tradition gave first crack at governing to the leader with the most seats. He insisted. I refused.
Creighton hung up in a fury. So I, as the new Editor, enlisted the help of the new publisher, Paul Godfrey, only eight months in the job. Godfrey was calm and sympathetic when I roused him in the middle of the night, saying I was right and he would talk to the boss.
That didn't work. Creighton was still furious the next morning but I only found that out through others. He rdidn't talk to me for days. I had worked with him and for him since 1958, but I might as well have been in an igloo.
Two days after the election, I was drowning my concerns about my perilous position at the Toronto Press Club. We were honouring the latest inductees in the news hall of fame. We had persuaded the Lieutenant Governor, John Black Aird, to preside.
Afterwards, Aird, a Bay St. lawyer with the bearing of a leader of the Establishment, took Knowlton Nash and me aside
Everyone knew Nash, the most famous voice in the country, and I had met Aird over the years primarily at functions organized by Creighton. But then Creighton, a Conservative, knew everyone, even Liberals.
I raised the growing controversy over the minority government and asked if Aird had seen it coming. I didn't expect a complete answer. But Aird then began a remarkable candid talk about what he faced.
He said he sensed it would be minority and several days before the election, had asked his lawyer, the legendary John J. Robinette, to come see him the morning after.
He then asked what we though about the need for another election. I said that Ontario voters had been averaging an election a year since the 1970s, if you added the federal, provincial and municipal elections, and were election weary. Nash agreed. And then, to our surprise, Aird said he did too.
So we chatted amiably about letting the Tories have a chance and then, if they floundered, letting Peterson become premier. And we had another drink.
Nash said later that he was astounded Aird had been so open about seeking our opinion and telling us what he was thinking. Then he asked whether I was going to write about it. After all, Aird hadn't said it was off-the-record. I said that the press club had an understanding that things said there stayed there. And I wasn't going to write about it because I thought Aird treated us as gentlemen who wouldn't run to the nearest phone. Nash agreed, which was important to me. After all, he wasn't just a talking head but a shrewd author who had been a wire service reporter and Washington columnist.
So there were at least three people not surprised weeks later when Aird ignored a possible election and gave the Liberal-NDP Accord a chance to work because of Tory turmoil. But not all our colleagues agreed. Bob MacDonald, the acerbic Sun columnist, said Aird had reverted to his days as a Liberal bagman and it was disgraceful.
The column was so rough, I expected a vice-regal call. But Aird never mentioned it. But then he was that kind of guy. A born leader who performed brilliantly in his post because he was a natural populist. He played floor hockey with the Variety Village kids despite the pain of a chronic bad back. He learned sign language. And when he left the job, I wrote an editorial that he had mounted in plastic and kept on his desk at the law office. Maybe there was some extra praise triggered by his forbearance when the Sun writers belted him around like a puck.
I'm sure he consulted widely, and not just with Canada's most famous criminal lawyer, the national TV anchor and a newspaper editor. I'm sure Governor-General Michaelle Jean did the same. One of the reasons they have the post is because they know how, like Mark Twain, to take soundings of their surroundings.
I was reminded in the Dec. 10 issue of the useful news letter called Inside Queen's Park (founded by that amiable expert, Graham Murray) about the negotiations in 1985 between key Grit and NDP members to work out the Accord and a Throne Speech etc.
They were fascinating days at Queen's Park. Of course the Accord didn't last, Peterson won big in an election, then got too cocky and abandoned his huge advantage for another election in 1990. And that spawned the horrible NDP government led by Bob Rae, who is still so tarnished by his record that some academic/journalist who has been wandering the world as an intellectual carpetbagger can easily win over the national caucus against him.
There are some who think back to Queen's Park and 1985 and say that if this coalition thwarts Stephen Harper, they should be given a chance to govern because voters again are election weary. Except the huge difference is that this coalition is propped up by a cabal of traitors despised by English Canada. Their blackmail makes an election so attractive, the Grits and socialists should be careful in their opposition or they will be decimated.

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