Saturday, February 29, 2020



If you are truly blessed, you have a friend like David Paul Smith.
Even when you don't much like his party.
Everyone called him Smitty as he moved as a gregarious insider from the political and legal circles of Toronto and Canada to travel the world as one of the great tourists.
But there were "brothers" inside his incredible circles of friends and admirers, and not just his two real brothers who in the family tradition are ministers. It started with his Pentecostal roots so when he called with some of the richest gossip in the Americas, he would say Brother Downing and I would say Brother Smith and then would come a tale that could topple a tower but he trusted you to be discreet.
He was small in stature when he died last week at 78. Yet he left huge monuments behind for his city and country, from famous buildings where he had been the shepherding lawyer from planning stages on to putting God in the Charter of 1982 that is Canada's legal cornerstone.
As the Liberal caucus debated the wording of the Charter that would be presented to the House and the Queen for passage, the PM made it plain there would be no mention of God. He quipped that he didn't think God gave a damn whether he was mentioned or not.
But David, the MP from the city where Pierre Trudeau was never quite comfortable, sat in every caucus meeting where he would watch the PM like a hawk and speak about all the Christians in the country. Trudeau got a little bored with the repetition but liked David because of his photographic memory with which he could wow the PM with little known facts.
One day Trudeau listened to David's usual speech but this one reinforced with figures about the high enrolment in Christian institutions like bible colleges, thought about winning elections, then stood and said that God would be in the preamble to the Charter.
It became controversial and some say not that important because it wasn't in the Charter itself but David's monument lies within "Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the superiority of God and the rule of law..."
It is actually a miracle of Biblical proportions that Brother David was around to become a major city and federal politician because he almost died in the head-on car crash near Peterbough that killed his father, a leading Pentecostal minister, and slashed his throat.
Paramedics taking a smoke break witnessed the crash. One held his throat together while they rushed to a Kingston hospital. One of Canada's leading specialists in the necessary operation was visiting in  Emergency because it was New Year's Day and he was kibitzing with a former classmate. He operated but he and the paramedics wondered whether they were just going through the motions because the incredible loss of blood would have starved the brain.
David survived but had no voice. One month later, a brother held a night prayer vigil at his church for his 21-year-old brother who wanted to go into law and politics but now couldn't speak because of a ruined larynx.
The next morning when an aunt brought breakfast to him, he thanked her, the first words he had spoken since the fatal accident.
I wrote perhaps the first account of this in a Sun column which caused a sensation at City Hall and had his beloved mother intervewed on religious TV where everyone proclaimed that David was truly alive because of a series of coincidences that added to a miracle.
It left David with a booming voice hard to modulate and a certain disregard for danger. In cities like New York and Chicago where few whites came near the giant black churches of districts like Harlem, especially when they were surrounded by hundreds on a Sunday, David plunged in with his friends, often dragging his gracious wife, Heather, who has just retired as Chief Justice of Ontario's Superior Court.
David loved gospel music, especially black choirs. We drove by the San Francisco Opera House one afternoon and discovered they were having mass choirs that night, which David interpreted as being giant black choirs from the South.
So back we went in the evening, entering to find we were the only whites among a sea of black faces regarding us with hostility. I wanted to sit in the back but David marched us up to three empty rows at the front and plunked himself down in the middle. Moments later, a mini flood of black ministers and their wives surrounded us, looking at us curiously.
The awkwardness continued while huge choirs thundered and swayed above us. Then a pretty imp came out and sang like Kathleen Battle. "My God, she can sing," I told David. The wife in front of me turned, beamed and said "my daughter." With that, we were in. Three rows of black ministers, and two white Canadians, sang together for the rest of the night.
David took stuff like that for granted because he liked and talked to everyone and he and Heather were natural hosts to a stunning variety of the humble and the great.
We were in Beijing in 1985 and our first engagement was tea with the foreign minister because, he told me, he had stayed in only two houses in North America, "the White House and David Smith's house."
Our group of 18 from Toronto, led by David and his controversial partner for a time, Jeff Lyons, were given favours during our visit because David let it be known that a relative had nursed Norman Bethune's family near Georgian Bay, and the doctor was one of the heroes of the revolution.
David could charm a stranger into being an admirer within an hour. He was sitting in a London club and struck up a conversation with an elderly gentleman who turned out to be one of the few Law Lords of the United Kingdom and took him to a special seat in the Mother of Parliament for one of the major debates of the decade.
One quiet Saturday we were in the Prospect of Whitby, the oldest pub in London. David, of course, started talking to a trio, the only other drinkers, one of whom was a top executive of the InterContinental Hotel chain. By the time David stopped yarning about all the hotels he had been in around the world, the executive asked him to come chat about being a VP. David said his plans included a run for Mayor of Toronto and then there was this large law firm where eventually he became the lead lawyer.
He probably was happiest just driving down a strange road to a new town which had a good restaurant.
He read road maps like they were novels. In 1974, we were part of Toronto's coupling with its first twin city, Amsterdam.  We had a few days after the ceremony so in a borrowed VW van, with me driving, David navigating and Heather and my wife Mary in the back regarding the impromptu road trip through  seven countries with suspicion, we had a grand time.
He delighted in back roads. I was driving in the first snow along the side of a Swiss mountain and wondered why there were no road signs. David said he had been lounging in a tub one day and had seen this little road mentioned in a travel magazine. It certainly wasn't on the main maps. Over the agreeable years, the Smiths and the Downings went on to visit more than 20 countries together, and mysterious roads and secret wonders became routine.
One highlight on that first trip came when David announced he thought there was a Michelin restaurant in the next town. And up it popped. We parked at its front door, climbed to the second floor, had a pleasant chat and then dined on the speciality of this two-star restaurant. Usually the reservation would have taken months but with David and his enormous memory and charm (and luck) it didn't even take an hour.
He loved to eat out. He also loved to cook. He would come home from one of Canada's largest law firms and cook an entire meal from a great roast to a variety of vegetables while charming a living room of guests. The anecdotes during the meal would be almost as good as the food. The chap at the end of the table would confide how Joey Smallwood used to drive him crazy with his idiosyncrasies. Smallwood is legendary as a premier but what I now remember most is that Joey never threw away his razor blades but tossed them on a big rusty heap beside the sink.
You had to be on your toes at these dinners because it wouldn't be unusual for a major judge or former premier or cabinet minister to be holding forth contentedly over a fine port. One night in a stunning display of fantastic memories, Conrad Black remembered all the ships of the Argentine navy and their tonnage, David listed all the teams in United Kingdom football and their divisions and home grounds, and David Crombie recited intricate baseball lore. (And I wondered if there was more rum.)
David's work in the backrooms of politics is celebrated, beginning as aide to famous Grits like Walter Gordon and John Turner and ending as national election chair.
But what he should be remembered for most is his tackfulness, almost a sweet forgiveness, when it came to discussing other politicians and their pet policies. Even when his party was out of power, governments rushed to include David in international delegations because he may have been on the other side but he could be trusted to give a competent speech on a moment's notice that wouldn't embarass anyone. The Conservatives and NDP knew that David thought politics was an honourable business with many pressures and points of views.
And he loved every footnote of politics. It was bred in his bones. I recall his sunny pride when we walked into Westminster Abbey and he paused at the foot of the statue of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, once a prime minister of the U.K. "I am his great great nephew," he said.
We should cherish the past of David Paul Smith and hope that more politicians at City Hall and the "Ledge" and the Commons remember that you can accomplish much and have a great family and career and life if only you treat the other guy with the respect that you think you deserve.