Columnist Douglas Fisher oozed genuine love of Parliament
Friday, September 18, 2009
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OTTAWA — Political columnist Douglas Fisher was a giant of a man who bemoaned the state of Canadian politics but never lost his love of Parliament or his respect for politicians.
A former CCF MP who ditched elected politics in 1965 in favour of a career in journalism, Mr. Fisher died peacefully Friday, just one day shy of his 90th birthday.
To friends and colleagues, he was a wonderful storyteller and an insightful veteran of the business who was generous with his wit and wisdom, especially with young journalists, until he retired in 2006.
In his farewell column in the Toronto Sun, Mr. Fisher unleashed a litany of long-standing beefs ranging from the trend toward “gotcha” journalism and the increasing centralization of power in the prime minister’s office to the concentration of both the media and politicians on “the theatrical, often farcical, tussles of question period.”
Brian Mulroney, who participated in a mock Parliament event involving MP Fisher as far back as the former prime minister’s university days in 1958, said he always enjoyed the time spent with the politician-turned-journalist.
“He became the respected dean of the Press Gallery after his career in politics as a result of his incredible capacity for hard work, his keen appreciation of history, and his intelligence,” Mr. Mulroney said in a statement.
To his five sons, the towering Mr. Fisher was also a larger-than-life personality. Mr. Fisher was “crazy about all sports” and seemed to have a bottomless well of knowledge on any given subject and a boundless curiosity, said his son Mark, 57.
He was also fun-loving and had a flair for showmanship. Though Mr. Fisher quit smoking decades ago, Mark remembered the boys being so proud of their dad “because he could roll his cigarettes while driving a car, steering with his knees.”
Mr. Fisher’s family, including his friend and former wife, Barbara Lamont, were with him when he died early Friday. At Mr. Fisher’s request, there will be no funeral or memorial service.
Mr. Fisher landed in Ottawa in 1957 after scoring one of the biggest coups in Canadian political history. The upstart candidate for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and unknown high school teacher from Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay, Ont.,) unseated Liberal C.D. Howe, the vaunted “minister of everything.”
Born in Sioux Lookout, Ont., Mr. Fisher served in the Second World War and took part in the Allies’ Normandy offensive in 1944 before returning to Canada to, among other things, attend the University of Toronto, where he got a bachelor of library science.
His political career lasted from 1957 to 1965, by which time he had already started writing a column for the Toronto Telegram to augment his MP’s salary of $10,000, a sum that, he said, couldn’t support his growing family.
After the Telegram folded in 1971, he joined the Toronto Sun and remained there until he retired. For three decades, he also hosted a local TV show, Insight with Doug Fisher.
Journalist Barry Wilson, who had an office on the same floor as Fisher’s for a quarter of a century, says Mr. Fisher was from a different era.
“He really didn’t like the impact that TV, in particular, had on coverage of Parliament,” said Mr. Wilson, a reporter for the Western Producer newspaper. “He loved Parliament. He was a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy. He read committee transcripts.”
Mr. Fisher also respected politicians, Mr. Wilson said, and the one thing guaranteed to get under his skin was reporters who saw politicians as stupid people in politics for themselves and the money, rather than for the public interest.
“Doug really thought that was blood libel against his political class,” Mr. Wilson said.
“On the other hand, if he saw an MP that he thought was really not living up to the standard, he was merciless with them. He considered that was diminishing the coin that he loved so much.”
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