A man dedicated to Canada, September 19, 2009
‘He saw politics with a clear eye, and was incapable of not writing the truth as he saw it’
When the Toronto Sun first emerged from the ashes of the old Toronto Telegram in 1971, no writer gave us as much credibility as columnist Doug Fisher — a living institution of political journalism.
And now he is gone — dead, at age 89, hours short of his 90th birthday.
Until he retired in 2006, he was a Sun fixture — loyal, reliable, insightful, versatile in his topics, gruff and sometimes bemused at antics that the Sun periodically indulged in (like hiring Lou Grant as city editor).
Deeply patriotic, Doug was not prone to emotional outbursts. In his final, farewell column, he laconically noted that after close to 45 years in journalism (during which he outlasted all the big names of Ottawa’s press gallery when he joined), that “it’s time to go, probably past time.”
He attributed “skimping on sentiment” to his years as an ordinary soldier in WWII when “saying farewells became banal.”
If there was anything Fisher was not, it was banal.
A burly, bear of a man, I always wondered how he wound up in the armoured corps in the war — 12th Manitoba Dragoons, an armoured car regiment that fought through Europe. He was too big to fit comfortably into tanks or armoured cars, but his response was that it was better than walking.
I was Doug’s editor in the early years of the Sun. We were everlastingly grateful to him, because when the Tely folded, the Toronto Star was eager to employ him. Fisher had already established himself as one of the most perceptive columnists on the Ottawa scene. (A hazard as his editor was that the grabby news bit was often in the middle of his column instead of at the start, but his readers were used to that.)
Doug chose to stick with us, even though the likes of Lord Thomson and Pierre Berton predicted a short, doomed life for an ideologically conservative tabloid. One thing that worried Doug was the need to write shorter than he was used to at the Tely. A couple of years later he admitted to surprise that his shorter Sun columns attracted more readers and comment than his longer Tely ones.
Fisher didn’t start out as a journalist. He drifted into the trade after pulling off the greatest upset in Canadian politics by defeating the allegedly unbeatable C.D. Howe in the 1957 election, winning Port Arthur for the CCF. The $10,000 a year MPs got in those days, plus $2,000 in expense to maintain two residences, forced him to moonlight as a columnist for the Tely — “not because I wanted a personal platform for politicking but because I was drowning in debt.”
Fisher never inflicted his socialist, or NDP views on his readers. In fact, it can be argued he was more small ‘c’ conservative than anything else. He saw politics with a clear eye, and was incapable of not writing the truth as he saw it.
Fisher’s roots were in Sioux Lookout where he was born. Leading up to the war he was the quintessential working man — miner, fire ranger, construction worker — and postwar went to university, thanks to gratuities from his wartime service, and became a teacher.
Of Doug’s five sons — Mark, Tobias, Matthew, John and Luke — Matthew once wrote for the Sun before joining the National Post and is by far the best of all journalists covering Afghanistan and the Middle East, old-school trustworthy, like his dad.
Among many qualities I admired in Doug was his sense of fair play and decency. For most of his years with the Sun, Fisher’s column ran alongside Lubor Zink’s. Lubor was adamantly anti-communist, as was Doug without the passion.
Both despised what they felt Pierre Trudeau was doing to Canada. It puzzled some that the two men with sometimes opposite outlooks had a deep mutual respect. Possibly each recognized the immutable integrity in the other.
Fisher was something of a renaissance man, interested in everything — politics, sport, environment, soldiering, Indians, forestry, education, serving on royal commissions — you name it. He was gruff, not given to flattery or effusiveness, but a man dedicated to Canada in a way that few can match.
If ever a Canadian was due the Order of Canada, that man was Doug Fisher. I once asked about it. It turned out Doug had refused the honour — he felt he had never done anything special that every citizen would not do. Some man!
He is gone, but his memory remains, and his unique role in parliamentary journalism remains unfilled.
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- Stan Blady, Winnipeg Free Press
- Andrew Cohen, Ottawa Citizen Special
- Jim Kelly, THUNDER BAY CHRONICLE-JOURNAL
- Sandra Martin, Globe & Mail
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- CBC News.ca
- IAN ROBERTSON, SUN MEDIA
- John Geddes, Maclean's
- Norma Greenaway, Canwest News Service
- Roy MacGregor, GLOBE & MAIL
- Allan Fotheringham, Sun Media
- Peter Worthington, Sun Media
- Tim Creery, Southam News Service '64
- Jim Coleman, Hockey is Our Game
- Peter Newman, Maclean's Magazine '61
- F. Abbas Rana, The Hill Times
- Larry Zolf, CBC Viewpoint
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- The Sun’s sage on the Hill bids adieu
- THE NEW PARLIAMENT … BY THE NUMBERS
- Doug’s Columns 2006
- THE ORIGINS OF CANADA’S ‘TWO SOLITUDES’
- MULRONEY, NEWMAN AND ME