Military Obituary, November 9, 2009
Doug Fisher, who has died aged 89, was a Canadian soldier, MP and journalist passionately opposed to all forms of the Establishment.
A husky-voiced giant, he refused to be commissioned while serving as a trooper in an armoured car unit during the Second World War; was a socialist member of the Ottawa Parliament for seven years; and then a political columnist for more than four decades. He railed against the increasing powers of prime ministers, and showed little sympathy for those keen to grant pampered status to French Canada.
He was no lover of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, attacked the introduction of a European-inspired Charter of Fundamental Rights, was a strong supporter of the Armed Forces and a champion of the working class.
The son of a railway engineer, Douglas Mason Fisher was born on September 19 1919 at Sioux Lookout, deep in the harsh northern Ontario bush, where he caught his first fish at three and learned to trap. He went to Fort William Collegiate Institute and began work in a gold mine from which he was fired after a row with the manager.
When war broke out Fisher found that many units were wary of him because he was 6ft 5in tall with a 58in chest, and it was more than a year before he found a place with the 12th Manitoba Dragoons, into whose vehicles he fitted with difficulty. He was first sent to look for Japanese submarines, supposedly lurking off Vancouver Island, before being posted to England.
In two years there he became a lifelong Fulham fan and campaigned in a by-election for the Common Wealth Party, founded by the former Labour MP Sir Richard Acland, Bt.
After landing on Juno Beach in July 1944, he saw action when his platoon drove through a German position. As the firing started his gunner panicked and tried to climb out. The commander at the wheel tried to hold him in, while the co-driver sprayed the enemy with fire and the men in an accompanying scout car threw out smoke canisters to camouflage a desperate half-mile retreat in reverse gear.
Later he was involved in the capture of Bergen op Zoom on the Dutch border and, outside Osnabrück, spoke to his first German, a woman who came out of a barn saying (in English): “Rape me as much as you like, but leave the children and the old women.”
Back in Canada, Fisher read History and English at Toronto University, where his familiarity with the 19th-century Russian and English novelists led the critic Northrop Frye to claim him as one of his best students.
Fisher then went back to Britain to study archive administration at London University before settling in northern Ontario, where he started a forestry research library and taught at Port Arthur Collegiate Institute.
When a general election was called in 1957 he stood for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation against CD Howe, the most powerful member of the Liberal government, then known as “the minister of everything”.
But Fisher was a local boy and used his teaching skills to make his case tellingly with a blackboard on local television. After scoring a convincing victory, he arrived in Ottawa with a national reputation, which he soon consolidated as a forceful debater.
But although Fisher was to become his party’s deputy leader he became increasingly uneasy about CCF policies.
He disapproved of the decision to change its name to the New Democratic Party and earned considerable blame for stirring up Quebec nationalism when it was claimed that he had dismissed French Canadian culture as consisting only of the hockey player “Rocket” Richard and a stripper called Lilli St Cyr.
With only an MP’s salary to support a growing family, he started writing articles for the Toronto Telegram, which earned more attention than his speeches. In 1965 he resigned to become a full-time columnist. Apart from a failed attempt to win a seat when his bête noire Pierre Trudeau swept to power three years later, he then stuck to his typewriter.
His most telling points were often concealed in the middle of his columns. But drawing on his unrivalled experience and long friendships with several prime ministers, he continue to write for the Toronto Sun, host a television show and send occasional witty letters to The Daily Telegraph until retiring at 86.
Doug Fisher died on September 18, leaving his former wife, Barbara, and their five sons. On being told that the Tories were likely to win the coming general election, his last words were: “That’s good”.
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