John Ward on MP Fisher
An outstanding incident for me came during one of the first House of Commons committee meetings that I helped report. It was in 1961 when the subject of generating energy using uranium was being examined. Debate centred on which of two types of reactors provided the cheapest and safest means of doing so. The Canadian uranium industry had a vital interest in the outcome of the committee hearings.
A big man was the Member for Port Arthur, with a big frame, and a big reputation. Douglas Fisher, C.C.F. and later N.D.P. stalwart, made a sensational entrance on the national political scene by defeating the formidable C.D. Howe, “Minister for Everything” in the cabinets of Mackenzie King and Louis St.-Laurent, in the General Election of 1957.
It was a personal win without parallel in post-WWW II Canadian history. Howe had seemed unbeatable. Fisher’s victory gave heart to “the common man”, a term still in vogue, and helped inspire the drive to establish the New Democratic Party which would unite the forces of agriculture and labour and, with luck, become a credible alternative to the Liberal and Conservative parties.
Doug Fisher soon became a man to be reckoned with on Parliament Hill. His war-time service as a trooper in the Canadian Armoured Corps from 1941 to 1945 gave a sense of discipline that he exercised throughout his career in the Commons and in his later life as observer and shrewd commentator on politics, both in print and on television.
He never shrank from tackling the powerful, in and outside Parliament. His annual battles, and there is no other word to describe them, with Donald Gordon, acerbic, over-bearing President of Canadian National Railways, became the stuff of legend.
Estimate hearings into the affairs of the CNR and its airline, TCA, later to become Air Canada, were held each year in the Railway Committee Room in the Centre Block of Parliament Buildings. A spacious room, it was also used for Liberal and Progressive Conservative caucus meetings.
Gordon would enter the room with a coterie of managers of this and managers of that, ready to assist him if needed. Fisher depended on his own research which he used to great effect in the coming fray. And he refused to be brow-beaten.
Usually the room was filled with an audience drawn irresistibly to listen to the exchanges. The parliamentarian and the great railway panjandrum never disappointed.
After quitting the political realm, Fisher soldiered on as only an old trooper can, adding to his reputation as a good and worthy servant of Canada, championing its sports, especially hockey-ice hockey for those ignoramuses who don’t know better-and entered on a lengthy career in journalism.
Years and years later, when I met him in a Loblaw’s grocery store in Ottawa, he still was able to recall the names of Hansard reporters whom he knew during his time “on the Hill”.
The NDP never met the hopes once held for it, and was destined to become “the conscience of Parliament” rather than a serious alternative to the Liberals and Conservatives.
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