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Douglas Fisher, shown as a Toronto Sun columnist in 1979, died of complications from a stroke on Sept. 18, 2009 - a day short of his 90th birthday.
Douglas Fisher, shown as a Toronto Sun columnist in 1979, died of complications from a stroke on Sept. 18, 2009 - a day short of his 90th birthday.

Obituary

Douglas Fisher, 1919-2009 Add to ...

Before he was the dean of parliamentary journalists in Ottawa, Douglas Fisher, was known as the dragon slayer. As a Second World War veteran, a high school teacher and a rookie candidate for the CCF back in 1957, he defeated Liberal powerhouse and "Minister of everything" C.D. Howe in the Port Arthur riding that Mr. Howe had held for more than two decades.

For months the husky, towering candidate stumped the bush camps, mining towns and fishing villages of the huge Lakehead riding. But he also took advantage of the fledgling television service, a medium on which he was a natural, to speak directly to his potential constituents, thundering away at Mr. Howe, the dictator, and Mr. Howe, the unapproachable MP.

"I had to create the same sympathy for the underdog that makes fans want the Baltimore Orioles to knock over the Yankees," he said later.

Did you know Douglas Fisher? Send us your recollections.

And for all his post-war education, he wasn't above showmanship. Having slipped a disc late in the campaign, he had himself carried into a political meeting on a stretcher. Then, propped upright by two nurses in full, starched medical regalia, he loomed over them while he delivered his speech. It worked. He beat Mr. Howe by nearly 2,000 votes.

Mr. Fisher sat as a backbencher from 1957 to 1965 for both the CCF and its successor the NDP. He attempted a comeback in the 1968 federal election, running for the NDP in York Centre in Toronto, but was defeated in the Trudeau sweep. "It would have taken a bugle band and a couple of Trudeaus to pull me up again," he told The Globe, shortly after the polls closed.

He began double-hitting as a political columnist for the now defunct Toronto Telegram, at the invitation of publisher John Bassett in 1961, while he was still a backbencher - a dual role that is hard to imagine today, although nobody accused him of partisanship. He continued to write and broadcast political commentary and analysis for nearly 50 years, switching to The Sun, after the Telegram folded in 1971.

Mr. Fisher was on Parliament Hill for so long that he was the go-to pundit about every significant Canadian politician in the last half century. Former prime minister Jean Chrétien met Mr. Fisher in the early 1960s. Mr. Fisher, whose French was as fragile as Mr. Chrétien's English, took the rookie politician to the House of Commons to show him around. "You'll be sitting there," Mr. Fisher said pointing to the back row.

"Yes," Mr. Chrétien replied, according to his memoir, Straight From the Heart, "but some day I'll be there" and indicated the front bench. "The guys who go to the front bench are the ones who work," said Mr. Fisher. "Don't worry," Mr. Chrétien said, "I will work."

Mr. Fisher did the same favour for Liberal Foreign Affairs critic Bob Rae when he arrived as the NDP member for the Toronto riding of Broadview in 1978.

He used to "give me his unvarnished opinion on everything," Mr. Rae said in e-mail message yesterday. "My favourite story was a coffee we had together after my first week. He said 'you're doing ok, but x (a colleague of Fisher's vintage) thinks you are a horse's ass. If he keeps thinking that, he'll tell more people than just me.' "

Besides tutoring young politicians, Mr. Fisher, who had a fiercely honed mind, loved political debate and analysis. "His political views were an extraordinary amalgam of radicalism, old fashioned English Canadian nativism, and deep love for Canada, of whose history he was a lifelong student," Mr. Rae said.

Rival journalists also remembered Mr. Fisher. "Too intemperate to be furiously sincere about his party's official policies, he went his independent way and in the process became recognized as the conscience of the Commons," said Peter Newman.

"He had a 6'5" frame, weighed 265 lbs, and ambled like a bear searching for a spot to hibernate - always seeking facts that might shed light and reason on a world he regarded as being murky and irrational. He belonged to a category of his own, and never compromised."

Jeffrey Simpson, the Globe's national affairs columnist, recalled how "amazingly well read" Mr. Fisher was. "I couldn't possibly keep up with him," Mr. Simpson said yesterday, "but I enjoyed dropping into his messy office, with papers and books stacked everywhere, and spending time discussing recent books and political development."

Mr. Simpson "always thought of him principally as anti-establishment, rather than ideological, which is why as the years went on, he spent time with and enjoyed the company of Conservative backbenchers whom nobody had every heard of. They used to gather at the West Block cafeteria in the morning for coffee: he, a former NDP MP, and them from rural western Canada. They didn't like, in no particular order, Pierre Trudeau, civil servants, people with money, the Liberal Party, the CBC, The Globe and Mail, or anything that smacked of being part of, or pretending to be part of, what they thought of as the Establishment.

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