COLUMN: Ed Finn writes about a journalist’s life on the left

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The Spaniard’s Bay native, Ed Finn, is a very punny guy.

Ed Finn

"I have a reputation, deserved or not," he says, "of an inveterate punster. Most of my puns have been eye-rolling groaners," he admits, "but the occasional one has been funny and perhaps even witty." One example will suffice.

While he and a few friends were visiting New York, they walked past the public library on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street. The statue of a lion stands at each side of the building. "What have lions got to do with a library?" one of Finn’s friends asked him. "The statues," he replied, "are there for the benefit of library patrons who like to read between the lions."

Perhaps it is Finn’s sense of humour that has helped him to survive his 70-plus years as a left-leaning journalist.

He has now told his personal story in "A Journalist’s Life on the Left," which was published last year.

His professional career has been, he says, "unusually diversified," ranging from printer’s apprentice to linotype operator to sports writer, from editor of Corner Brook’s Western Star to a journalist with the Montreal Gazette to a columnist for the Toronto Star, from provincial leader of the New Democratic Party in Newfoundland to a candidate in four elections, from a public relations officer for the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway, Transport and General Workers, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, to a member of the board of directors of the Bank of Canada. The octogenarian is currently editor of the journal of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

"To some extent," he says, "my account of all these experiences may prove readable."

Finn has lived a peripatetic life, moving between Spaniard’s Bay, Corner Brook, Montreal, back to Western Newfoundland, Ottawa, Regina and Toronto.

His autobiography almost didn’t get written. For one thing, as he says, "I thought that writing a book about my personal experiences would be the supreme act of egotism. Second, he has never kept personal records. Finally, working full-time in his 80s, he "was reluctant to spend my weekends working on my memoirs instead of spending time with my family and reading the books I’d accumulated."

The reading public should be grateful Finn overcame these impediments and committed his memories to paper.

A literary penchant runs through the Finn family. Ed’s brother, Tom, describes their father as "a poet who failed the calling and never found his voice." Tom himself is a published author, having written three books, "Princes," "Malpeque Bay" and "Westsiders," the latter being the focus of one of this columnist’s earlier columns.

In writing about "A Journalist’s Life on the Left," knowing what to highlight is a challenge. Readers will have their favourite parts.

You may wish to read about Finn’s involvement in the Newfoundland Loggers’ Strike of 1958 which was, in so many ways, a game changer. Finn suggests that the incident, including the "murder" of Const. William Moss, "provided the final blow to the (International Woodworkers of America’s) image and credibility."

Following a directive from the Herder family in St. John’s, the publishers of Corner Brook’s "Western Star," that "further stories about the strike or its repercussions were not to include any quotes or comments from union sources," Finn, "rather than desecrate journalistic ethics," immediately submitted his resignation.

You may wish to read about Finn’s involvement in the birth of Medicare in Canada, during which time he "was privileged to play a very small part in the victorious struggle to bring it to life." Tommy Douglas, the so-called "Father of Canadian Health Care," asked Finn to travel to Regina, Sask., "counting on my ability as a writer and editor to help counter the massive wave of anti-Medicare disinformation that was sweeping the province." Finn still visits Douglas’ grave occasionally, adding with a note of sadness, "He died knowing that his mission in life was not finished."

These merely scratch the surface of Finn’s involvements. He holds some firm convictions about topics as diverse as the confessional, Confederation of Newfoundland with Canada in 1949, Joey Smallwood ("a terribly disappointing premier"), the Valdmanis Affair, the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, and being hired and fired by Canada's oldest union.

Finn’s book is not all autobiography. He includes 50 pages of his essays, columns, articles, speeches and editorials. He reflects on, for example, advertising and propaganda, life and longevity, and the right to strike.

"A Journalist’s Life on the Left" is jointly published by Boulder Publications of Portugal Cove-St. Philips and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives of Ottawa.

— Burton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His column appears in The Compass every week. He can be reached at burtonj@nfld.net

Organizations: Canadian Centre, Montreal Gazette, Toronto Star New Democratic Party Canadian Labour Congress Canadian Brotherhood Canadian Union of Public Employees Bank of Canada Medicare Canadian Health Care Boulder Publications The Compass

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Corner Brook, Western Star New York Fifth Avenue 42nd Street Ottawa Regina Canada Montreal Toronto America Sask. Meech Lake Charlottetown Portugal Cove Bay Roberts

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