NEWMAN, Peter




Author Tags: Journalism

"The Canadian Revolution. It's sounds like an oxymoron. It sounds like jumbo shrimp or Ottawa night-life, but it's not. Most of us think of revolutions as something to do with a guillotine or tanks in a city square--some great violent confrontation... What authenticates a revolution is a shift in values of the society that has undergone a revolution... that is what has happened--Canadian values have shifted from deference to defiance, from deference to authority, to defiance of authority." -- Peter Newman, speaking to the Empire Club, 1995

"Newman is a one-man journalistic Niagara." -- Rex Murphy

"Success turns a writer into a praise addict." -- Peter Newman

Peter C. Newman, briefly a resident of Deep Cove, B.C., was born in Vienna, Austria in 1929. He went from being pampered Jewish child in a Czech chateau to being strafed by Nazi fighter planes on a Biarritz beach to escaping from France on the last available ship in 1940. As a refugee on a farm that his family purchased near Freeman, Ontario, he learned English and earned a scholarship to Upper Canada College where he met some of the elite figures he would later profile in his journalism career. Along the way he worked underground at Bevcourt Gold Mines in Northern Quebec, served as Captain in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve, played the drums, had a stint as a magician at Eaton's Toytown and married Christina McCall-Newman, one of his four wives. As a Financial Post columnist he wrote Renegade in Power: The Diefenbaker Years (1963), the first of his books about Canadian politics. Editor of Macleans magazine from 1971 to 1982, he is most widely known for his books on Canada's business elite, such as The Canadian Establishment, The Acquisitors and his profile of Conrad Black entitled The Establishment Man. His trilogy on the Hudson's Bay Company has also made him one of Canada's most successful historians. An avid sailor and jazz enthusiast, Newman briefly taught 'creative non-fiction' at UVic. Although he moved to Europe in the new Millennium, he remained active as one of Canada's most high-profile writers and commentators, releasing his memoirs with Douglas Gibson Books as Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales of People, Passion and Power (2004). It was his 22nd book.

"Being Canadian is not a nationality," he has said. "If somebody says they're Swedish or Japanese they define themselves. But being Canadian is an act of faith, something very different, because it is full of potentials that are as yet unrealised. Being Canadian is a very, very precious commodity. You have to wonder what it is that people around the earth know that we don't know. Why is everyone trying to come here to a country that we take for granted. That's the only advantage that we immigrants have. We never take Canada for granted because we know what a precious place it is."

SELECTED BOOKS:

Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales of People, Passion and Power (McClelland & Stewart, 2004)
The Canadian Revolution: From Deference to Defiance. Toronto: Penguin Books Canada Limited, 1995.
Merchant Princes. Toronto: Penguin Books Canada Limited, 1991.
Company of Adventurers. Toronto: Penguin Books Canada Limited, 1985.
The Bronfman Dynasty. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1977.
The Canadian Establishment. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1975.
The Distemper of Our Times. (1966)
Renegade in Power: The Diefenbaker Years. Carleton University Press, 1963.
Flame of Power. (1959)

SELECTED AWARDS:

National Newspaper Award, feature writing.
Michener Award for Journalism.
President's Medal, University of Western Ontario.
National Business Writing Award.
Order of Canada, Companion.
Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize.

[BCBW 2003] "Journalism"

Titans (1998)
Speech



1999 acceptance speech for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize won by Peter Newman for Titans (1998)

NEWMAN: “I’m very touched and grateful because this is a B.C. Book Prize and it finally gives me a home... Toronto’s a funny place. In Toronto, it only takes one person to change a lightbulb: one person to hold the light-bulb while the world turns around him. In B.C. it takes 13 people to change a light-bulb: one person to change it and 12 others to do an environmental impact study...
“It’s tough being a writer in British Columbia. We’re competing with God. There are so many diversions. Nature offers so much... A lot of people think I’m in the establishment; I’m not. I’m a sort of court jester for the establishment. In Shakespeare’s time, the court jester was an interesting character who brought news. I think of myself that way...
“The private sector now is basically running the country because the public sector is bankrupt. And these people are the most selfish you can imagine... They have no feelings about the country—but they’re also essential to our future. So it’s part of the mandate of writers to expose them for what they are... They think it’s never too late to have a happy childhood…
“I came here when I was ten years old, a Jewish immigrant running away from Nazi-occupied Europe. I didn’t know anybody, I couldn’t speak a word of English. Now I’m being attacked by the Globe and Mail—what a great country... because it’s not finished yet... It’s a country that a million people a year want to come to... Don’t take Canada for granted. Those of us who came here never take it for granted. We know that this country has a mandate from heaven... I really appreciate this prize and I hope to see you again. Thank you very much.”

[BCBW SUMMER 1999]


Defining Moments: Dispatches from an Unfinished Revolution (Penguin $32.99)
Info



Losing institutional icons such as Eaton's has permanently changed Canada and Canadians according to Peter C. Newman's Defining Moments: Dispatches from an Unfinished Revolution (Penguin $32.99), his 18th book on the political health of the nation. "It could be subtitled 'Slouching Towards the Millenium,'" Newman says. His topics include the significance of Bruno Gerussi, saving the CBC, the importance of water on the Canadian psyche and "attacks on people who hurt Canada such as Chretien and Mulroney."
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[BCBW 1997]


Vancouver: The Art of Living Well
Info



Peter C. Newman and Alex Waterhouse Hayward have teamed up for Vancouver: The Art of Living Well (Towery Publishing) a coffee table book highlighting the work of local photographers and writers.

[BCBW 1997]


Canada 1892: Portrait of a Promised Land
Interview



With the Quebec referendum nigh, and the constitution talks in high gear, former Maclean's editor Peter Newman of Deep Cove has produced an extensively illustrated history, Canada 1892: Portrait of a Promised Land ($50 M&S/Penguin), to shed light on the nature of Canada as a whole. "The bad news," says Newman, "is that Canada has had the same problems for 100 years. The good news is we're still talking about them." In 1892 the Bank of Montreal was essentially Scottish. Western premiers were complaining about exorbitant freight rates. Maritimers wanted higher fishing quotas. (Nova Scotia once voted in favour of secession). And free trade was hotly debated as an antidote to recessionary woes. Bigotry was common. Former Quebec premier Pierre Chavreau observed, "English and French, we climb by a double flight of stairs towards destinies reserved for us on this continent, without knowing each other, without meeting each other, and without even seeing each other except on the landing of politics." Newman's account a joint venture between McClelland & Stewart ("The Canadian Publishers") and Penguin Canada (a branch plant) has been lavishly packaged by Madison Press to enliven a population still too young to appreciate its own complexity. "This, after all, is a country only four memories old," Newman writes, "and history is nothing more, and nothing less, than those memories refined.”If we care to listen, we ran still hear the faint echoes of the people who walked our streets, worked our farms and fished our waters a hundred years ago."

BCBW: Pierre Berton's definition of a Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe. What's yours?
NEWMAN: Mine is, 'You can always tell a Canadian because when he comes into any room he always picks the most uncomfortable chair.'

BCBW: (laughter) Canadians are still essentially Scottish then?
NEWMAN: Yes. The Scottish ethic has been the dominant ethic of Canada a hard day's work well done and that's still there. The bankers still control our lives. The other important Canadian characteristic is our deference to authority. That, in my view, comes from the Hudson's Bay Company. The forts were all company towns and you had to defer to the authority of the company.

BCBW: "Never shoot your customers and never challenge authority."
NEWMAN: That's it. Whereas the Americans did challenge authority.

BCBW: Of all the definitions of Canada in your book, I think Dave Broadfoot's comes closest...
NEWMAN: "The world needs Canada because if it wasn't there, the Chinese could sail right across and invade Denmark."

BCBW: (laughter) Meanwhile the Quebec referendum is coming arid we can't escape from that.
NEWMAN: It will be a decisive moment in Canadian history. If they say they want to separate, then the process starts. So we've got ourselves into this trap.

BCBW: A lot of people want to blame Brian Mulroney for the constitutional mess. Is that fair?
NEWMAN: No, you can't put all the blame for the constitutional problems on Mulroney. It's important to note that Mulroney has been bound hand-and foot by his predecessor. It was Trudeau who put in the notwithstanding clause that allowed Bourassa to put in the sign law. It Was Trudeau who put in the unanimity law that killed Meech Lake. It was Trudeau who ran up the deficit so Mulroney had no money to spend which he might have used to bring the provinces together. And don't forget it was Trudeau who promised Quebec that if they voted no on the referendum, he would bring them into the constitutional family and do all sorts of wonderful things for them.

BCBW: We started out as an English/French nation. But these days it seems Quebec doesn't realize its partner has changed.
NEWMAN: That's right. There are no longer two founding nations. WASPs have become a visible minority and roast beef is an ethnic dish. But no Quebec politician can get elected unless he supports the notion that Quebec is special. Never mind the legal expression of it. It's an emotional issue. And people like Getty, Filmon and Wells just can't get that through their heads. They don't know enough Canadian history.

BCBW: So you're sympathetic to Bourassa's plight as a leader?
NEWMAN: Very much so. Bourassa has made a lot of tactical mistakes by not being at the conference, by not having a voice. But there is some historical justification for Quebec's position and I think it has to be taken into account. Before Confederation, French Canadians were the majority in Upper and Lower Canada. Quebec must have some recognition as an original partner in Confederation.

BCBW: As someone writing a book on Brian Mulroney, do you think he has enough historical knowledge and sophistication to get us through?
NEWMAN: He's no deep thinker. Neither is he an original thinker. But it's probably unfair to expect a prime minister to suddenly become a philosopher. After all, John Diefenbaker was a prosecuting attorney from the Prairies. Pearson acted like a diplomat. And Trudeau was a constitutional lawyer. They brought with them their respective methodologies. Brian Mulroney is no different. He was a labour negotiator. Now he just wants to get the factory gates open.

BCBW: But if a prime minister isn't a deep thinker, he should have the modesty or common sense to recognize he's in dangerous waters and get some navigators on board. Just to tell him where the reefs are.
NEWMAN: That's right. One problem with Mulroney is that he hasn't surrounded himself with superior intellects although, to be fair, very few prime ministers do. The other thing Mulroney has never understood is that a good leader has to be respected not liked. And you don't get that by ingratiating yourself to the people.

BCBW: What do you respect about him?
NEWMAN: He's a leader. It doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get the people to follow you – but in many ways he’s a very radical prime minister in the dictionary sense of radicalism. You go to the root of things and change them. Whether it’s free trade, or GST, Mexican trade or the constitution. All these things are very radical initiatives. I happen to totally disagree with U.S. free trade and Mexican free trade. I’ve written against them many times. But still it's leadership.

BCBW: What will your book about Mulroney explore?
NEWMAN: The main theme will be what a difficult country this is to govern, especially in the 1990s because of television. People immediately respond in their living rooms to their perception of events.

BCBW: One perception I have in my living room is that people are starving in Somalia, there's strife in Bosnia... It makes me impatient with these guys in their suits who can't figure out which end of the egg to split when we live in the most fortunate place on earth.
NEWMAN: Yes, even in Canadian terms it's obscene. Here we have the greatest economic emergency since the Great Depression arid the government is totally paralysed by the constitution. That's a crime.

BCBW: You've said that Canada is the first. nation in history to choose to go backwards from an industrialized state to Third World status.
NEWMAN: Absolutely. That's where we're at going from a branch plant economy to a warehouse economy. When Walter Gordon, Abe Rotstein and I founded the Committee for an Independent Canada, we were fighting against the damn branch plants. Well, it turns out the branch plants were terrific! At least they were making things here, doing research here. With free trade, the branch plants are going and all we have left is warehouses.

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[BCBW, Autumn, 1992]