Former Toronto Star publisher and editor John Honderich’s untimely death has been marked by a host of obituaries describing his outstanding contributions to journalism and to his beloved City of Toronto.
In my view, as a former TorStar Board member and a former political apparatchik who dealt with John over the years, these tributes were well deserved and wholly appropriate.
Honderich cast a larger than life presence, clad in his ever ready hand tied selection of bowties, smiling but steely demeanour and fierce protective armour for journalism and his own Toronto Star journalists.
John took a special delight at being at the centre of controversy; I suppose it justified that his beloved Star was making an impact.
I had the good fortune of staying in touch with John after I left the TorStar Board.
We used to meet at one of John’s favourite haunts on Front Street for lunch [the table in the corner] and a beverage of choice to discuss politics, exchange stories about current figures of interest and reflect on where the media industry and politics were headed.
Like other good journalists, Honderich maintained a broad contact network who were constantly feeding him stories and gossip about the state of national, provincial and municipal affairs.
Honderich personified the Atkinson principles; the Star’s commitment to hearing and amplifying the voices of minorities has made an essential contribution to the Canadian quality of life.
I was constantly amazed by how Honderich found a place at tables of the opposing viewpoint. Of course, they appreciated the power of the Toronto Star as a moulder of second opinions, especially in the politically seat rich GTHA.
But non-progressive politicians and business leaders also valued his forthright honesty, integrity and a commitment to maintaining confidences, although he was never adverse to seeking out the same story from a different source.
Honderich taught me a lot about what news stories had ‘legs’ and those tips I shared which did not. Our lunches became a master class in communicating ideas.
John was a newsroom’s journalist; he defended the story and the truth above any party allegiance to which his critics might wish to associate him.
I recall the fury of the federal Liberals when the Star investigated without fear or favour the former Governor General Julie Payette’s past record.
Honderich was particularly proud of the Star’s investigative work into the late Mayor Ford’s crack dependency. Despite the loss of advertisers and subscribers who chose to believe the Ford message rejecting the evidence initially, the Toronto Star’s reporting was relentless and ultimately proven true.
While scrupulously maintaining his progressive credentials, John was unsparing in his treatment of federal and provincial Liberals who, in his view, did not live up to the Atkinson principles. It led him on occasion to support the endorsement of other parties on the Star’s editorial pages.
While Honderich and I disagreed on numerous subjects, he always let me present my case to him. He even occasionally changed his mind after checking out my points with other sources.
I was saddened however, to see some comments on the twitter sphere which were caustic in their condemnation of John’s sincerely held values and principles.
These type of statements represent what is wrong with the level of discourse in our country today.
You do not have to agree with an opposing point of view to engage in dialogue and try to find some common ground.
For example, some advocates for the current ‘Freedom Trucker Convoy’ crave the attention and understanding of Canadians who do not share their views. They complain about being marginalized by so-called ‘elites’.
Yet some supporters of the convoy are quite prepared to do to others what they do not want done to themselves.
How ironic that the first political casualty of the Freedom Convoy was a political leader, Erin O’Toole who was trying to find the middle ground. O’Toole’s political fate was already in jeopardy because of concerns about his future electability and policy flip-flops that tore apart his own party.
Vigorous political debate is a prerequisite for democracy, but it cannot become a casualty of me-tooism on either right or left.
John Honderich’s example of seeking out truth while upholding principles and values can remind us all of the best way to preserve the democracy from which all Canadians have benefitted.
Rest in peace, John.