Source : Toronto Star
Tomorrow, I'll raise a glass in memory of Dalton Camp. Today, I just miss him.
The legendary columnist, power broker and patriot, whose writing graced the pages of this newspaper for 40 years, died on March 18, a year ago.
There is no danger that Camp will be forgotten. His wit, his wisdom and his willingness to take on anyone who sought to diminish Canada will stand as an inspiration for generations of journalists.
But his voice would be welcome in these days of tense global brinkmanship.
Camp was 81 when he died, still full of ideas, still railing against the American-led war in Afghanistan and still bemoaning the mean-spiritedness of politics at home.
"The lack of a identifiable Canadian role in the bombing campaign against Afghanistan will disappoint the government's many critics who would have been prepared to spill a little Canadian blood for bragging purposes in the Club of Rome," he wrote in one of his last columns. "But the longer this travesty continues, the more wise and alert to Canadian interests the government of Canada appears to have been.
"I am sometimes utterly baffled," he went on, "by the Canadian media's open-mouthed awe of George W. Bush and its persistent dismissive underestimation of our Prime Minister who is, God knows, not without fault, but knows it is better to let his powder dry before opening fire."
Camp spoke from the perspective of long experience. He remembered the American bombing of Panama, the long, grinding war in Vietnam and the Bomarc missile crisis of the early '60s. He served in World War II.
He wrote as a Canadian who had grown up, attended university and married in the United States. He liked the country and its people. It was American politics, under Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes, that he could not abide.
He understood the exercise of power as only an insider could. He had run campaigns, written speeches, advised — and plotted against — prime ministers. He knew the pressures of high office and the intrigue of backrooms.
He was an unabashed partisan. Camp's lifelong home was the Progressive Conservative party. He levelled his harshest criticism at those seeking to supplant moderate Toryism with hard-line tax slashing, welfare bashing and greed mongering.
Camp would be pounding his typewriter furiously now, if he were alive, warning against war in Iraq, raising the bar for the Conservative leadership candidates, pondering the Liberal succession and rejoicing as Ontario inches back from the far right.
His faithful readers would be turning to the Star's opinion page, on Wednesday and Sunday, eager to see what Camp had to say.
I'd be looking forward to his next visit. When business lured him from his New Brunswick retreat, he would drop in to file his column and talk politics. If asked, he would offer his counsel in the gentlest possible way.
Camp left his desk strewn with notes, phone numbers and columns in progress when he died, according to his son David, a Vancouver lawyer. "He seemed to me a man cruelly struck down at the height of his powers."
His funeral took place on a frigid Saturday afternoon in Fredericton. There wasn't an empty seat in Christ Church Cathedral. The Governor-General, lieutenant-governor, premier and dozens of high-profile Tories were there. But so were many ordinary New Brunswickers who'd served Camp coffee, chatted with him on the sidewalk or decided to become a journalist because of him.
"He was a voice of clear principle in a world of compromise," said Anglican bishop William Hockin.
The service was uplifting, more a celebration of Camp's life than a lamentation of his death. But the afterglow faded too soon.
Many people are working hard to build a lasting legacy.
There already is one, of course, Camp's four books (Gentlemen, Players And Politicians, 1970; Points Of Departure, 1979; Eclectic Eel, 1981; and Whose Country Is This Anyway? 1995) and his thousands of Toronto Star columns.
But Camp's friends and associates are determined to raise $1.5 million for an endowment in his name. The Dalton K. Camp Endowment in Journalism will allow St. Thomas University in Fredericton to sponsor an annual public lecture by a prominent journalist to be broadcast by CBC, launch a journalist-in-residence program and provide scholarships, bursaries and internships for journalism students. The fund has just crossed the $1 million mark.
Veteran journalist Geoffrey Stevens is on the verge of completing a biography of Camp, which he says contains "tons of unreported material." It will be published by Key Porter Books next fall.
The lobby group, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, has launched the Dalton Camp Award.
The $5,000 prize, plus a bronze medal will go to the winner(s) of an annual essay competition on the link between stimulating journalism and a healthy democracy.
The first Dalton Camp lecture, delivered by June Callwood last fall, was strong and stirring. The generosity of Camp's admirers is heartening.
But there is still an empty spot in Canadian journalism.
© The Toronto Star