“His strongest desire,” Fred Tabachnick said of his former colleague and friend of 50 years, Ed Finn, “was to build a better world.”
Finn, an inveterate trade unionist, journalist, writer and first leader of the Newfoundland and Labrador New Democratic Party, died in Ottawa on Dec. 27 at age 94.
The Corner Brook native, and former editor, reporter and columnist for The Western Star, was noted for his lifelong commitment to progressive politics.
“For the progressive movement and the NDP in Newfoundland, he is the foundation,” said Derek Fudge, a friend of Finn’s. “I’m not sure we would have had a progressive community in Newfoundland if not for Ed Finn. And, in terms of the country as a whole, he was one of the best voices for progressive politics in Canada.”
Finn, who was born in Spaniard’s Bay but grew up in Corner Brook, started his career in journalism as a reporter for The Western Star, moving up from printer’s apprentice, in 1944.
He followed up with a two-year stint at The Montreal Gazette from 1953-55 before returning to The Western Star as editor.
However, Finn’s tenure ended after he butted heads with The Western Star ownership over the paper’s coverage of the 1958-59 loggers’ strike.
Finn, who was committed to reporting the loggers’ side in the labour dispute, felt the Herder family, The Western Star’s then-owner, was disinclined to have the strike reported objectively and fairly.
He and the rest of the senior editorial staff, including Alex Powell, Tom Cahill and Tom Buck, resigned.
The decision illustrated his unwavering lifelong commitment to labour justice.
“There was no doubt about which side Ed was on,” Fudge said. “He lived his life sticking to the principles that he believed in.”
In 1959, he helped found the Newfoundland Democratic Party with Fudge’s father, Baxter, also hailing from Corner Brook.
He led the party when it merged into the newly established New Democratic Party in 1961, thus becoming the first provincial leader of the NDP.
He held the position until 1963.
Current Newfoundland and Labrador NDP Leader Alison Coffin has been learning more about Finn, and said the principles he stood for were foundational to the party.
“I feel as if I’m part of a legacy here of very strong belief in the strength of people and the importance of society, economic justice and a sense of fairness,” said Coffin. “It gives me a sense of foundation in our party. It helps my convictions and my ability to lead my party, ensuring that what we believe is true, and true to the original intent of this party.”
Union work and writing
Throughout the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, Finn worked as a communications adviser for a number of labour unions, including the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway, Transport and General Workers Union (CBRT), from which he was fired after he refused to cross the picket line when the union’s clerical staff were on strike.
Fudge, who was only about 10 years old when Finn moved from the province, later came to know Finn better when he moved to Ottawa. He re-encountered the old friend of his father, who died in 1969, when he joined him on the picket line.
“I was a little bit intimidated by him because I had this bigger-than-life view of him,” Fudge recalled. “But when I got to know him, he was a very gentle soul, quiet, kind and funny.”
Finn then worked for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) for 15 years.
Tabachnick established a lifelong friendship with him during their time together with both the CBRT and CUPE.
Even after retirement, they continued to have lunch weekly, where they would dissect “the ills of the world.”
“We usually saw eye-to-eye on most issues. It was never really a debate, it was really just bolstering each other’s viewpoint,” recalled Tabachnick.
He testified to his friend’s modesty, kindness and authenticity.
Finn wrote a column for The Toronto Star from 1968-82 and served for three years on the board of directors of the Bank of Canada.
In 2013, he published his memoir, "Ed Finn: A Journalist’s Life on the Left," covering his 70-plus years as a journalist.
Finn retired in 2014 after serving 20 years as editor of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ monthly magazine, The Monitor.
Until his death, he continued writing on political issues, including labour, the environment and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, on his blog, The Nonagenarian’s Notebook at edfinn.ca.
Finn was appointed to the Order of Canada in November for his lifelong contributions to Canada’s political discourse as a trade unionist, journalist, writer and politician.
Stephen Roberts is a reporter covering the west coast of Newfoundland.