03 September 2013

Back to School with Senator Linda Frum

The McGill University Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 1 (September 1983)
Bright young things begin taking their seats at McGill today. When exactly the tired asses of the Senate will be doing likewise is Stephen Harper's secret, but it's a safe bet that Linda Frum will be there. Will anyone notice? The Ontario senator hasn't been terribly active since her 2009 appointment, but look back a few years and you'll see she her working hard raising funds for the Conservative Party. Look back a decade and you'll find her doing the same for the Canadian Alliance. Look back three decades as you'll see her really on the move as editor of the new McGill University Magazine.

Sure, it doesn't look like much today, but in the time of typesetting cylinders, wax rollers and blue pencils The McGill University Magazine was pretty impressive. All this put together by just two people? It's understandable then that the paper's appearance in bulk at the University of Toronto, 542 kilometres to the west, sparked rumours. Some said that it was laid out at The Varsity, while others speculated about funds flowing from Murray Frum, Linda's dentist/developer father. The most cynical spoke of American money.

The most cynical turned out to be correct.

This debut issue was modest: twelve pages comprising fewer than 146-column inches of text in a font that the Ulverscroft Large Print people might think too big. It fairly stumbles out of the out of the gate with the first piece, an awkward "General Statement Of Principles":
The McGill University Magazine dedicates itself to the preservation of those of McGill's ancient traditions still extant, and to the revival of those now lost. Without its customs, a university is merely a machine for teaching, indistinguishable from its rivals; with them, it is a great and thriving institution that extends across time to unite our ancestors and our posterity in common enterprise.
Three more principles follow: the demand for academic excellence, the rejection of public funding for higher education, and the peculiar insistence that the prosperity of the university take priority over that of the country. Something about the protection of private property appears tacked on as an afterthought.

Throughout the paper runs an unquestioning nostalgia for the university's past, the very decades in which its editor would have been faced with a cap on the number of Jewish admissions. One page is devoted to "Songs of Old McGill", another features a few sports photos from the 'twenties, 'thirties and 'fifties. An 1874 Thomas Naste editorial cartoon about bank failures in the United States is tweaked in memory of the victims of "Korean Air Flight 077 [sic]", while another 19th-century American editorial cartoon is directed at students who objected to cruise missile testing in Alberta:

Given the paper's skewed view of the past, it makes perfect sense that its cover story about the McGill Daily begins by misquoting alumnus A.J.M. Smith (B.A 1925, M.A. 1926), then denying him credit:

What follows is a three-page interview between former editor Richard Flint and some anonymous soul. Who could it be? There may be a clue in the shared queer obsession – pun intended – nameless interviewer and paper have with the Daily's annual Lesbian and Gay issue. The front page of the 1983 edition is reproduced no less than four times in these pages; no other issue of the Daily features. The interviewer raises the subject more often than any other, leading to this exchange in which Mr Flint is accused of giving "homosexuals extra space in the Daily":
RF: No, we don't.
MUM: But you do, you really do.
RF: We certainly don't give a tenth of our coverage to the gay community, which if we were to be fair is what we would give.
MUM: Wouldn't it seem to the other 90 per cent of the campus that you are ignoring their interests?
RF: No. To the minority who are homophobic, there is a problem. That have a dangerous bigotry. This is the problem with reflecting student opinion. If student opinion is bigoted, should we reflect that? I don't think so. The intolerance encouraged by what I would call the Right, these days represented by our Student Society and some of their publications, is really quite pathetic.
MUM: We are not questioning the right to print what you want, but we wonder whether your commitment to letting other sides be heard is as strong as it should be.
RF: I think the Daily is the most accessible publication I have ever seen. There's no doubt about it. We have a number of people whose politics are vastly different from the rest of the staff's. They are accepted. Sure, the majority of the staff have left-leaning views.
MUM: Why then, for example, do we not see any articles against McGill's divesting from South Africa?
RF: Something like divestment is a thing where even our most right-wing staffers don't disagree.
MUM: You wrote an editorial denouncing the right of a representative of a group called the South African Foundation, John Chettle, to speak at McGill...
RF: I don't think people who deny free speech to others should enjoy free speech themselves.
And on it goes for another page and a-half, ending with this:

Now, I've never had an account with the Bank of Montreal myself, but there has been some contact. As a member of a student paper, back in 1980 I voted to close our account with the bank. Old timers will recall that it wasn't until five years later, under pressure from Joe Clark, that the Bank of Montreal finally stopped lending money to the Botha government.

The Bank of Montreal receives the lone – pun unintended – acknowledgement of support in the debut issue of the McGill University Magazine. There are no ads. What Messrs Fogler, Donato, Hart, Evans and Muggeridge did to warrant "special thanks" I cannot say. What I do know is that the Magazine received some funding from the Institute of Educational Affairs, an American organization founded by William Simon and Irving Kristol. The IEA also helped support David Frum, Tony Clement and editor Nigel Wright – yes, that Nigel Wright – in establishing their own magazine at the University of Toronto. Still more of the Institute's money was given to Libertas, a paper that was starting up at Queen's University. It was edited by John Mulholland, son of William Mulholland, Chairman and CEO of the Bank of Montreal.

It's who you know, I guess.

The McGill University Magazine promised an exclusive interview with once-and-future Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa in its second issue. I couldn't be bothered to pick up a copy. Still, I was impressed; it was quite a coup for a fledgling "student publication".

It's who you know, I guess.

It bears repeating.


  1. I'm late to the party, but appreciated this article. Thanks! Not that it told me anything I didn't already know....

  2. Linda Frum, Nigel Wright, Tony Clement ...
    UBYSSEY November 1984
    Rightwing paper covertly funded from US

    Starts on page 3 continues on page 8