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When he was editor of the Globe and Mail, John Willison was a loyal supporter of Liberal Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, going so far at one point to hold back a story that would have embarrassed his friend before the 1891 election. But in 1911, after Canada signed a sweeping free trade deal with the United States, Willison deserted Laurier. From his new post as editor of the Evening News in Toronto, he led the attack on the reciprocity agreement and the elimination of protective tariffs. He was an important organizer of the “Toronto Eighteen”, a group of prominent industrialists and entrepreneurs, many of them Liberals, whose anti-reciprocity manifesto Conservative leader Robert Borden embraced. Facing a Commons filibuster, Laurier called an election to clear the air. Willison wrote Borden’s party platform. The Tories won the election — and the new Prime Minister bestowed a knighthood on Willison. The story that Willison sat on in 1891? A planned speech attacking Laurier’s free trade policy by leading Liberal Edward Blake. Willison caused Blake to hold off until the election was over — and Laurier elected. The era when journalists were truly part of the political power structure has long since passed, but the passions about free trade endure. #PowerPrimeMinistersPress p.50. (Photo of John Willison, 1913,Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto). 

As an editor, he worked to defeat Laurier on free trade. (Photo: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto).

Robert Lewis

Twelve years in the Parliamentary Press Gallery, former Editor-in-Chief at Maclean's, author "Power, Prime Ministers and the Press" (2018, Dundurn; available as audiobook).


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