By Henry McRandall
With the second convergence between future Toronto Star Editor Michael Cooke’s professional career and mine obviously drawing toward a conclusion, the tensity was ramped up a bit.
There had not been a single complaint about my work. But my probation was drawing to a close and I was certain that Cooke would only be able to get rid of me if he could get rid of me as a probationary employee. I was counting down the days to the end of my 65-working-day probation.
Apparently, however, Cooke lost count or hesitated for some unknown reason. He was so satisfied with my work that he had asked me to work an extra day a week in the last few weeks of my probation and when he finally pounced it was too late to carry out his plan as intended.
Cooke’s hesitation was probably rooted in his uncertain weighing of all the factors.
Going in my favour were Cooke’s dismal performance as City Editor of the (Montreal) Gazette and the fact that I was fairly bilingual and a native Montrealer. For the first time in his short career as city editor, there was a viable candidate to replace him.
Going in Cooke’s favour was the fact that none of his newsroom superiors – publisher Clark Davey, executive editor Mark Harrison and managing editor Mel Morris knew very much French and were not well placed to assess his performance. After all, the Gazette was the only English game in town.
Secondly, he was part of the Brit-dominated Toronto media mafia that took over control of the Gazette in 1979 and his confreres owed him big-time for his wilful compromising of his journalistic ethics while overseeing the Gazette’s campaign against sovereignty-association in the 1980 Quebec referendum.
But the biggest thing going in Michael Cooke’s favour was that he knew how terror-stricken his fellow members of that Toronto media mafia were at the prospects of Quebec sovereignty or even just of tougher language laws.
On my 69th day of employment at the Gazette, Morris called me into his office and announced that he was firing me. (I don’t believe Cooke had the authority to fire me himself.) I asked him for what reason. Morris replied that he was firing me as a probationary employee and that he did not need a reason.
I pointed out to the Managing Editor that I was no longer a probationary employee and that he had to have a valid reason to fire me.
Morris turned red in the face and began to scream his insistence that I was fired. I immediately filed a grievance with the Montreal Newspaper Guild and after several days during which Morris kept changing his mind about whether he was firing me for incompetence or gross misconduct, I was reinstated.
Michael Cooke’s worst nightmare was now the Gazette’s and Southam’s worst nightmare.
Cooke had made a grievous error several months earlier in the illegal firing of a reporter named Andre Gagnon for supporting the Parti Quebecois in the Quebec election and Gagnon was now successfully suing the Gazette for discrimination under Quebec’s much more progressive human rights charter.
Cooke had by now convinced the Brit-dominated Toronto mafia running the Gazette that I was involved with the Parti Quebecois in some sort of plot to embarrass the Gazette. The Gazette and its parent, Southam Inc., were now convinced that I had to be stopped.
For two weeks after I was reinstated, I was subjected to a campaign of constructive dismissal. As it grew more evident that I was not about to fold my cards, Cooke and Morris kicked their conspiracy into high gear. In an effort to set me up, I was assigned to handle a number of highly sensitive stories in the hope that I would somehow mishandle them and provide them with grounds to dismiss me for incompetence.
Initially, however, Cooke’s malevolent scheme backfired.
Don’t miss the next installment of “How and why Toronto Star editor Michael Cooke got me illegally blacklisted,” which will be appearing soon.
How and why Toronto Star Editor Michael Cooke got me illegally blacklisted – Part 5
By Henry McRandall