"He who works and is not bored is never old": A tribute to Ed Finn

December 30, 2020

3-minute read

When I became Executive Director of the CCPA in January 1994, I thought we needed to build our individual membership base, which was very small at the time. The board of directors, which then included one Ed Finn, reacted positively to my proposal that the CCPA launch a journal of progressive research that might attract new supporters and thereby grow the organization. We all agreed that if anyone could pull it off, it would be Ed, with his vast journalistic experience.

The CCPA had no money to hire Ed on staff. So we offered him a series of meagre contracts. The hope was that as our individual membership grew, so too would the resources to hire him permanently. And that is in fact what happened. Our first fundraising appeal brought in an incredible 1,200 new members. Ed’s vision resonated, and our membership fairly quickly grew to over 12,000.

The front-page story of the first issue of the Monitor, in May 1994, was: “Annual Cost of Unemployment to the Economy: $109 billion.” It was based on a report the CCPA had published by two Quebec economists. The issue also included articles comparing CEO salaries with those of workers, how Canadian social spending lagged behind other industrialized countries, and the exodus of jobs under “free trade,” among others. Plus ça change…

In 20 years, Ed never missed an issue and was never late in getting the Monitor into members’ hands. Ed built the journal into what it is today: an integral part of who we are at the CCPA. 

The Monitor has many fans, perhaps one of the biggest being the late Canadian author Farley Mowat. There are detractors, too, but a good number of gripes have to do with font size, and only very rarely the Monitor’s content. 

From the beginning, Ed maintained editorial control, though he was always open to input from colleagues. The only time I asked him to spike an article or two was when we thought it crossed the line in terms of our charitable status. Like many other Canadian research institutes, the CCPA is bound by law to be non-partisan in all that we do, including what we publish in the Monitor.

Ed also edited the Alternative Federal Budget in its early days. In those pre-email times, the challenge of assembling its many chapters—written by many contributors in varying styles, and of varying literary quality—was formidable. Ed crafted this jumble of material into a coherent AFB document. I remember the late John Loxley marvelling at the difference between what was fed in and the product that emerged from Ed’s golden pen.

In Who Do We Try to Rescue Today?, the title essay of his book of the same name, Ed makes the distinction between those who work to rescue the victims of a bad system and those work to change the system so that it won’t produce victims that have to be rescued. Without condemning those in the former camp he places himself squarely in the latter.

Ed believed that before people can be moved to action, they have to have their eyes opened to what is really going on—to the reality of power and those who have it and exercise it for their narrow self-interest; to those who spin the myths and stories that perpetuate the system. That was his mission.

Having been around longer than the rest of us, Ed saw the Canadian welfare state grow in postwar Canada out of the struggles of the 1930s. He then witnessed and condemned the neoliberal assault of the last three decades. Like the rest of us, Ed became discouraged by this trajectory, but he was never cynical nor despairing, and he never gave up. 

He has been a wonderful role model for all of us: his integrity, his work discipline, his inner strength and grace under pressure inspired. 

Ed was not in denial about growing old, not at all. He just didn’t accept age as a category that defines how one is supposed to behave. He had no intention of slowing down, spending stress-free days contemplating the universe, going on seniors’ trips or sleeping late. He loved the work he did. I would say, in that respect, the CCPA benefited him in equal measure to what he brought to the organization—because there was always something else to do. 

The cellist Pablo Casals’s dictum, “He who works and is not bored is never old,” is totally appropriate to how Ed lived. In this sense, we might all hope to be as young as Ed was when he passed away, too soon but with such a vast progressive legacy in his wake.


Bruce Campbell is the former Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 

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