A man of his words: Celebrating the life and legacy of Ed Finn

Ed Finn was a master of the English language, a man who lived by his principles, and a loving family man. He made a huge contribution to his birthplace of Newfoundland and Labrador, to the labour movement in Canada, and to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives—the CCPA.

Ed was the creator and long-time editor of the Monitor, the flagship publication of the CCPA. From the moment it was established in 1994, whenever we ask our donors what they valued about the CCPA, the Monitor is sure to be one of their top reasons for supporting the Centre. It remains an incredible publication, full of information and analysis, a matchless source of progressive thought.

Because the Monitor was not—was never intended to be—light reading, those who didn’t know Ed personally could be forgiven for assuming he was an austere intellectual. But he was the polar opposite: warm, witty, caring, and completely unstuffy.

A few years ago I had a serious operation that required some convalescence. Somehow it became known that I liked mystery books. And soon there arrived, from Ed, a collection of his personal favourite mysteries, with several authors I hadn’t yet encountered and who are now among my favourites. I knew Ed and so I should have known better, but I remember being surprised that such a voracious reader of progressive and political analysis could even find the time to indulge equally enthusiastically in so many literary genres.

At one point, my union shop was trying mightily to create a short, pithy statement about the value of public services. After strenuous effort, we had the document narrowed down to about six pages, nowhere near the brevity we had hoped for. I had one of my better inspirations—I asked Ed if he could turn our essay into a proclamation-style document. After about 24 hours, he sent back a perfect encapsulation of our principles, a ringing declaration of our beliefs, with language that soared off the single page he required for this task. 

We still have a copy of the Public Service Proclamation on our office wall. It’s a masterpiece.

Ed worked all his life for progressive causes, in the political arena and in the labour movement. And then at an age when many people start thinking about retirement, Ed came to the CCPA, and devoted years of brilliant work to the development of the Centre. He was prolific: on top of the 10 Monitor issues he put out each year, there were the books, reports, articles, editing, and more.

I remember kidding Ed, when he finally retired from the CCPA in 2014, that he was taking “early retirement” because he was only in his early eighties. And truth be told he wasn’t very good at retirement—he kept on producing wonderfully crafted articles and even books.

The world, and especially Canada’s progressive movement, has lost a legend with Ed’s death.  But he has left us an incredible legacy, through his family, and through the huge body of work that he either authored or shaped with his amazing editorial skill. 

I don’t have the words to say how much he gave us all. But Ed was never at a loss for words. He knew the strength and the importance of words used wisely. And he devoted himself to that work.

He will be missed, and he will be remembered, for all that he was and all that he did.


Larry Brown is the President of the National Union of Public and General Employees, and Chair of the Board of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 

 

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