Friday Interview with John Honderich
If you’ve ever lived in the Greater Toronto Area, you’ll have heard of this week’s interviewee. John Honderich, C.M. ran Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, The Toronto Star, for as long as I can remember. Currently, he is Chair of the Torstar Voting Trust, the five family group that own the controlling votes of Torstar Corp (TS.A:TSX). During the past couple of years, John has thrown his energy and experience into municipal and provincial roles, first as an advisor and Ambassador on behalf of Toronto Mayor David Miller, and more recently in a role with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
John and I met in the late 90s when Torstar launched their bid for Sun Media and engaged Nesbitt Burns to assist on the M&A process. Our readers might get a kick out of the fact that a former Toronto Star carrier is interviewing one of the Star’s owners….
Question #1. Other than your Chairmanship of the Torstar Family Voting Trust, folks need an update as to how you are spending your endless energy. I know that you’ve been involved both municipally and provincially on the issue of “Cities”; tell us more about that.
I still do consulting for both the province and the mayor on the cities issue. And with the latest upset at City Hall, that has become even more vital.
However, my latest passion is also Africa. I just spent a month in Rwanda working with the only daily newspaper in that country. The experience was life-changing and my view of Africa has changed forever.
Question #2. On the question of “fair share” for our cities and urban communities, what are the key areas that you believe governments need to agree on?
First off, governments have to believe that cities are important for economic growth. All politicians pay lip service to this notion but they don’t back it up in deeds. The Canadian constitution was drafted when this country was 80 per cent rural and only 20 per cent urban. Those numbers have completely reversed themselves yet we haven’t caught up with what this means for financing and supporting our cities. Look at constitutions in places such as Germany and you will see how “newer” countries have recognized the import of cities and their places in countries.
Question #3. Your experience at Toronto’s City Hall as Mayor Miller’s advisor on this topic would have been fascinating. Have you come to believe that a city such as Toronto needs to think about new sources of revenue if the Fed/Prov angle doesn’t work? Such as turning the DVP and Gardiner Expressway into a toll road, for example?
While working for the Mayor, I was involved chiefly in the drafting of the new City of Toronto Act. One of the critical parts of this new Act is to allow Toronto to levy some of its own taxes. If you look at Chicago you will see a city that has more than 65 separate fees and levies. Most major cities in North America must be able to depend on streams of money from a host of different sources – not just property taxes. In this regard Toronto is just beginning. By the way, I’m in favor of road tolls.
Question #4. Switching gears…you’ve spent decades as a writer and editor/publisher, what do you make of the traditional print media’s reaction to blogging? Some newpapers are mixing traditional newsprint publishing with online writing. Does this risk diluting the brand known as “professional journalist”?
Blogs are here to stay. And newspapers are incorporating them into their websites because of pure competitive reasons. You have to stay up with the pack. Does it risk diluting the brand of professional journalists? To some extent, yes. On the other hand, I think it can enhance the brand – for that I look to Antonia Zerbsias who has widened her brand through her constant blogging.
Question #5. If journalists are now also bloggers, doesn’t that put the more authoritative bloggers in the same category as journalists when it comes to such traditions as libel laws, common law source protection, the Charter of Rights and so forth?
I think if you blog, your rights are and should be the same as any other person, be he/she a journalist or not. To my knowledge there are no special rights that accrue to journalism. The only rights are for freedom of the press.
Question #6. The Toronto Star is close to your heart, obviously. Over the past 6 months or so the readership figures seem to be on the upswing. Are you pleased with how things are going as compared to the National Pest, for example?
Very pleased with readership and the new look. I think we blew The Globe away.
Question #7. Last question: what’s on your iPod?
Lots of 60s, 70s, 80s, musical favorties, sappy chick music (my favorite being Tina Turner) and tons and tons of classical. I particularly love Bach and music for the cello, which I once played.
Thanks very much John. The economy of our country is very much tied into the issues that you are working on, and the effort is truly appreciated. Venture capital can’t succeed in the absence of a constructive local governmental framework.