Don Martin: Craig Oliver turns 80 — credibility spanning decades
Craig Oliver is usually among the first to show up in the Ottawa bureau in the morning.
Legally blind for decades, CTV’s political commentator straps on headphones to get an audio rundown of the day’s top stories while peering into his heavily magnified computer screen to scan the news feed.
An hour later, Craig will show up in my office with a concise analysis of the best stories, why they’re important and who I should be booking for guests.
Craig Oliver turned 80 years young today, which makes the skills he retains for spotting the real news even more impressive.
But beyond unprecedented press gallery longevity, there’s the impeccable credibility he’s earned broadcasting six decades of Canadian and American political stories, scoops and analysis.
Craig’s story is straight out of a Horatio Alger book – the son of alcoholics, he was abandoned by his father to foster care and often left to wander the streets as a homeless kid in remote and rainy Prince Rupert, B.C.
Those are highly unlikely conditions to launch a reporter’s rise through the ranks to cover 11 prime ministers, starting with John Diefenbaker, and 18 federal elections.
Craig sees today’s milestone birthday as a time of winding down – and the torch is clearly being passed to daughter Annie who is a superb reporter in our Ottawa bureau – but he should be treasured even more by his profession nowadays.
What’s profoundly missing in the national press gallery, where reporters increasingly transition quickly through journalism jobs on their way to better pay and pensions in government or public relations, is experienced political memory.
Nobody can be better at weaving our history into current events than Craig because he’s seen it for himself as a bear-witness journalist.
And then there’s that unique personality you don’t see on the air.
Craig is almost irritatingly humble. He demanded a planned 80th birthday tribute be scrubbed, which had the current and several former prime ministers, premiers and a Who’s Who of political celebrities vying to attend, because he feared nobody would show up.
It’s also true, as an aside, that his wallet creaks when it opens and he only remembers giving you winning stock tips.
But Craig remains, above all, a fearless commentator who believes that facts, context and balance matter; a journalist’s journalist who has cast a critical but never cynical eye on politics through more than a third of Canada’s existence as a country.
At the end of every Last Word as the cameras go dark, Craig grades my editorial effort. Sometimes it’s a high mark, sometimes not so much.
Today I’m turning the tables to grade someone who has been a force of integrity and personality the likes of which Canadian journalism may never see again.
The 80-year version of my friend Craig Oliver scores an easy A+.
May he never retire.