It was a cosy campus until an editor let in Quebec and the world
WHEN HE WALKS through the McGill University campus to the offices of the McGill Daily, Patrick Dominic MacFadden is a rebel striding through an estranged land.
The student newspaper’s 29-yearold editor-in-chief doesn’t wear the trademarks of the current radical. His wavy red hair is combed and well kept. He wears an expensive fleecelined suede overcoat and, underneath, a suit, white shirt, and a carefully knotted conservative tie. But beneath this sartorial splendor and in what must be an unconscious satirical gesture, MacFadden’s pants are mudsplashed, baggy, and at half-mast — revealing faded woolen socks sagging over battered shoes of uncertain color.
Certainly MacFadden would enjoy viewing his own split image. Because in a way it reflects everything he has brought to the McGill Daily, which until he arrived on the scene was the oldest and stuffiest college paper in the country.
It is still very much a university newspaper, but nobody could call it dull. For instance, in the November 9 post-election issue, the front-page headline read: “Resolution to fire MacFadden defeated at Special Meeting.” The other front - page stories dealt with the contrasting reactions on election night at the headquarters of Liberal Pierre Elliot Trudeau and his opponent, NDP candidate Charles Taylor. There was also a report on violence at the long and bitter student-
supported strike at La Tribune in Sherbrooke. Inside, MacFadden ran an editorial in which he said the next parliament will be as dreadful as the last, claimed our foreign policy was made in Washington, and declared the country morally bankrupt because it “supports the mass burning of yellow men in a war which has not been declared with a country that has not been recognized.” For good measure, he predicted there would soon be a “horrible row” over political interference at Expo 67.
In describing the old Daily, MacFadden says, “It was all for motherhood and against sin.” He was appalled at the editorials which, he says, sometimes rose to the heights of backing the annual university blooddonor drive. “Traditionally,” he goes on, “the position of editor-in-chief was given to eminent nonentities who had as little to do with the newspaper as possible.”
MacFadden broke with tradition when he took office in September and worked up to 10 hours a day trying to turn the Daily into his idea of a student newspaper: “Something like the New Statesman of the 1930s under Kingsley Martin” — vigorous, iconoclastic, constructive, and international. And to this formula, MacFadden added his own special humor.
He needed it. Because along the way he battled with everyone on campus—the student council, the administration, the faculty, and most of the political organizations.
MacFadden is an expatriate Irishman from Donegal who was educated in Northern Ireland—“occupied Ireland we call it”—and went on to teach school in England. In 1962 he found himself teaching on Texada, an island community of 3,500 just off the BC coast (“I was in such a hurry to get out of England that I overshot Canada
PETERSON ON THE PROWL
by 10 miles”). Texada, according to MacFadden, is the last paradise left on earth. “But don’t print that because everyone will try to go there and spoil it all. Anyway, I tore myself away from this idyll and came to McGill in 1964.”
He enrolled in an honors English and history course and a few nights later was embroiled in McGill politics. “I went to one of these meetings and had to watch a group of right-wing fanatics tear the socialist speaker to shreds. So 1 immediately joined the McGill YCL (Young Communist League) as a sort of public relations man.”
He also became literary editor of the Daily and took on the task of writing the editorials, for which in 1964 he won the CUS national prize awarded to student newspapers.
Then when Peter Krassner of New York, the iconoclast editor of the Realist, visited the campus, MacFadden faithfully reported everything Krassner said, including all the four-letter-type words usually ignored by the press. The story was printed and MacFadden found himself in his first confrontation with the administration and faculty.
But all this was a prelude to MacFadden’s takeover as editor. “I decided I wanted to run the newspaper and see what could be done with it. There is some power to it, you see, because you’re the first thing read by 5,000 to 6,000 students every morning.”
MacFadden’s installment as editor was bitterly opposed last spring by members of the student council who claimed he would turn the Daily into a vehicle for his extreme left-wing views. MacFadden replied that an editor should be chosen not for his political views but for his ability. He got the job.
“I decided that right from the be-
ginning we would set the limits and that they would be as broad as we could make them. So in the first three weeks we hit them with stories and editorials on everything—British Guiana’s left-wing leader, Cheddi Jagan . . . Vietnam ... the United States’ manipulation of our economy.”
There was an immediate protest. Some 300 students signed a petition to unseat MacFadden. But the move was voted down at a special students’ meeting. The editor went on to hammer away at McGill students for their lack of involvement in Quebec politics and French student syndicalism. Says MacFadden: “For too long we have isolated ourselves from the mainstream of student action in Quebec, and have suffered accordingly.”
He also went on to poke fun at the student-activist council for taking itself so seriously, and prodded it into breaking with the Canadian Union of Students and seeking membership with Union Genérale des Etudiants du Québec (UGEQ) — a fantastic precedent for tradition-bound McGill.
At times MacFadden turns on the faculty. He believes the instruction arts undergraduates receive is vastly overrated. And he seldom goes to lectures, he says, because they are so bad: “I did go to the first lecture of a Shakespeare course, but left after the lecturer opened with, ‘Shakespeare wrote two kinds of plays. One, comedies, and two, something a little more serious, tragedies . . .”
He does, however, attend his French history course every Friday. “So that I can watch Laurier LaPierre act out his beautiful fantasies without ever giving away any information. And he does it all with the utmost contempt for his audience.”
The tenure of angry and outrageous student editors is always uncertain. And it is quite possible MacFadden won’t last the year as the Daily's editor. If he is fired it is unlikely to worry him much. This is his last year and he is contemplating what to do when he graduates. He would like to launch the Canadian version of Britain’s satirical weekly Private Eye. “What this country needs,” he wistfully reflects, “is a great tidal wave of laughter.” UN ADAMS
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