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Great newspapers support great causes, and the Toronto Star supports the NDP

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Joseph E. Atkinson in 1899

Great newspapers support great causes and Canada is a great cause.

I'm not sure if it was Joseph Atkinson or Beland Honderich, both great leaders of the Toronto Star in their day, who said this, or something like it. For once, Google seems to have failed me. So perhaps it was just an urban myth, or the effects upon my mind of "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato."

Doesn't matter. The statement is profoundly true on all counts, whoever said it, and the Star proved Saturday with its editorial calling on Canadians to elect an NDP government in Ottawa that it is a great newspaper.

Indeed, as we await the results of today's historic federal election, it is worth pondering the thought that the Star is Canada's only remaining daily newspaper still worth being described as great.

There's more to that than just a single election editorial, of course, but the Star's editorial Saturday is another piece of evidence for that assertion. All the more so, as the Star is known traditionally as a Big-L Liberal newspaper.

"Fortunately, this time there is a real choice," the Star editorial concluded. "Voters who believe Canada should aspire to something greater than the crabbed, narrow vision offered by the Harper Conservatives should look to Jack Layton and the New Democrats on Monday." The entire editorial is worth reading, and you can read it yourself by clicking here.

The Star cautioned elsewhere that voters in some ridings will still need to vote strategically by voting for "the progressive candidate best placed to win." To fail to do this, the paper cautioned, could tip the election to the Conservatives, and "that would be the worst outcome for the province -- and the country."

Meanwhile, the rest of Canada's chain-owned print media firmament, every one in decaying low orbits, churned out dreary lists of Conservative talking points for their election editorials, leading to unsurprising endorsations of the party most likely to serve their owners' interests, the aforementioned Harper Conservatives.

Many of them -- including the appalling Sun Media chain -- campaigned openly and dishonestly for the government right in their news columns. Writers for the Southam/Canwest/Postmedia chain, including a few winners of the Atkinson Fellowship sad to say, in effect did the same thing, but at least with less obvious enthusiasm than their swift-boating compadres at the various yellow dwarf Suns.

It is ironic that media limited to four questions a day by this vindictive and anti-democratic prime minister endorsed his re-election without a whimper of protest, all but the Star.

Well, the Globe and Mail always was the fearless champion of the overdog, and the rest of them aspired to the same thing with varying degrees of skill. Only the Star -- for all its many sins of omission and commission over generations -- has pretty consistently advocated progressive causes that would benefit Canadians since Atkinson became editor in 1899.

As Honderich wrote in 1999, before following his predecessor into history, "Mr. Atkinson, by his own admission, was a 'tireless, unremitting propagandist' for social and economic justice. He was a leader in the struggle for sickness and unemployment insurance, old age pensions, mother’s allowance and much more.

"His vision of a Canada in 1899 as a strong independent nation capable of governing itself helped to shape the country's future. So did his strong support, often in the face of angry criticism, of workers' right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike if necessary to improve their wages."

I'm not persuaded that many Canadian readers pay much attention to newspaper editorials any more, rightly concluding they are mere exercises in corporate group think, and boring ones at that.

The Star's courageous election editorial, like the paper that published it, is a worthy exception.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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