Canada's Most Decorated Journalist to Receive Honorary Degree from VIU

June 2, 2017 - 1:00pm

Jeffrey Simpson’s national affairs column in The Globe and Mail was essential reading for many Canadians for more than 30 years

Jeffrey Simpson knew from a young age exactly what he wanted to do with his life and how he was going to get there.

Simpson decided in high school that he wanted to be a national-level journalist in Canada. Not only did he succeed in this goal, he also became the nation’s most decorated journalist and someone people looked to for critical insights into the world of politics.

His work has won all three of Canada’s leading literary prizes – the Governor-General’s award for non-fiction writing, the National Magazine Award for column writing, and the National Newspaper Award for column writing, which he has won twice. Simpson also became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000.

The road to this remarkable career began with careful preparations starting in high school, when Simpson joined the debate team and edited the high school yearbook. While completing his degree in History and Political Science at Queen’s University, he worked for the campus radio station and took summer jobs at Canadian Press. Then, to broaden his world view, he went to graduate school at the London School of Economics and Political Science and spent a summer in France in order to become fluent in both official languages.

The best preparation for his career came after grad school when he took a 10-month internship at Parliament that included a stint in Ed Broadbent’s constituency office. Broadbent would later go on to become leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada.

“I learned an enormous amount that year,” he remembers. “It was part of my preparation to be a national journalist – learning how caucuses work, how the House works, how issues are debated.”

Simpson started working at The Globe and Mail in 1973, covering Toronto City Hall and Quebec politics. In 1977, he became a member of the paper’s Ottawa bureau and then bureau chief 18 months later. Simpson also worked as The Globe’s European correspondent for two years before he began his national affairs column in 1984.

For the next 32 years, many Canadians looked to his national affairs column for insight into current events at the national and international levels. Simpson attributes his success to being able to write fast, having access to good copy editors, never having a shortage of material to write about, and staying true to two hard-and-fast rules.

“I always assumed that my readers were at least as smart as or smarter than I was – I always wrote ‘up’ to my readers,” he says. “They are not going to read you if you are just spewing a lot of routine stuff. My second rule, which I never, ever broke is I never, ever wrote about myself. The writer is only important as an observer, analyst and reporter. I’ve always believed the best columnists are the best reporters – you’d better read a lot, talk to a lot of people and travel a lot. People want facts, information, and analysis. It’s not a 9-5 job.”

Dr. Ross MacKay, Dean of VIU’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, praises Simpson for his deep understanding of Canadian history and culture as well as his active involvement in the academic world, devoting his services to university, library and editorial boards.

“I have learned about the importance of history and civics in my own work by reading his informed and erudite columns over the years,” he says.

Along with thousands of national affairs columns, Simpson wrote numerous magazine articles, spoke at many major conferences on domestic and international issues, and was a popular commentator on television programs, including on CBC. He also enjoyed guest lecturing at universities, including Oxford, Harvard and Princeton, as well as Stanford University, where he was a John. S. Knight Fellow, and penned eight books on topics ranging from historical accounts of political events, to climate change and Canada’s medical system.

His first book, about the rise and fall of Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservative government in the late 1970s and into 1980, came about because he had already been writing about it for The Globe.

“When Clark’s government lost the election, I said to myself, ‘There’s a story here, and who better than me to write it because I was so close to it,’” he says. “When it won the Governor-General’s award, I said to myself, ‘I guess you can do this.’”

Simpson retired from The Globe in July 2016, but he continues to travel and give presentations – he’s speaking at the Business Council of BC’s fifth annual Chair’s Dinner the same day he comes to Nanaimo to accept his award from VIU.

“People used to say I had a lot of influence on people; I don't think I did,” he says. “I think a lot of people were appreciative of the work I did. I got a lot of letters when I retired.”

To learn more about VIU convocation ceremonies, click here.



Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6559 | C: 250.619.6860 | E: | T: @VIUNews

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