Vaughn Palmer: Jim Hume kept politicians’ feet to the fire

Opinion: Dean of BC press gallery never shied from a fight with a politician

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VICTORIA — From time to time over the years, we regulars on the political beat would be idling in the legislature corridors only to be confronted by the dean of the press gallery, veteran reporter and columnist Jim Hume.

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“Get to work you lazy bums!” he’d berate us. “Standing around waiting to collect spit on microphones — go dig up a story of your own.”

Hume, who died Wednesday aged 98, famously disliked pack journalism.

“I don’t do scrums,” he’d say.

He was also famously generous with his time for younger women who were willing to listen.

When I started in the press gallery for The Vancouver Sun almost 40 years ago, Hume, who wrote for the rival Victoria Times Colonist, spent some time training me to pay attention to what the politicians actually said — and did not say.

He also passed along a piece of advice that is more useful than ever in the era of social media: “If someone calls you an asshole, Palmer, first consider the possibility that they may be right.”

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Hume was born in the UK and spent the Second World War in a camp for conscientious objects. He did duty as a stretcher bearer during the German bombing of Coventry, an experience that provided one of his most gripping anecdotes.

After the war, Hume moved to BC and pursued a career as a journalist.

He wrote about all the premiers of the postwar era, through to the current occupant, who provided a personal tribute Wednesday.

“I delivered the paper when I was a kid, so I threw Jim Hume on to doorsteps,” said John Horgan during an interview with Rob Shaw of CHEK TV.

“I read Jim Hume as a student, I read Jim Hume as a member of the legislature, and I read Jim Hume as premier.

“I didn’t always agree with him, but to have his vast knowledge of events in and around British Columbia, particularly from a Victoria perspective, has been really extraordinary.

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“That was a life well lived, observing and commenting on the events of our time, that’s what I want to do, and Jim did that in full measure.”

One of those times when Horgan and Hume disagreed was 10 years ago.

They went chin to chin in the legislature corridor over the retirement package for then clerk of the legislature, George MacMinn.

Horgan, then the Opposition house leader, opposed the terms. Hume, on one of his periodic visits to the legislature, challenged Horgan over whether he’d sought MacMinn’s side of the story.

Horgan had to admit that he had not done so. Later that day the two, both scrappers, reconciled.

Hume was his own man when it came to punditry.

He did some of his boldest work in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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When Bill Vander Zalm was premiered in 1986, BC was briefly in the throes of what was called “Vander-Mania.”

The contrarian Hume warning Times Colonist readers in a front-page piece to prepare for a wild roller-coaster ride.

Later, a rival columnist at the same paper organized a pro-Vander Zalm rally on the lawn of the legislature. Several thousand Victorians attended.

Hume did not slacken his criticism of Vander Zalm, while joking that “I couldn’t get a dozen people to show up on the lawn if I offered to buy them lunch.”

He also took a critical view of the populist surge for Preston Manning and the Reform Party.

Hume had a long history with the Manning family.

As a political reporter with the Edmonton Journal in the early 1960s, he clashed with Preston’s father, Alberta Premier Ernest Manning.

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Hume’s reporting contributed to the resignation of Alberta’s provincial treasurer.

Next, he confronted the minister of municipal affairs over some questionable land dealings and gave him 24 hours to respond.

A furious Premier Manning — who was also his own attorney general — set the wheels in motion to charge Hume with blackmail.

Fearing the worst, the paper sent its political reporter into hiding, first in Edmonton, then in Penticton.

But nothing ever came of the threat.

Hume retired from a five-times-a-week column with the Times Colonist in the mid-1990s but kept writing.

The paper dropped his once-a-week column in 2014 but Hume kept writing … with a blog called the Old Islander.

His last piece, posted on the first of this month, was on Russia’s learning experience in the war with Ukraine.

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“It is said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a student of history,” began Hume, secure in his own grasp of history.

“If that is true, he must have skipped a few study sessions during the years he was climbing the ladder in the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs — better known as the NKVD, later as the KGB, the secret police of Russia much favored as the ultimate disciplinary arm of Joseph Stalin and treasured by Russian leaders including Putin.”

Only in the past few days did Hume have to check in to a hospital in failing health.

At the end on Wednesday, Nicholas, youngest of Jim’s six sons, was holding his hand and reading him favorite poems.

Around 3 am, Nic read Invictus:

“And yet the menace of the years,
“Finds and shall find me unafraid…
“I am the master of my fate,
“I am the captain of my soul.”

Not long after Nic finished reading, his dad was gone.

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