April 15, 2024

Peter C. Newman, a maverick journalist and historian who skewered the political establishment in Canada while evolving into a fervent nationalist there, his adopted country, to which he had fled as a boy from Nazi-occupied Europe, died on Sept. 7 in Belleville, in southeast Ontario. He was 94.

His death, in a hospital, was caused by complications of Parkinson’s disease, which he developed after a stroke last year, said his wife, Alvy Newman.

In a long and prolific career, Mr. Newman had stints as editor of the Toronto-based Maclean’s magazine and of The Toronto Star while churning out nearly three dozen books, some delving into the inner sanctums of four Canadian prime ministers, the Canadian-based Bronfman liquor dynasty and the Canadian media mogul Conrad Black.

He also wrote a history of the Hudson’s Bay Company, founded in 1670; a three-volume dissection of “The Canadian Establishment” (1975); and a memoir that began with his Jewish family’s escape from Europe under fire from a dive bomber.

“Nothing compares with being a refugee; you are robbed of context and you flail about, searching for self-definition,” Mr. Newman wrote in the memoir. “When I ultimately arrived in Canada, what I wanted was to gain a voice. To be heard. That longing has never left me.”

That, he added, was why he became a writer.

His mission was not simply to be a chronicler of events but to be something of a muckraker.

“I pioneered the approach of writing about politics and business as blood sports” in Canada, he immodestly told Maclean’s. As he explained to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: “I’m neutral, I attack everybody. I think they need to be attacked, they’re responsible to us.”

“I make harsh judgments about our leaders,” Mr. Newman told Maclean’s, “because I feel so strongly about preserving Canada.”

He wrote that Joe Clark, the Progressive Conservative who was prime minister for less than a year before being defeated in 1980, “will never set the world on fire, except by accident,” and that Mr. Clark’s fellow Tory Kim Campbell, who had a similarly brief run as prime minister in 1993, “demonstrated an unerring instinct for her own jugular.”

As for “the clubby male establishment that ran the country,” he wrote in Maclean’s in 2013, it consisted of a “tightfisted cadre of elitists who controlled Canadian business, an informal junta of several thousand circumspect pragmatists, linked more closely to one another than to their country.”

Peter Charles Newman was born Peta Karel Neumann on May 10, 1929, in Vienna to Oscar Karel Neumann, a prosperous factory owner, and Wanda Maria Neumann. The family fled Nazi persecution in 1938 by way of Czechoslovakia and then through Biarritz, France, where they were strafed by a Luftwaffe dive bomber as they waited to board a Belgian merchant ship.

Peter was 11 when the family arrived in Canada in 1940. He was educated at Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto, where he excelled at writing. As a newly minted Canadian he became a British subject in 1945 and enlisted as a reservist in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1947.

Mr. Newman established himself as an author in the 1960s with his two books on Canadian prime ministers: “Renegade in Power: The Diefenbaker Years” (1963), a critical study of the Tory government of John Diefenbaker of the late 1950s and early ’60s, and “The Distemper of Our Times” (1968), which examined the later 1960s administration of Lester Pearson.

Assessing “A Nation Divided: Canada and the Coming of Pierre Trudeau” (1969) in The New York Times Book Review, Stuart Keate wrote: “A brilliant reporter, Newman infuses his chronology of unhappy events with anecdotes and insights that confirm his reputation as guardian of the best set of leaks in Ottawa.”

Mr. Newman metamorphosed from what he described as a “small ‘l’ liberal” to a committed nationalist, explaining in 1971: “We used to be a sort of bastard Englishman. Then we became bastard Americans. What we’ve got to do is become bastard Canadians.”

In 2005, he announced the publication of “The Secret Mulroney Tapes: Unguarded Confessions of a Prime Minister,” centered on Brian Mulroney, another Progressive Conservative, who served from 1984 to 1993. The book quoted Mr. Mulroney vilifying still another prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, who held the office under the Liberal banner for almost 16 years.

Mr. Mulroney then sued Mr. Newman, accusing him of publishing comments that Mr. Mulroney said he had made in confidence. The suit was settled in 2006 — the same year, as part of another lawsuit settlement, that Mr. Newman apologized to Conrad Black, who had sued him for libel over comments in the Newman memoir, “Here Be Dragons: Telling Tales of People, Passion and Power” (2004).

After a stretch reporting for The Financial Post, Mr. Newman edited The Toronto Star from 1969 to 1971. His tenure ended abruptly, he wrote, after he refused the publisher’s request to praise Toronto’s mayor in an editorial that coincided with the paper’s application to build a new printing plant.

Mr. Newman pronounced himself a victim of the publisher’s “mushroom treatment: kept isolated in the dark, showered with manure and then canned.”

He had more success editing Maclean’s, from 1975 to 1982, when he helped transform the magazine from a money-losing monthly into a prosperous and influential weekly.

In 1990, he was promoted to the rank of Companion of the Order of Canada.

Mr. Newman, who was distinguished by his ubiquitous Greek fisherman’s cap, was married three times before he wed Alvy Bjorklund. He had two daughters from earlier marriages and two stepdaughters, the children of Alvy Newman. Complete information on his survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Newman attributed his failed marriages mostly to his workaholic habits, although, he said, one divorce was resulted from a theological dispute: “I thought I was God, and she didn’t.”

His energies hardly waned in his later years.

“There’s a sticker on my computer which reads: ‘We do not stop playing because we are old. We grow old because we stop playing,’” he said. “That’s my credo.”

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