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FATHERS AND SONS

Izzy dealt Leonard a hand that no man could play

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ON the last evening of his life, Izzy Asper gathered with his family on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calender, when believers seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God.

Izzy wasn't a believer.

"I'm quite secular (to my regret)," he wrote to a friend in early 2003.

But Canada's most powerful media mogul did seem to be praying for something.

More time.

"I failed to realize early enough the possibility of mortality," he had recently told an American journalist. "Now, as I reach the autumn of whatever time I'm in, and have a huge agenda that I didn't get to, I have a sense of failure, self-criticism and embarrassment."

 

The autumn he was in was late 2003.

At 71, Izzy still had television networks on three continents, but by then the man whose greatest passion in life was listening to jazz, had a discreetly tiny hearing aid. And the Craven A King size cigarettes he was famous for smoking had been joined by another companion. A defibrillator.

In recent years he'd also been on the Atkins high-protein diet that left him appearing frightfully fragile.

Then there was the crippling debt of his corporation, Canwest Global Communication, its declining share price and the resultant drop in his personal worth.

On Oct. 7, 2003, the morning after Yom Kippur, Leonard Asper decided to linger at home before going to the office. Izzy's then 39-year-old son, who four years earlier had been anointed to lead Canwest, had been only skimming the newspapers recently, and he wanted to catch up.

Plump profits in the first quarter made the business section easy reading back then, but the general outlook for the company was concerning. Three years earlier, in an uncharacteristic deal for someone Forbes once labelled a "bargain basement hunter," Izzy had paid a penthouse price of more than $3 billion essentially to acquire the red-ink-gushing National Post and most of English Canada's regional dailies.

"I wouldn't call it an albatross," Izzy said of the debt that had reached $4 billion when the Globe and Mail spoke to him two years later at his Florida mansion in West Palm Beach. "But it's an impediment to be overcome. And we will."

But they never did.

Izzy's deal for the papers with Conrad Black limited Leonard's management manoeuverability and put his family empire into what turned out to be a decade-long death spiral that ended last month with bankruptcy sales of its core Canadian television and newspaper assets. Canwest Global, which had been assembled primarily by going after failing companies, had been disassembled the same way.

 

It was after 9:30 a.m. when Leonard finished reading the papers and pulled out of his driveway next door to older brother David's Wellington Crescent mansion.

When he reached his office high above Portage and Main, there was an urgent call waiting for him.

It was from David Solomon, the interior decorator Babs Asper had hired to decorate the two-floor, 7,000 square-foot hi-rise condo that she and Izzy had moved into less than a week earlier.

Solomon had been on the main floor with Babs when she noticed Izzy hadn't come downstairs yet. Izzy and daughter Gail had a plane to catch for Vancouver and a fundraising mission for his legacy project, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. But Izzy wouldn't be flying to Vancouver.

The 911 operator answered the call from One Wellington at 9:36 a.m.

Izzy was being wheeled out and a first responder was still pumping his chest when Leonard arrived at the building. He looked at his father. Then he looked at his older brother and shook his head.

It was 10:11 a.m.

In Toronto news, meanwhile, news that Izzy Asper had died of a heart attack had kicked up a storm of trading on Canwest shares. But the market seemed confident that Izzy had managed his succession well and by the end of the day the company's stock would fall only 15 cents, to close at $11.59.

The next day the headline on the front page of the Winnipeg Free Press, the hometown paper he never owned, was heavy and black.

"Larger than Life."

While he was alive Izzy Asper had never fully let go of the controls of the company that had put him at No. 86 on the Forbes list of the world's richest 100 people in 2000. Now Leonard Asper was alone to run it his way. Or so it seemed.

At the funeral, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and future first ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper were among the 1,500 mourners who hear Leonard say something that suggested Izzy would continue his hold on the company, and his son, even from the grave.

"We have your checklist," Leonard said, as if his father was listening. "We know what's left to be done, and we will not let you down."

 

IT was early evening when I arrived at Gail Asper's stately Old Tuxedo house, where the family had gathered on Yom Kippur and where now they were holding shiva. Gail had always had a different relationship with her father than the boys. Just before he died she had given a Q&A interview to Winnipeg Women magazine.

"Which person do you admire most?" she was asked.

"My father," she answered.

"What is your most treasured possession?"

"My greatest living possessions are my children, Stephen and Jonathan. My greatest inanimate possession is a beautiful menorah sculpture my father gave me with the inscription, 'And thou shall teach thy sons,' signed by him."

When I arrived at Gail's, dinner was being served buffet style and, despite the family's obvious grief, there was a celebratory atmosphere in the crowded living room where Leonard was accepting condolences.

I had volunteered to bring some Free Press photos from the funeral that needed some of the mourners identified. When Leonard couldn't help, I worked my way back through the throng and found David hunched over a plate full of food. He didn't recognize the people in the photos, either. Then, abruptly, without my asking, David began talking about his dad. But where only hours earlier in his eulogy, he had spoken affectionately about him being a "loving, but tough dad," now David's tone was different. He described how as a child he and his Dad would play fight, pretending to be professional wrestlers.

"Half the fight," his older son said, "was arguing about who would be the good guy and who would be the bad guy."

Then Izzy Asper's first-born summed up his father in two words.

"Control freak."

Late the next morning I ran into Leonard. Again, without prompting, the younger son began sharing his pain about his relationship with his father. Leonard sounded sad.

In his eulogy he said his Dad "knew how to nurture . . . knew how to love."

That wasn't his message now.

"My dad wasn't a good communicator," Leonard began softly.

His father, he said, had trouble expressing his love. Then Leonard retold the story Izzy Asper told so often about his own relationship with his father.

About how tough Leon Asper had been on Izzy.

"He could never do anything good enough," Leonard said. "Nothing was ever good enough."

It took a while before I figured out what probably prompted Izzy's sons to speak to directly and honestly with me.

Two days earlier, in a front-page tribute, I had suggested that Izzy had been Winnipeg's father figure.

"Israel Asper believed in us," I wrote, "the way fathers are supposed to believe in their children. He nurtured our sense of ourselves, our self-esteem."

The bitter irony must have been too much for the sons to ignore.

Over the next three years, while researching a biography on the charismatic, clever and often contradictory man who spread his wealth and name all over Winnipeg and his empire across the world, I would come to another conclusion.

This one was based on something I read that a Global insider had said well before the company's collapse.

"The real story is how the father shaped the boys."

Starting with how Izzy's father shaped him.

 

* * *

 

It was the end of the silent-movie era. The need to survive had prompted the classically trained musicians Leon and Cecilia Asper to leave the doomed pit orchestras of the Prairies theatres they'd been working in. In 1927, Al Jolson's spoken promise, "You ain't heard nothing yet," in The Jazz Singer would most famously herald the arrival of sound in cinema.

Curiously, the film's theme -- the conflict between an old-world traditional Jewish father who wants his rebellious new-world, jazz-obsessed son to carry on the father's line of work -- mirrored the conflict between Leon Asper, the old-world Jewish father, and Izzy the jazz-obsessed son.

In 1929 Leon was 30 and Cecilia 26 when the Calgary movie-house owner they'd been working for told them about a theatre for sale in the picturesque rural Manitoba town of Minnedosa. Leon took out a $6,000 mortgage to buy The Lyric Theatre and Opera House just in time for the onslaught of the Depression. The couple would have three children, Aubrey, Hettie and the prematurely-born Izzy.

"Aubrey was the fair-haired boy," Hettie recalled. "Izzy never felt he measured up."

Izzy expressed it differently. He felt his father didn't appreciate him because his dad didn't like jazz, and he lacked a sense of humour.

"My father never thought I'd amount to anything," Izzy would say, like a child with a toothache crying for someone to take the pain away.

But as a child Izzy wasn't afraid of pain. Hettie remembered him coming home with a bloody nose, and never backing down from a fight despite being small for his age.

"He always stood up for himself," she said.

But it wasn't a fair fight when it came to his authoritarian father who didn't tolerate disobedience. The children weren't the only ones who saw their otherwise shy father that way. Betty Chisholm worked as a teenage usher at one of the Aspers' rural theatres.

"He was scary," she recalled decades later of the short, stocky man who constantly smoked cigars. "I mean he would put the fear of God into the ushers. We sure followed his instructions without any trouble."

By 1941, Leon had survived bankruptcy in 1936 and a fire that destroyed the uninsured Lyric. Leon rebuilt within six months. The same year the Aspers, who were known in Minnedosa for their kindness, moved down the road to Neepawa and opened The Roxy.

They were in Winnipeg by 1945, where Leon had expanded his little theatre empire that would eventually reach eight. But during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the man who bragged to his sons that he never took holidays had been forced to take time off work.

Leon Asper had a heart condition, exacerbated by diabetes and probably by the stress brought in by the arrival of television. On March 17, 1961, three days before his 62nd birthday, he had a heart attack in hospital and died. The next day, a modest 33-line obituary appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press. The funeral would be equally modest. The Aspers had been in Winnipeg for more than 15 years, but they had never joined a synagogue. Leon was buried from a Jewish funeral parlor on Main Street.

Harold Buchwald, one of Izzy's closest friends, remembered how the son who felt his father had never appreciated him reacted.

"He cried his eyes out."

Before he died, Leon would leave the impression with his family that he felt all his work had been for nothing because Aubrey went into teaching and Izzy into law. His sons' refusal to carry on the business would be the greatest disappointment of Leon Asper's life.

Thirty-five years later, the first time I interviewed Izzy, he was still talking about disappointing his dad, but in a different way.

"I remember when I got married," he told me in 1996. "My father couldn't believe I would have the temerity to ask someone to marry me when I had such dim prospects in life."

Izzy and Babs (Ruth) Asper were married in May 1956. She rarely had the stage to herself after that. But in a newspaper profile 15 years later, after Izzy had left law and become the provincial Liberal leader, there's a sense that Babs was looking out for her children's rights to lead their own lives.

By the time she gave that interview to the Winnipeg Free Press in 1971, David was 12, Gail 10 and Leonard was six and she had probably heard, if not witnessed, the story of Leonard and the lemonade stand. When Leonard was four, the story goes, his father made him cry by telling him that he hadn't really made a profit selling lemonade because he hadn't accounted for all of his operational costs, which Izzy ticked off one-by-one.

In the article, Babs said she wanted her children 'to succeed at what they want for themselves, but the process of finding out what you want for yourself is very hard."

Izzy would make the choices easier for them. They would simply be who he wanted them to be. All three would start by being lawyers. David would talk openly about trying to get out of his father's shadow when he joined a law firm.

But the shadow was too big.

 

"Ø"Ø "Ø "Ø "Ø * * *

 

By 1985, Izzy had survived his first major heart attack and surgery, and was expanding his television operations into Saskatchewan when one wintry day he went sideways into a snowbank.

Early on the morning of November 27, lawyer Hymie Weinstein got a call at home from Babs Asper. Izzy needed help. Already, Weinstein had successfully defended Izzy on a speeding charge that could have led to the suspension of his already probationary driver's license.

This call was different. It wasn't about speeding. Quite the opposite. Police had found Izzy's Mercedes stuck in a snowbank. Izzy was wearing a tuxedo, it was -26 C, and he was demonstrably drunk. It turned out he had been on his way home, going the wrong way on the one-way Sherbrook Street when he tried to turn around.

The Free Press would report Izzy's $450 fine for refusing a breathalyzer and his six-month licence suspension. But it would leave out one detail. Where had Izzy been drinking all night?

 

* * *

 

2James Burns is the Winnipeg boy who became chairman of Power Corp. and President and CEO of Great West Life. It had been with Burns's support that the company helped Asper and his young legal protege Gerry Schwartz raise the initial $20 million that started Canwest as an investment bank in 1977. Only to have Asper buy the Great-West competitor Monarch Life a year later, which caused a livid Jim Burns to demand their money back.

That's not the story Burns wanted to talk about, though. His story was about the night Izzy spent drinking with Paul Hill and ended up in that snowbank.

Paul Hill, who owned the Regina CTV affiliate, had blown in with the snow on Nov. 26, 1985, which as it happened was David Asper's 27th birthday. Back in the early 1970s, Hill had lived in Winnipeg and his daughter and one of Izzy's kids attended Robert H. Smith Elementary together. It was there, in Grade 5 according to family lore, that Leonard Asper became the first boy to kiss Roxanne Hill. Eventually Leonard Asper and Paul Hill would own summer cottage properties next to each other on Lake of the Woods.

Hill had come to Winnipeg looking for Izzy. He wanted to talk about Izzy moving his television operation into Hill's backyard. He found Izzy at a black-tie businessmen's dinner at what is now The Fairmont. When it was over, the pair adjourned to the hotel bar.

"He had a martini." Hill recalled. "I had a beer. He had another martini and I had another beer."

When the bar closed, Hill invited Asper up to his room to continue their chat. There was a full mini-bar waiting.

"He drank all the vodka and gin and white rum," Hill said.

Which is where Burns' story picks up.

The way Burns said he later heard it from Hill, by 3 a.m. the mini-bar was drained and Hill was trying to go to bed. But Izzy was still thirsty.

"So," Burns continued, quoting Hill, "He said Izzy phoned down and said, 'Will somebody come and replenish the mini-bar?' They said, 'Well we can't do that.' So he goes down, registers, gets another room." And the mini-bar that went with it.

That seemed like a story Izzy might tell on himself. Twenty years later, Hill didn't remember Izzy renting another room. What he did recall about that night was what they discussed during more than four hours of drinking.

Personal matters. What stuck out most vividly was something Izzy was frustrated about.

"He wanted his kids to be working with him. He wanted to get them involved. He was driving himself to try to build this business . . . And it was for his kids to carry on."

When he spoke publicly, though, Izzy would always make it sound as if he hadn't encouraged his kids to join the company.

"The reverse," he told one interviewer. "I discouraged it."

But in early 1988, less than three years after he told Hill how much he wanted the his children in the business, Izzy sat down with them and essentially gave them an ultimatum.

According to Peter C. Newman's account in his biography "Izzy", the patriarch told the kids: "I love this business. But I'm not tied to it, so unless you guys see any reason to continue, let's collect our marbles and go home."

A year later, in 1989, Gail was the first to join the family business.

In an interview 10 years later, Izzy gave me this version of how Leonard came home to Winnipeg.

"Leonard was by this time through law school and working at Global in Toronto. And he wanted to get married and start a family and naturally the first thought he had was, 'Well, I want to go to Winnipeg.' So he came back." Not surprisingly, given that I came to learn how unreliable Izzy's versions of events so often were, Leonard's memory of whose idea it was and how it happened was different. Maclean's reported that, in the fall of 1993 while Leonard was working at Global in Toronto, he and his future wife Susan Higgins were visiting the family cottage at Falcon Lake when Izzy told his younger son it was time to move home. Susan wasn't prepared for the abrupt announcement.

"We had to pick her jaw up off the floor," Leonard told the magazine.

It was in 2001, well after the three of them were all in the company, that Izzy gave the Ivy Business Journal his view on family businesses.

"I made a rule that no kids came into the business. I don't believe in nepotism, and I don't believe in dynasties."

A year earlier, on Aug. 11, 2000, Izzy's 68th birthday -- and 15 years after his all-night chat about wanting the kids to join the business -- Paul Hill would write Izzy a letter congratulating him on "integrating your family" into the business and recalling "a long discussion on this matter one famous evening..."

Izzy would reply to Hill by fax a few days later, praising the way Leonard was doing a year after taking over as CEO, and happily accepting Hill's congratulations.

"You are quite right," Izzy wrote, "I regard the immersion of the second generation as my greatest accomplishment."

Somehow Izzy had made his children do what he had refused to do for his father. Izzy's "greatest accomplishment" would be in stark contrast to his father's greatest disappointment.

There was just one problem with what Izzy expected next.

"He expected the boys to be just as clever as he was," said Peter Viner, the long-serving Canwest executive who mentored Leonard. "Which, since he had 40 years on them, wasn't quite fair."

 

"Ø "Ø "Ø "Ø "Ø * * *

 

In March of 2000, Murray Burt, the former Free Press managing editor, was attending a Liberal convention in Ottawa when a business acquaintance from Winnipeg spotted him. "Have you bought any papers lately?" he asked Burt.

Years earlier the man had been his lawyer when Burt was exploring the purchase of a small Manitoba paper, the Beausejour Beaver. But the question at the Liberal convention wasn't as casual as it sounded. His former lawyer went on to ask Burt if he was interested in helping one of his clients look into buying a group of five newspapers, including the prized Winnipeg Free Press.

Operation Torch, as it was code-named, also involved papers in Thunder Bay, Brandon, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.

His clients were the Aspers.

It wasn't the first time Izzy had shown interest in acquiring his hometown newspaper. Burt ended up joining a consulting team that helped Canwest explore the purchase. He remembered his first meeting at Canwest's Portage and Main headquarters.

David Asper was sitting casually on the edge of the boardroom table. More importantly, he remembered what David said.

"We don't know anything about newspapers."

Something else stuck in Burt's memory about his time as a consultant for the Aspers. It was the nature of the father-son relationship. He recalled a meeting he attended with Izzy and the boys in the Canwest's boardroom.

Izzy was upset because he believed his sons hadn't done proper due diligence on a service parking lot at the Brandon Sun.

"He was cross with them and he didn't have to be in front of strangers," Burt said. "The tone was, 'Haven't you done that yet and we're buying this paper?' He didn't say that, but that was his tone, in what had essentially been a happy meeting."

"I felt uncomfortable," Burt recalled. "He was treating them like kids and they were employing us."

Burt managed to rationalize the behaviour. "He was teaching them to be tough."

But what's most telling about the moment is what Burt said next.

"The fact that I've remembered that for six years. It made an impression."

Bill Watchorn worked with Izzy and Gerry Schwartz at the beginning of Canwest. He knew all about the cutting way Izzy could speak. Watchhorn had seen him do it with Schwartz, who became a billionaire in his own right with Onex Corp.

"He can be absolutely the most charming guy in the world," Watchorn said. "Or he can be the most devastating."

But, in Watchorn's view, there was a difference when it came to Izzy's boys' ability to deal with it.

"Kids growing up don't have the shell. And they can't walk away from their dad. They're in the family. I could walk out, call the guy an asshole and think about something else. Come back tomorrow and it's all gone. But it's constant with them. They're with him. I think the family had to live with it."

 

One night soon after Leonard was promoted to CEO in 1999, Jay Firestone -- who for a time worked with the Aspers as chairman and CEO of Canwest Entertainment -- witnessed another disturbing example of the way the father treated the son.

Firestone said he was having dinner with the two of them when Leonard started talking about his new car. It was a Shelby Cobra, a high performance vehicle with a book value of $128,000, that he'd bought in the U.S. But he was having trouble getting it into the country because it didn't meet some Canadian standards. By that time Leonard had consulted Winnipeg real estate agent Glen Sytnyk, who is also a car collector with experience in getting exotic cars into Canada.

"Izzy was like totally impatient about the whole idea," Firestone said. "And he sort of went, 'Ah! Just bring it across the border. Drive the damn thing.' And Leonard's trying to be legally, technically, the right way."

Firestone recalled Izzy's next comment this way.

"'God! This guy's running my company?' "

Leonard looked hurt.

Firestone could empathize.

"I never got my father's acceptance. So I was always conscious of Leonard's relationship with his father. And I wanted Leonard to look good in front of his dad. I actually wanted Leonard to break out of the son situation."

So when Leonard became CEO, Firestone said he had a talk with him, in part because he knew a number of media analysts, how they think and how they can affect stocks.

"And I said, 'Leonard. You have a chance to be Leonard Asper and not just Izzy Asper's son. You gotta take it right away. You can't wait. Day One you gotta come out with your vision of the company. And not the Izzy thing.'

"And I said if you don't do that Day One, I think you're making a mistake. Because they want to see young blood,' " Firestone explained, referring to media analysts. "A new way of doing business. Revitalization of the company. And they want to bet on Leonard Asper. ... And I said if you do it, your stock's going to go up because you're going to get their confidence. And they're going to back you and you're going to raise money.

" 'If you come across as Izzy's son, you won't.'

"And he looked at me, like all encouraged. That was a great idea. But personally, I don't think he ever did it. I think that he tried to be his son."

"Leonard himself," Firestone added. "Great guy, bright guy, got a lot of potential. But only if he has confidence and the guts to go for it."

It's been six years since Firestone told me that.

 

One of the people Izzy and Gail were on their way to see the morning he died was Angus Reid. A year later, when I visited Reid in his Vancouver office, what he said turned out to be prescient, even for a pollster.

Reid was speculating on what drove Izzy, and the glaring contradictions in the man. About how he could be the most charming guy you'd ever met, and the most vicious. Say one thing, and do the opposite. The mood swings and the grandiose thoughts that sometimes went way beyond thinking big.

"Maybe," Reid said back then in 2004, "some of these flaws served to harm his empire going forward."

Then Reid asked a question.

"Why did he buy the National Post? He didn't have to buy the National Post. It's probably the stupidest decision he made in his life. But he bought it anyway and now his kids and his estate all have to deal with this albatross that they've got."

Izzy had a list of more than 200 business do's and don'ts that he compiled for his children. They were known as the Asper Axioms.

"Don't bet the shop," was one of them.

That's what Izzy ultimately did in buying the papers.

Why? Some suggest it was because he had always wanted to own newspapers, which was true, and that he wanted a print platform to preach his brand of politics, which is also true. But I think there was another overarching reason.

"It's an ego requirement with Izzy," former Canwest executive Stephen Gross told the CBC in the 1980s, while trying to explain the man's need to play with the big boys and why he loved publicity. "I don't know why," Gross added. "I suppose you could go back to some psychological deficiency when he was a kid."

 

By April 2009, nearly a decade after the purchase, his father's ego requirement was doing damage to his son's. One Bay Street analyst had declared Canwest basically comatose.

"It's a sad story," he told the Free Press's Martin Cash, "the company is done."

The analyst had just come off a conference call with Leonard.

"He sounded like a defeated man," the analyst added. "I felt sorry for him. He is disheartened. I am disheartened just watching him on the sidelines."

Six months later Canwest sought bankruptcy protection for most of its Canadian core assets. By then the company's stock had been reduced from a high of nearly $43 to pocket change, and less sympathetic analysts had given Leonard a nickname.

"Penny Lenny."

Last month, Paul Godfrey, President and CEO of the National Post, led the group of creditors that bought Canwest's publishing division for about a third of what the Aspers paid a decade prior. But Godfrey also served on Canwest's board from 2003 to 2008, and he talks about how Leonard could have paid down the company's debt by selling Ten Network in Australia earlier, when the selling was good.

And if he had sold Australia earlier?

"He probably would have been in charge of the company today."

But had Izzy ever really ceded authority to Leonard?

 

On April 22, 2005, David, Gail and Leonard were interviewed by Sheillagh Rogers on CBC Radio One's This Must Be Canada.

"What has this last year and a half been like for you without your dad, Gail?" Rogers eventually asked.

"Leonard," Rogers asked when it was his turn to answer, "what's it been like for you?

The president and CEO of Canwest Communications began to stammer.

"Well I, I have this, ah, very, ah, very successful way of coping. Which is about three times a week I have a dream. Where he walks in the room and says, ah, 'So, what, what did you do today?' Or, 'How's it going?'"

Then, in his dream state, Leonard tells his father how it's going at work.

"It's like I brief him," Leonard said.

"I have these incredible, these conversations with him . . . Especially when something good happens. When something bad happens I don't dream," he added laughing. "I don't try.

"I don't dream about the crap I'm getting from him."

There was another point in his achingly open discussion, when Leonard described just how vivid these dreams were.

"It's almost, to me, like he's still here."

 

Gerry Nobel, who had left as President of Global Television by the time we spoke in 2004, had another perspective on Izzy's relationship with his boys. Nobel's words are particularly poignant given what's happened.

"Whenever somehow the conversation would get around to his kids," Nobel said, "You knew that, just the way his tone and the way his eyes would light up, that he was extremely proud of them. And also you knew he was hopeful that they would turn out to be as successful as he was. You got the feeling that no matter what he says about these guys - oh, he made this mistake or he made that mistake -- it was done in kind of a grudging admiration. Like, he never got the chance to make that kind of mistake. Because if he did, he would have lost his business . . . He was very proud of his kids. Always. Always."

 

By last February, David and Gail had resigned from the Canwest board. And in early March, Leonard left. Within days of his resignation, the family's Bermuda style ocean-front mansion in exclusive West Palm Beach, Fla. was listed on a real estate website for $35 million.

All of it made me think of Leonard's pledge at the funeral.

"We have your checklist . . . and we will not let you down."

Gail certainly hasn't let him down.

Flying solo, she went on to get her father's proudest gift to the city and the nation in the ground, the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. And David, and his real estate company, have been able to help get something in the ground, too. A new stadium for the Bombers, a team he hopes to own one day soon.

As for Leonard, despite what the business analysts may tell you, Leonard didn't fail his father.

His father failed him.

It wasn't just the size of the debt his father burdened him with, or the fact that Izzy himself had been unwilling to sacrifice the high-earning international assets to pay down the debt. It was the so-called double bind Izzy created for Leonard.

The no-win dilemma? If Leonard sold the international assets, he would lose the empire his father built. But if he didn't sell them, he would lose the company. Either way, Leonard would lose because he would let his father down.

But, like his own father Leon, nothing ever seemed to satisfy Izzy, anyway. I think that's where Izzy failed Leonard most profoundly. By making Leonard feel he still had to report to him in his dreams.

I called Gerry Schwartz, the other founding father of Canwest, and asked him what he would say to Leonard now that the empire is gone.

"I'd say you're a smart guy," Schwartz responded. "You still have lots of money left. You've got a bright future ahead of you. Get on with it."

As for what Izzy would say, I think Leonard would find his father's most appropriate advice somewhere among the more than 200 Asper axioms that he left for his children to consult.

"Don't try to build an empire," Izzy wrote, even as he was building his own.

"No empire survives."

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

As the sale of Canwest's

assets -- its

newspaper empire

and its television

holdings -- winds

toward an end in

the courts, Gordon

Sinclair Jr. tells the

human story behind

the business story

based on more than

a hundred interviews

conducted

over the past

decade with the

Asper family, their

friends, associates

and opponents.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 19, 2010 H1

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