Fatima Syed

Richard Brennan at the Queen’s Park Press Gallery on October 28. (Fatima Syed)

Richard Brennan has never called a premier by anything other than his first name.

Keith Leslie, long-time Canadian Press reporter covering Ontario politics and the Statler to Brennan’s Waldorf at Queen’s Park, remembers coming back to Toronto from Ottawa the morning after former Premier Dalton McGuinty won the election in 2003.  They got on a bus at the island airport, and moments later Leslie remembers Brennan calling out to McGuinty from the back of the bus.

“Dalton, Dalton, Dalton!” said Brennan, more commonly known as Badger.

“What, Badger?” said McGuinty.

“When are you going to resign?” said Brennan.

“It was just the morning after,” says Leslie. He remembers the conversation repeating itself a couple of minutes later.

“Dalton, Dalton, Dalton!” said Brennan.

“What, Badger?” said McGuinty.

“You know I’m never going to call you premier,” said Brennan.

That’s the kind of journalist Brennan will be remembered as: a tough but fair, no-nonsense, persistent political reporter who has been covering provincial elections since the 1990s. Robert Benzie, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for the Toronto Star, calls Brennan the “antithesis” of the “puffed-up egomaniacs, bullshit artists, pseudo-intellectuals and pompous assholes” you find in political journalism.

In a testament to his motto of “true but fair” journalism, five premiers came to Brennan’s retirement party at Queen’s Park on October 27. “I gave them a hard time and they gave it back,” he says.

Brennan’s colleagues all remark on his ability to be a grounded journalist, aware of his duty to both politicians and the public, for whom no story is not worth pursuing and who never stopped hammering (read: badgering) the government to get his work done.

His four-decades long career from typewriter to Twitter started with a paper delivery route when he was 12 or 13 years old where he got hooked on the Toronto Star. Since then, his personal career highlights have been offering himself as a hostage to a bank robber in 1978; walking into a mob meeting in a black suit and long trench coat with the collars turned up; travelling with the prime minister to places like Uganda, Kandahar and Europe; and, being president of a press gallery when “even rock stations had people here.”

“I’m running out of words. I’ve covered everything you can imagine. I’ve covered rich and poor and everything in between,” says Brennan.

His parting advice to incoming journalists is to to work hard, ask for help if you need it and, most importantly, “open your eyes and shut your mouth.”

“News reporting isn’t for everyone, but it’s been bloody good to me,” says Brennan, who plans to spend time with his wife of 41 years, his two kids and three grandchildren, and eventually start a media training company.

As for the Badger’s legacy, Leslie recalls former Foreign Minister John Baird telling him about a press meeting at Queen’s Park when Baird was an MPP. The media handler had put a barrier like those in a bank line to keep the press back. “And Baird looked at me and said, you and Badger just took them away,” says Leslie.

“That’s Badger’s legacy: removing the bar. And I hope, at least, a little bit of that hangs around here,” he says.

Here are tweets documenting the last days at Queen’s Park of a man who, in Benzie’s words, “is 66 years old and still gives a fuck.”