The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - OBITUARIES - MICHAEL VALPY

Once called ‘the rock star of Cana­dian pol­i­tics,’ he was also de­voted to ca­noe­ing and teach­ing, and was some­times able to com­bine his three pas­sions

Queen’s Uni­ver­sity po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Ned Franks was for decades Canada’s com­mand­ing aca­demic voice on par­lia­men­tary rules, pro­ce­dures and moral­ity. His ad­vice was sought by House of Com­mons com­mit­tees, gov­ern­ment and par­lia­men­tary agen­cies, royal com­mis­sions, gover­nors-gen­eral and ev­ery ma­jor me­dia out­let in the coun­try.

Not sur­pris­ingly, he was once in­tro­duced to an au­di­ence as “the rock star of Cana­dian pol­i­tics.” Last month in Kingston, he died of prostate cancer. He was 81.

In­ter­na­tional hu­man-rights lawyer Fiona Samp­son tells a story of Ned Franks in the round – the whole Ned Franks – that touches on so much of what de­fined him.

It was the sum­mer of 1994 on the Moun­tain River, per­haps Canada’s most prized white­wa­ter ca­noe route, pass­ing through six stun­ning canyons and sheer cliff walls as it drops 1,200 me­tres along its 370-kilo­me­tre course in the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries to where it joins the Macken­zie River just south of the Arc­tic Cir­cle.

Ms. Samp­son, a long-time friend of trip guide Shawn Hod­gins of Wanapitei Ca­noe and North­ern Out­door Ex­pe­di­tions and her­self an ac­com­plished ca­noeist, de­scribes the party as “par­lia­men­tary roy­alty.” House of Com­mons Speaker Peter Milliken is there, along with eight or nine lead­ing mem­bers of Par­lia­ment – and Mr. Franks.

Mr. Franks was a true artist with a pad­dle, al­though, as Mr. Hod­gins wryly ob­serves, an opin­ion­ated one; his son-in-law, as­tronomer Gary Davis, says Mr. Franks was not gen­tle as a ca­noe­ing tu­tor. The amaz­ingly eclec­tic book The Ca­noe and White Wa­ter is Mr. Franks’s ac­count of the ca­noe and his­tory, of ca­noe-mak­ing, of the ca­noe and law, of the ca­noe and physics, of ca­noes and art, of ca­noe­ing and safety.

On a hike up a moun­tain­side dur­ing the Moun­tain River trip, the com­fort­ably fit Mr. Franks, at 58, ro­bustly de­bates with Ms. Samp­son, the only woman in the group, the no­tion of pa­tri­archy. (He had su­per­vised Ms. Samp­son’s grad­u­ate the­sis at Queen’s and be­came her close friend, as he be­friended many of his bright­est stu­dents and be­came their men­tor and guide through life.)

At night around the camp­fire, he or­ga­nizes the party into singing roles from Gil­bert and Sullivan’s HMS Pi­nafore. He tells sto­ries, he re­cites lim­er­icks and po­etry, par­tic­u­larly the work of Wil­liam McGon­a­gall, widely rec­og­nized as the worst poet in Bri­tish his­tory.

Charles Ed­ward Sel­wyn (Ned) Franks was born in Toronto on Oct. 23, 1936. He was the son of Sel­wyn Thomp­son Franks of We­ston, Ont., and the for­mer Ma­bel Mary Sun­der of Gaya, In­dia, and de­scended from a long line of en­gi­neers (in­clud­ing his fa­ther) and doc­tors. He at­tended Up­per Canada Col­lege fol­lowed by Queen’s for his bach­e­lor’s and master’s de­grees, and then went to Ox­ford for his doc­tor­ate.

Fol­low­ing his Ox­ford grad­u­a­tion, he worked four years for the gov­ern­ment and Leg­is­la­ture of Saskatchewan be­fore tak­ing an aca­demic post­ing at Queen’s, where he taught for more than 35 years in the de­part­ment of po­lit­i­cal stud­ies with a cross­post­ing in the School of Phys­i­cal and Health Ed­u­ca­tion (he was an ac­com­plished skier and triathlon com­peti­tor) and later be­came pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus.

It would be dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, to over­state Mr. Franks’s in­flu­ence from the 1970s on­ward on how Cana­di­ans saw their par­lia­men­tary and gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions. He was the go-to per­son for the me­dia in ex­plain­ing par­lia­men­tary and con­sti­tu­tional crises and com­plex and ar­cane pro­ce­dures. Sel­dom more than a month went by when he wasn’t quoted or writ­ing me­dia com­ment es­says. He was a re­searcher and an­a­lyst for the 1977-81 Royal Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into Cer­tain Ac­tiv­i­ties of the RCMP (the McDon­ald Com­mis­sion) and the 2004-06 Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into the Spon­sor­ship Pro­gram and Ad­ver­tis­ing Ac­tiv­i­ties (the Gomery Com­mis­sion). He wrote what has be­come the clas­sic text on par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure, The Par­lia­ment of Canada (1987), and, dur­ing what his fam­ily called his “spook pe­riod,” wrote Dis­sent and the State (1989).

He ad­vised for­mer au­di­tor-gen­eral Sheila Fraser on gov­ern­ment and par­lia­men­tary ac­count­abil­ity through­out her 10-year term (2001-11), and was an ad­viser to Maria Bar­ra­dos, head of Canada’s Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion from 2003 to 2011. He wrote about what the Se­nate ac­tu­ally ac­com­plished.

He wrote scathing crit­i­cisms of the prac­tice of Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper’s gov­ern­ment of in­tro­duc­ing bloated 500– and 800-page so-called bud­get im­ple­men­ta­tion bills con­tain­ing leg­isla­tive pro­vi­sions com­pletely un­re­lated to the bud­get, which MPs would have no time to an­a­lyze. “[They] re­duce the House of Com­mons to mak­ing noises and rub­ber stamp­ing,” he said.

He ex­pertly picked apart Mr. Harper’s use of pro­ro­ga­tion to avoid a non-con­fi­dence vote against his mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment, call­ing it a dis­play of ca­sual ar­ro­gance to­ward Canada’s in­sti­tu­tions. Mr. Franks pro­nounced on whether sen­a­tors can be fired, on the im­por­tance of pri­vate mem­bers’ bills, on the sig­nif­i­cance of so­cial-me­dia threats to cab­i­net min­is­ters, on the Arc­tic and In­dige­nous self-gov­ern­ment, on in­ter­pret­ing voter turnout num­bers and many other top­ics. He ad­vised leg­isla­tive groups in Viet­nam and Rus­sia and aca­demics in In­dia.

Queen’s prin­ci­pal Daniel Woolf said of him: “Queen’s and Canada have lost a great po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist in Ned Franks.”

He was a fly-fisher, duck hunter (he once pulled out por­cu­pine quills with his teeth from the muz­zle of the fam­ily’s re­triever, Si­mon), pho­tog­ra­pher, wa­ter­colour pain­ter, wine col­lec­tor, cook and afi­cionado of bad puns. He grew out­stand­ing heir­loom toma­toes. He took Si­mon to uni­ver­sity meet­ings. When Si­mon got rest­less, the meet­ings had to end.

Per­haps above all, he loved his stu­dents and they loved him, a num­ber be­com­ing his life­long friends, meet­ing in his of­fice for sherry on Fri­day af­ter­noons, work­ing for him as re­searchers, spend­ing sum­mers with him and his fam­ily at their cot­tage in Cale­don East, north of Toronto, dubbed The Shack (a “shack” partly de­signed by Ron Thom, the ar­chi­tect of Trent Uni­ver­sity and Massey Col­lege).

“He was a very gifted teacher for those who were in­ter­ested in what he was in­ter­ested in,” said Liane Benoit, a for­mer stu­dent and prin­ci­pal of pub­lic af­fairs com­pany Benoit and As­so­ciates. “He en­joyed watch­ing their ca­reers de­velop, en­joyed watch­ing them de­velop as in­di­vid­u­als, par­tic­u­larly in his later years. He was just very, very in­ter­ested in the peo­ple he taught.”

He took them to Ot­tawa to meet politi­cians, jour­nal­ists and of­fi­cials of the House of Com­mons. He in­vited them to his house for par­ties that lasted un­til 4 a.m.

He nick­named Ellen Sealey Ems­bury Urchin No. 1. “He said to me one day, ‘You’re just like a street urchin from Dick­ens.’ ” And it stuck. He later dubbed three class­mates Urchin No. 2, 3 and 4.

Mr. Franks pro­posed the toast to the bride at Ms. Ems­bury’s wed­ding and gave her hus­band a copy of the Bri­tish Spe­cial Air Ser­vice sur­vival guide. “This is how life with Ellen is go­ing to go,” he told him.

She now prac­tises fer­til­ity and em­ploy­ment law in Cal­gary. She said Mr. Franks reached out to stu­dents who were bright and strug­gling. “I wasn’t strug­gling aca­dem­i­cally, but I had a very dif­fi­cult and ter­ri­ble re­la­tion­ship with my fa­ther and Ned be­came a sub­sti­tute fa­ther for me.”

In sev­eral cases, he res­cued his stu­dents and helped them get on their feet, said his son Peter Franks, an oceanog­ra­pher. “They owe their ca­reers to him in many sub­stan­tial ways,” he said.

Toronto lit­i­ga­tion lawyer Will McDow­ell stud­ied with Mr. Franks be­fore Ms. Ems­bury, and so be­came known as a pre-urchin. When he was strug­gling to find a sum­mer job to meet his law school ex­penses, Mr. Franks of­fered to pay him to cut trees for fen­ce­posts from a swamp on the prop­erty. Mr. McDow­ell worked with a chain­saw through the sum­mer. When he re­turned years later, the trees were stacked where he’d left them. “This was a De­pres­sion-era work project, cre­ated to help me out,” he said.

Monique Jile­sen, a Toronto com­mer­cial lit­i­ga­tion lawyer, was Urchin No. 2. As she strug­gled fi­nan­cially to get through law school, Mr. Franks of­fered to help. “I was too proud to take that help but it meant so much to me that he would even think about it. He was my friend and men­tor and big­gest sup­porter af- ter my mother.” Va­suda Sinha, a lawyer now prac­tis­ing in Paris, was a post-urchin. On her grad­u­a­tion day at Queen’s, she walked across the con­vo­ca­tion stage and a voice be­hind her said, “Now Va­suda, be still. I’m here.” It was Ned Franks in aca­demic re­galia, who had stepped in front of the prin­ci­pal to hood her.

Ms. Samp­son, the hu­man-rights lawyer (and a pre-urchin) re­calls from the Moun­tain River trip: “Some­times at the end of the pad­dling day when we were mak­ing camp, and in­di­vid­u­als were set­ting up the tents, set­tling in for the night at a camp­site … I would hear Ned qui­etly call out Tim’s name – ev­ery time it sounded like his heart was break­ing all over again. Ned cher­ished Tim, as he loved all his chil­dren – his love for them and pride in them was tan­gi­ble.”

Tim, Mr. Franks’s younger son, died by sui­cide in 1989 at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, where he was do­ing his doc­tor­ate. He was 25. He had been mo­lested as a child by choir­mas­ter John Gal­li­enne at St. Ge­orge’s Cathedral, in Kingston, which left him deeply dis­turbed. His par­ents learned about the abuse from Tim’s girl­friend af­ter his death.

In the face of re­sis­tance from the Angli­can Dio­cese of On­tario and many of St. Ge­orge’s con­gre­gants, Ned Franks and his wife, Daphne, made it their cause to have Mr. Gal­li­enne re­moved from the church and crim­i­nally charged. They also learned the names of other boys who had been mo­lested and com­pelled the church to pay for their coun­selling.

“I’m for­ever so ad­mir­ing of my par­ents that in the midst of this over­whelm­ing and in­tense grief … that their first thought was that there were other boys that needed help,” said their daugh­ter, Caro­line Franks Davis, a religious philoso­pher.

Just days be­fore Mr. Franks died, Ms. Samp­son vis­ited him with her 12-year-old daugh­ter, Mau­reen. He looked deep into Mau­reen’s eyes and quoted Robert Frost’s poem Dust of Snow to her:

The way a crow Shook down on me The dust of snow From a hem­lock tree Has given my heart A change of mood And saved some part Of a day I had rued

Ms. Samp­son said her daugh­ter was en­chanted by the poem and mem­o­rized it when she got home. “It’s a legacy she’ll al­ways have from him.”

Mr. Franks, who died on Sept. 11, leaves his wife of 61 years, Daphne (née Ber­lyn); his daugh­ter, Caro­line; son Peter; grand­daugh­ter, Gillian Franks; and sis­ter, Anne Mon­tagnes. In his fi­nal days, as his voice faded, he re­cited Shake­spearean son­nets to his nurses at Kingston’s Prov­i­dence Care Hos­pi­tal.

A me­mo­rial gath­er­ing will take place at Queen’s Uni­ver­sity next month.


Ned Franks taught po­lit­i­cal stud­ies at Queen’s Uni­ver­sity for more than 35 years, with a cross-post­ing in phys­i­cal and health ed­u­ca­tion, later be­com­ing pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus.

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