Asper, Israel H.

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ASPER, ISRAEL H. (Izzy ; 1932–2003), Canadian lawyer, politician, media magnate, philanthropist. Izzy Asper was born in the small community of Minnedosa, Manitoba, where his musician parents settled after immigrating to Canada from the Ukraine. The family moved to Winnipeg, where Asper's father ran several movie theaters. Izzy Asper began practicing tax law after graduating from the University of Manitoba in 1957. An up-by-the-bootstraps entrepreneur, in the early 1970s Asper and a partner founded an independent television station in Winnipeg, Also drawn to politics, Asper became Manitoba's Liberal Party leader in 1970, and in 1973 he was elected to the provincial legislature, heading a small opposition Liberal caucus of only five members.

Unhappy in opposition, in 1975 Asper withdrew from electoral politics and turned to building a media empire, CanWest. In 1974 he helped rescue the financially floundering Global Television in Toronto and began weaving Global together with a number of independent CanWest television stations across Canada into Global Television Network, Canada's second largest independent television network. CanWest's media investments eventually extended beyond Canada to include holdings in Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Ireland, and, more recently, Israel. In 2000 Asper's CanWest bought Conrad Black's Hollinger media holdings which gave Asper control of a number of Canadian newspapers, including the National Post, and several important off-shore newspapers and journals.

While Toronto had emerged as the undisputed center of media and investment in Canada, Asper, regarding himself as something of an establishment outsider, refused to move to Toronto. Instead he remained in Winnipeg, where he was a strong booster of western Canada and western Canadian Jewish life. Through the Asper Foundation which he established, he was generous in his support of Jewish and non-Jewish causes in western Canada, including the arts, education, and medical research. A jazz lover, Asper ensured that a jazz radio station broadcast in Winnipeg, and he was a patron of many western arts institutions, including the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. In recognition of his charitable contributions to the University of Manitoba, in 2000 the university's faculty of management was renamed the Asper School of Business. Asper also generously supported the medical research foundation at Winnipeg's St. Boniface Hospital. The recently opened Jewish community center in Winnipeg, which houses a Jewish community school, archives, museum, state-of-the-art athletic facilities, and meeting facilities, was also named in Asper's honor. Along with several honorary doctorates, in 1995, Asper was conferred with the Order of Canada, the highest award Canada can bestow on a citizen.

Izzy Asper was an outspokenly partisan supporter of Israel. This generated some controversy. Some media observers accused Asper of interfering in the editorial independence of CanWest publications, censoring out any criticism of Israel or its policies and, instead, dictating that CanWest publications tow a tight pro-Israel line. Asper, in turn, accused the media in general and Canada's public broadcaster, the cbc in particular, of anti-Israel bias.

All three of Asper's children are lawyers and even before Izzy Asper's death in 2003 they began taking on major responsibilities in managing CanWest's vast corporate empire.

[Harold Troper (2nd ed.)]