Remembering Graham Murray, Mr. Queen’s Park

For decades, he was a fixture of the legislature — and gave Ontarians the inside scoop
By Steve Paikin - Published on Nov 10, 2021
Graham Murray published the “Inside Queen’s Park” newsletter from 1987 to 2015. (Steve Paikin)

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Nowadays, there are a lot of newsletters, websites, and podcasts that focus on what’s happening in Ontario politics. But back in the day, there was only one: Inside Queen’s Park, which started it all. 

It was established by Graham Murray, who was a researcher for the New Democratic Party from 1978 to 1987. It seemed as if everyone at the legislature knew Graham, who died this past summer at age 78. 

Graham knew a ton about Queen’s Park, and every time there was an event of significance, he seemed to be there. He was born in Enfield, England — just north of London — in 1943 and had every intention of becoming a foreign-affairs specialist. In fact, he studied international relations at the London School of Economics, then taught the subject at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and at the University of Western Ontario, in London.

“He enjoyed academia, but he didn’t enjoy the pressing need to publish or perish,” says his 32-year-old son, Jamie, his only offspring. That would prove to be truly ironic, given how much publishing Graham would come to do later in life. 

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In 1975, he became executive vice-chair of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), which eventually led him to his caucus research job with the NDP at Queen’s Park. 

Graham wasn’t what you’d call a numbers guy, and that eventually led to his downfall at the legislature. He did some research for then NDP leader Bob Rae. 

“He gave Bob some bad numbers, which Bob used in the house and got embarrassed by using them,” says Graham’s widow, Susan Cutler. The couple met through NDP politics. 

Rae eventually fired Graham, but Graham figured out another way to be part of the provincial political scene. He began publishing the bi-weekly newsletter Inside Queen’s Park, which established the template that so many other online publications now follow. Readers were treated to a recap of the political developments of the past two weeks, an extended interview with a newsmaker, a list of upcoming political events, and a trivia question. To be sure, if you knew the answers to Graham’s questions, you were neck deep in nerd-dom. He published the newsletter from 1987 to 2015. 

“He really enjoyed being an insider,” Jamie says. “He was well-respected by all parties and liked cutting through the spin and providing insight and context for things that were developing.” 

As much as Graham wanted you to subscribe to IQP — in other words, to pay for it — he really just wanted you to read it. He wanted everyone to know they’d be getting nuggets of wisdom not seen in the mainstream daily newspapers, so it wasn’t unusual for him to reach inside his jacket pocket and simply give away the newsletter for free at social events. He retained every ounce of his wonderful English accent and frequently gossiped and name-dropped. 

As much as people thought they knew Graham because he was around so much, his personal life was a bit of a mystery to many of us. I knew Graham for more than three decades, and yet until his death, had never known he’d been married three times. (Jamie is the product of his third and happiest marriage, to Susan, whom he wed in 1987.) 

In 1981, he thought about running in the provincial election for the NDP, but he reconsidered when the party’s leader, Michael Cassidy, began soft-pedalling his support for gay rights. Cassidy had won the party leadership in part because of his championing of gay rights, a politically brave position to take at the time. 

“Gay rights were a touchstone for other issues,” Graham once told me. “If you’d do it to them, why should other groups believe you’ll stick by them?” 

In 2004, Graham started experiencing tremors; he soon learned he had Parkinson’s disease, as his father had. Although the tremors became more severe, he continued to publish IQP for another 11 years. 

“His mobility really suffered,” says Jamie. “Instead of working the room, he’d sit, and people would come to him. He’d hold court. But, eventually, it was harder for him to speak and type.” 

Graham may have been a New Democrat, but his favourite politician was a Tory. 

“He always really, really loved Bill Davis,” Jamie says, referring to Ontario’s 18th premier, who died just a few weeks before Graham. “They went to heaven at the same time, and they’ve probably got a really good table up there.”

Even through the pandemic, when it was impossible for us to see each other, Graham and I stayed in touch. This past August, he called me up to pitch a potential new provincial-affairs idea for TVO. Candidly, at that point in his life, it was increasingly difficult to understand what he was saying, but I told him once I’d returned from a vacation up north, we’d get together and talk through his idea. 

Graham died on August 29, before we got a chance to have that meeting. 

When I told his wife, Susan, about the fact that he was pitching Queen’s Park ideas almost right up until his death, she wasn’t the slightest bit surprised. “He never stopped loving the legislature,” she says. 

To the folks who haunt provincial politics, he was a sort of Mr. Queen’s Park, resplendent in his omnipresent hat and cane. He was part of the atmosphere there for more than four decades. 

To the general public, Graham Murray wasn’t a famous guy. But he might just be the kind of guy who deserves to be the subject of a column on the TVO.org website, because of all the stories and quirky personality he brought to Ontario politics. 

Rest in peace, Graham. And please say hi to Premier Davis for all of us.

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