Class of 1997
Israel Harold “Izzy” Asper was the founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive of CanWest Global Communications, Canada’s private sector broadcaster. Born in Minnedosa, Manitoba in 1932, Izzy was the son of musicians who had emigrated from Ukraine. Receiving his Bachelor of law from the University of Manitoba in 1957, he founded Asper, Freedman & Co. in 1959.
In addition to being a prominent tax lawyer, Asper was also a recognized journalist and author. During his five-year political career, he served twice as the leader of the Manitoba Liberal party. Izzy’s entrepreneurial drive flourished as a founding partner of Manitoba-based financial conglomerate, CanWest Capital Corporation. CanWest’s billion dollar holdings included the 1974 acquisition of KNCD, an American television outlet. KNCD was relocated to an abandoned supermarket in Winnipeg, becoming CKND-TV. It was Izzy’s first foray into Canadian television.
Under Asper’s guidance, CanWest flourished beyond all reasonable expectations to consist of the Global Television Network, the National Post daily newspaper, and over 60 other Canadian newspapers. When CanWest board members voted to liquidate in 1983, Izzy persuaded his partners to keep the broadcast assets. Izzy managed the outlets into revenue producers and expanded into the Maritimes and Saskatchewan, becoming Canada’s most successful private broadcaster.
For several years he concentrated on the broadcast assets, until 1983 when CanWest board members voted to liquidate. Izzy, the one dissenting vote, persuaded his partners to keep the broadcast assets which included 45 percent of Ontario’s Global System and a financial interest in Vancouver’s CKVU. Izzy managed the outlets into revenue producers and expanded into the Maritimes and Saskatchewan, becoming Canada’s most successful private broadcaster.
Izzy emerged as the sole owner of the company in 1989, when CanWest Global Communications was formed. The consistent growth that forged CanWest into an international empire is due largely to the unique and determined entrepreneurial spirit of Izzy Asper. In recognition of this feat, Asper became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1995. He was inducted into the Order of Manitoba in 2000.
Izzy passed away in 2003 at the age of 71. In addition to his career success, he is remembered as a strong supporter of Israel as well as a respected philanthropist, donating generously to education and the arts. Izzy used to say, “You have to matter; you have to count for something; you can’t just take up space.” It was a philosophy he lived by.