Monday, May 16, 2005

Honour over the years

So I’m tidying up my desk this morning, and I came across several notes to myself buried in the stacks of papers that always litter my office. Even though I’ve now bought a personal shredder to try to get rid of all this clutter.

Anyway, the notes remind me of interesting things I’ve seen that I think would make a good blog posting. I’m pretty good about noticing little items – but far less good about getting around to actually putting them up on The Daily Upload.

Anyway, here are a couple of those (now dated) memos I wrote to myself. Together, they make for one very long Daily Upload…so grab a coffee and read on.

VE celebrations

The stories about the veterans returning to Holland for the 60th anniversary of VE day really struck home. My Dad was over there back in 1945, in Holland. I’m not sure what he was doing on that day. He was with the Royal Canadian Engineers, who were coming along behind the front lines and were responsible for rebuilding all the bridges and getting the infrastructure back up and running. Dad was one of those veterans who didn’t talk much about what he did during that time. I wish I had found out more while he was alive but he wasn’t much for war stories.

On VE Day, I went through Dad’s old Army trunk that I had brought with me out here to Hamilton. But it doesn’t say much about his time overseas. I found a brief outline of the unit that Dad served with. From what I can see, he was sent from England to France on July 25, 1944, about six weeks after D-day. From there, they worked their way north, through Belgium and into Holland early in 1945. The record ends at the end of April, 1945, with the unit in Almello, Holland.

Dad would have been 89 this year, probably too old to have attended any of the events in Holland. Nor would he have been likely to, since he never took much of an interest in those types of celebrations while he was alive. Still, it was such a momentous time for this country and for all the young men like him whose lives were forever shaped by those events in the 1940s. How I would love to be able to talk to him now.

I had my own brush with the kindness and amazing gratitude of the Dutch towards Canadians back in the 1970s, when I was in Europe. A friend and I were hitchhiking in the evening in southern Holland, trying to find the place were my sister was staying. Just outside a small town, a local picked us up and offered to drive us all the way there (about 30 minutes or so.)

When we arrived, we thanked him for the ride. It turned out that he had only planned to go a few blocks to pick up some groceries, but when he saw we were Canadians, he decided to take us anywhere we wanted. That kind of reception and gratitude was much in evidence again during the VE-Day celebrations, and it brought back a lot of good memories for me.

Political decorum (or lack thereof)

What is there to say? The spectacle of what’s been going on in Ottawa the past few weeks has been disheartening, to say the least. I’m no fan of the Martin government but I am a fan of Parliament and due process. But the kind of crass political opportunism we’ve seen from all sides lately reminds me why I got out of covering politics a decade ago back in Saskatchewan.

I had the best job in journalism (in my humble opinion) when I was at the legislature in Regina. Going to work every day in the legislature was wonderful. The place was impressive from an architectural point of view (stunning, actually) and I discovered I loved the intricacies of parliamentary procedure. I was around when the Tories and the NDP got into the infamous bell-ringing episode over the SaskEnergy bill in 1989 when the NDP let the division ring continuously for 17 days. It was a record and writing about all the ins and outs of the political shenanigans was great fun. But still, it was politics and no one pretended otherwise.

But as the years went by, I noticed a decline in the conduct of our various MLAs in the House. As I became more familiar with the rules and history of the Legislature, I noticed how little interest many of the members had for the place they had been elected to. Big P politics was taking over the process, and the clerks of the legislature were fighting a losing battle to keep things going.

When I began covering politics, I liked a lot of the politicians I worked with. But by the time I left, I realized that I wouldn’t have wanted to be friends with many of them, were our paths to cross in different circumstances. I decided that I was tired of the whole political theatre stuff. And it doesn’t look like things have gotten much better, does it?

I remember when things were at their lowest, which was just after the 1995 election and the scandal around the PC party’s use of communication accounts for partisan purposes was just hitting the papers. I was covering the story from some angle, and I was interviewing the Clerk of the Legislature, Gwen Ronyk. It was her office that had blown the whistle on the whole thing and first got the RCMP involved in what was becoming a very large and lengthy investigation. Eventually, a lot of Tory MLAs and party workers would end up in jail over it.

I asked Gwen for her take on what was happening, since she was one of the people who interpreted all the rules of the House to the various parties. “The thing you have to remember,” she told me, “is that we have a political system that is based on the honour of the individuals who are elected here. Our rules don’t state what is allowed, they only spell out what is not allowed.”

“An honourable system only works if honourable people are using it,” she added. Although she didn’t say anything more, her meaning was pretty clear to me. Not too long after that, I decided to hang up my journalist’s spurs and moved over to corporate communications with SaskTel, which was another whole kettle of fish entirely. But that’s a story for another time.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Times when you wish you'd had a camera...

I was at a conference this weekend in Toronto called The Naked Communicator." A provocative title, no doubt, but not what you're probably thinking.

No, it was a bunch of fellow IABC'ers (the International Association of Business Communicators) and we were talking about the need for trust and transparency in today's business communications. Very hot stuff, don't you know?

If you're interested, the incoming chair of the IABC, Warren Bickford (who hails from my home town of Regina) has written a good summary on the IABC Cafe or the Chairman's blog, as it's known. So check it out for a summary of what went on.

But what I really wanted to tell you was about a short walk I took down Yonge St, just like Ian Tyson did many years ago. I was taking a short break from the conference, which was being held at the historic Arts and Letters Club on Elm St. It's a truly fascinating place, as you can read about on their website.

I had stopped for a coffee at a pizza place on the Yonge St. Strip, when these four guys walked in. They were about 20 years old and dressed in matching black jackets, pants and ball caps. I figured they were with a sports team visiting the city or something like that. But something about the way the servers behind the counter were staring at them caught my attention. Something was up, and when they paid for their slices and turned around, I could see what.

They were identical quadruplets. Like peas in a pod, you might say. I've never seen anything like it, and judging from the way that conversation ceased in the busy pizza place, none of the rest of the patrons had every seen anything like it either. Every eye in the place was on these guys, and not a word was spoken. The four of them didn't seem to be bothered at all by the stunned silence. They just took their pizza and walked out on to the street. But I think they're dressing alike was designed to get just that kind of a response. It sure worked.

And of course, my camera was sitting back at my brother's house, secure in my suitcase. Darn.

But the strange string of events wasn't quite over.

When I left the pizza place, there was a crowd gathering on the sidewalk and it was getting really, really noisy. And no, they weren't all looking at the quads. I don't know where those guys went but I didn't see them around.

Instead, I looked up, like everyone else, and watched while a huge Sikorsky helicopter dropped an 80-foot cable down to a group of workmen below. They tied off some construction beams, which were then hoisted into the air and up to the top of a nearby building. What an incredible racket! And what a thing to see in the downtown of a big city on a Saturday afternoon! And of course, with no camera in my hand!

The entire square at Gerrard and Yonge was blocked off by police, of course, to make sure that no one got near the helicopter's load, but just the same, the whole process seemed a little precarious. It was a windy day, and once the load of beams got up in the air, they started swinging wildly. It would have been interesting to see them slam through one side of the glass-walled building they were heading towards, but the pilot got things under control in time and no damage was done. Interesting process.

Excitement over, I headed back to the conference. Just another day in the big city.