Innocence and experience

The events at the War Memorial and in Centre Block on Wednesday are a reminder that the veneer of civilization is thin. If one individual decides to take a gun and do harm, he can do so with impunity – at least for a few minutes. You'd need dozens of armed guards in the area to stop the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo or the crash-through arrival of the gunman on Parliament Hill. No less a well-defended place as the White House also recently had menacing intruders.

Of all the comments on Wednesday's events, surely the most foolish was by Senator Jim Munson who said, "Our days of innocence ended today." The days of innocence, if ever they existed, ended forty-four years ago this month. On October 5, 1970, James Cross, the British Trade Commissioner, was kidnapped from his Montreal home by a cell of the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ). Five days later, another FLQ cell kidnapped Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte. Ottawa ordered 3,000 troops to guard high-level individuals and government buildings.

I was working on Parliament Hill. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was a commanding presence. On October 13, Trudeau was leaving through the west door of the Centre Block when Tim Ralfe of the CBC and Peter Reilly of CJOH stopped him with questions. The banter about troops everywhere turned bruising when Ralfe asked, "How far would you go with that?" "Well, just watch me," Trudeau famously replied.

This was the same west door where my wife would park the car a few feet away at 6:30 p.m. when she came to pick me up. Our son, Mark, who turned five that month, would leave the car, stand near the door, and talk to passing parliamentarians while waiting for me. His interest in politics and public policy began early. After the War Measures Act was declared on October 16, more troops flooded the streets, but even so, Laporte was strangled the next night and found in the trunk of a car. 

Troops were even dispatched to sit in parliamentary offices. I well remember our young private, sitting uncomfortably with his rifle at the ready, in the reception area of 409-S, the office of my boss, Opposition Leader Robert Stanfield. If Stanfield so much as walked the five minutes to the Chateau Laurier, he had to be accompanied by an armed guard. The soldiers were ordered out of the parliamentary precincts after Gordon Aiken (PC-Parry Sound-Muskoka) made the point in the House of Commons that security on the Hill was the domain of the Speaker, not the army.

The high alert only ended when James Cross was released by the FLQ in December. The FLQ never held the same sway again. The future of homegrown Islamic terrorists is unpredictable. But one thing is sure. We may be vulnerable, but we're not innocent, and haven't been for a long time. 

Get a job

I wrote this a while ago, shared it recently with a young job seeker, and thought others might benefit, or have a daughter or son who would. Here are my top ten steps for getting a job.

Step #1: Figure out what you want to do. I can’t tell you what that is, but make it something you enjoy. There’s nothing worse than working with duds, accomplishing little of consequence, and having no fun.

Step #2: If you’re a humanities grad, many will say you’re fit for nothing. I say you’re fit for everything. You can research, write, talk, and analyze. Those are wonderful qualities. People at your new workplace will show you all you need to know to be able to function there.

Step#3: Get three people to act as referees. They don’t need to write a letter, just let you use their name. If a letter or a phone call is required, you can arrange that later. And, while you’re asking for that backing, see if they’ve heard of any jobs for which you might be suited.

Step#4: Use every avenue to get the word out. Join LinkedIn. Fire off tweets. Do blogs. Make a list of people you know who have jobs at places you’d like to work and contact them. Think about family members, friends or the man in the bar last week, and ask for help. You’ll be surprised how often they will help.

Step#5: Make a list of places where you’d like to work or people you’d like to work for. Then parcel them out to yourself at the rate of three or four a day and do serious research on each. You can’t just show up and hope for the best. The key in any job interview is to talk about how you will use your skills to accomplish their goals. The interview is not about you – it’s about them.

Step#6: Cast the widest possible net. Don’t assume you can just send resumes then wait for job offers. No one will reply. Knock on doors; ask to meet specific people. It’s easy for potential employers to hide behind voicemail or delete an email. Dealing with an actual body on the premises is far more difficult. You may spend a lot of time in reception areas, but if you can get a one-on-one meeting with a decision-maker or find someone who will advocate for you, then you’re way ahead of all those folks whose resume is buried in some forgotten pile.

Step#7: If you have an interview that’s a dead end, before you hang up or leave that room, ask, “Who can you recommend I can talk to about a job?” Most people will offer names just to get rid of you. Then you can say to that new contact, “So-and-so said you might have a job for me.”

Step#8: Dress for success. I know it sounds hokey, but it’s true. You don’t have to buy new outfits, but wear your best. You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Step#9: Be prepared to negotiate. I’m not a fan of unpaid internships, but what if you’re with a potential employer who says, “I want to hire you, but I just don’t have the budget right now.” If this is the place you really want to be, then say, “I’ll work free for three months. Then, if you don’t like what I’ve done, I’ll walk out the door.” If the interviewer agrees, nine times out of ten you’ll be on the payroll after one month.

Step#10: Persistence and hard work pay off. People who hire for a living pay the most attention to those who demonstrate both qualities because that individual is the most likely to be successful in life. Good luck!


The people are speaking

There was some confusion at the advance poll where I voted. Like a lot of people, I hadn't received my "vote at" card in the mail so we were all lined up to go through the ID process and be verified. The wee woman behind me had white hair. She said to no one in particular: "We've got to get rid of the F boys." The way she said "F boys" made the phrase sound like an expletive.

Once we got sorted away, each of us was handed a ballot the size of a kitchen-cupboard door. The ballot was further enlarged by being slid into a cardboard baffle so that when it was completed, every secret ballot would be hidden from view. I took my giant package to a seat in front of a box and looked for my candidate. Did you know there are 65 on the ballot running for mayor? 

There were way more people surging around my Ward 5 poll than I usually see on election day. I was not surprised to read later that the 28,046 voters on the first day of the advance polls was a record. I'll tell you what that means ... someone's going to be thrown out of office. The "F boys" will not be mayor. John Tory will have a bigger majority than any of the opinion polls have so far shown.

Thumper launch

Last night was the official launch of Thumper: The Memoirs of Donald S. Macdonald (McGill-Queen's University Press). Of all the cabinet ministers in the Pierre Trudeau government, Don was the most powerful. His portfolios included House Leader when the rules changed, Defence during the War Measures Act, Energy when oil costs quadrupled, and Finance when he imposed wage and price controls.

After leaving government, he chaired the Royal Commission that led to free trade, was High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and served on a number of corporate boards including Scotiabank and Sun Life. Don and his wife Adrian both spoke, as did Rob Prichard, former president of the University of Toronto, and now chairman of Bank of Montreal. Emcee was Janice Stein, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs. The Toronto event was held in one of the Munk buildings, the Observatory, and was sponsored by the Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict and Justice. 

The more than 125 attendees included Hal Jackman, former Ontario lieutenant governor; former Liberal cabinet ministers David Collenette and Roy MacLaren; former Ontario Treasurer Darcy McKeough and his wife Joyce; media heavyweights Andrew Coyne, Steve Paikin, Stephen LeDrew and and Allan Fotheringam; authors John English, Joe Martin, Susan Papp and Mary Janigan; friends who helped Don with the book at earlier stages including Peter Rehak and Robert Lewis; and business leaders Gordon Eberts, Don Johnston and Jim Fleck. 

Members of Don and Adrian's extended family who were there included, from Adrian's side: Elisabeth, Amanda, Adrian, Gregory and Andrew; from Donald's: Sonya, Leigh and Althea; plus about half of their 15 grandchildren. Also on hand were my own daughter Dr. Alison McQueen and her partner Dr. Ken Cruikshank as well as my son Mark, his wife Andrea, and their two children.

Book launches of memoirs are a particular celebration, because they cover an entire life. Don had been writing his memoirs for half a dozen years before I was asked to help. And it then took another two years to go through archival material and finalize everything. Sonya told me that she'd started reading the book while flying from Ottawa and had to stop at page 56 because she'd been laughing and crying so much. Certainly, the book was popular last night. The U of T Bookstore table sold 131 copies.


Just asking

Why can't baseball players who win a big game or a best-of-something series devise some other celebration rather than dance in a circle with heads down and arms around each other's shoulders? 

Why are we sending CF-18s to battle ISIS when the humanitarian aid we promised in August has yet to arrive and the last I heard we've welcomed less than 100 of the 1,000 refugees we promised to take from Syria. Why are we not accepting thousands of refugees as we have done ever since the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 through Uganda and Vietnam to Somali and Sri Lanka. What has happened to our generous civility?

Whatever became of novelty songs? You know, like Bryan Hyland's "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" or  "The Little Nash Rambler" by The Playmates?

What is it with Dracula and the many and various Vampires? There seems to be an insatiable appetite (pun intended) for movies and books about the bloody minded monsters. Is it a sexual thing?

Mozart was touring Europe at the age of seven. Schubert composed his first symphony at sixteen. Their work is played and honoured today. What child prodigy of this era will be enjoyed two hundred years from now?

Just asking.