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Why I Should Be Canada’s Next Governor General

The Canadian Governor General (GG), Julie Payette, has resigned amid a scandal that revolves around what has been called a toxic work environment. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist – and Ms Payette is, in fact, an actual rocket scientist and former astronaut – to realize that the position of GG is perhaps the most plum of all jobs.

According to the Government of Canada’s website:
The Governor General has important parliamentary responsibilities: Summoning, proroguing and dissolving Parliament. Setting out the government’s program by reading the Speech from the Throne. Giving Royal Assent, which makes acts of Parliament into law.

But the best part is that he or she doesn’t even have to write the speech. The ruling party, who will oversee things, prepares that for the GG. All they have to do is show up and read the speech.

This means the GG as the Queen’s representative in Canada, reads a Throne Speech at the opening of sessions of Parliament. Once a year or so the appointed GG sits before all the elected members and tells them what to do. But the best part is that he or she doesn’t even have to write the speech. The ruling party, who will oversee things, prepares that for the GG. All they have to do is show up and read the speech.

The GG also gives Royal Assent that – presto – makes an act of Parliament a real law. The skill required to carry out this noble undertaking is one rubber stamp.

When a GG is replaced, they continue to receive that as a pension, and also have a few years worth of $100,000 expense account. Did I mention this is a plum position?

Many Canadians have said this position is no longer required. Not that they are against pomp and circumstance, but the GG comes at a price. An annual salary estimated to be $150,000 plus staff and housing. When a GG is replaced, they continue to receive that as a pension, and also have a few years worth of $100,000 expense account. Did I mention this is a plum position?

So you can understand why I am interested in being Canada’s next Governor General.

I find myself in a bit of a fix: at 61 years of age I am four years from pension, yet few employers will consider someone of my age. In essence, I could use the cash.

To guarantee I won’t try to gum up the process, I promise to not even read the acts. Thump, thump, thump, and it’s off to the courts.

Over the years many people have asked me if I work in radio because of my voice. I can read a speech as well as the next person. Particularly one I didn’t have to write. Bring on the Teleprompters and let’s get at it.

I used to be a Commissioner for Oaths, this necessitated my developing a sure hand with a rubber stamp. Push those passed acts of parliament along and I’ll have them signed and sealed in no time. To guarantee I won’t try to gum up the process, I promise to not even read the acts. Thump, thump, thump, and it’s off to the courts.

The Government website goes on to list some other, less formal, duties of the GG: Promoting a sense of identity, recognizing the achievements of outstanding Canadians, receiving foreign dignitaries, travelling overseas as the representative of Canada, hosting and taking part in official events.

A quick scan of those obligations gives you an idea of the real role of the GG – namely, party host. I’ve been at more parties than I can count. I’m certain I can handle a few drunk dignitaries, shake hands with people who have achieved greatness, and cut ribbons at new shopping malls. And I’m a big fan of parades.

I’m certain I can handle a few drunk dignitaries, shake hands with people who have achieved greatness, and cut ribbons at new shopping malls

Frankly, I think the GG job was designed with me in mind. A bit of officialdom over which I daren’t tread, and lots of glad-handing. All this and, to make it even more up my alley, they throw in a big house and several staff. A car and driver as well.

Prime Minister Trudeau, please feel free to contact me through this blog to arrange a time to discuss the opportunity. As you can see above, I have even accelerated the process by altering the official GG photo to include myself.

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Sane Media Wakes Up, Smells Coffee

I have never been fond of the term ‘mainstream media/news’. I prefer to refer to it as the sane media/news. Like Trump’s phrase ‘fake news’, it makes no sense. If it’s fake, it’s not news. The fabrications broadcast on several far-right outlets are not deserving of the ‘news’ classification.

If it’s fake, it’s not news. The fabrications broadcast on several far-right outlets are not deserving of the ‘news’ classification

But why did it take the recent armed-insurrection-attempted-coup-moronic-riot to finally coax the sane media to turn against the instigator? For all but three weeks of Trump’s time in office the sane media, with few exceptions, gave him way more credit than he deserved. Wake up and smell the coffee; he didn’t just become a madman this month.

Once all hell broke loose, the gloves came off. You could almost sense the relief as anchor after reporter after analyst after guest let it all out. It must have been cathartic. After toeing the line, after showing the requisite respect for the Office of the President, it all came to the surface and boiled over.

For all but three weeks of Trump’s time in office the sane media, with few exceptions, gave him way more credit than he deserved.

I can only imagine how many times over the last four years sane White House correspondents were temped to treat Trump as he treated them. How many times did Jim Acosta want to change his reply from ‘But Mr President you called on me’ to ‘Don’t be such an asshole Trump, you called on me’?

An early example of the frustration bubbling up came from CNN’s Dana Bash who, after a candidates’ debate between Trump and Biden described it, accurately indeed, as a shit-show. But for the most part the sane media has bitten its collective tongue, until, that is, January 6th. Since then it has been all out wat between them and Trump. He always considered it thusly.

You could almost sense the relief as anchor after reporter after analyst after guest let it all out. It must have been cathartic

But they should not have waited.

Frankly, the sane media should have been all over this presidential imposter from the very outset. It’s one thing to criticize politicians, that’s all part of a democracy. But to not raise alarm bells in exceptional cases is a dereliction of duty. The average consumer of news fell into one of two camps: pro-Trump or anti-Trump. Regrettably, for the last four years there has been no middle ground, no happy medium.

(Dana) Bash was correct, but her timing was off by about three-and-a-half years.

FOX News and other right-wing outlets didn’t even try to maintain a balanced position, but CNN etc. seemed to hope against hope that by not straying leftward, perhaps things could appear to be normal. It was not possible: Bash was correct, but her timing was off by about three-and-a-half years.

I don’t imagine the right-wingers will afford Joe Biden much time before they are calling him names and concocting lies – in fact I believe they have already started.

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A Micro View of COVID’s Burden On Hospitals

In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 year-end holiday season, the COVID-19 statistics in Quebec continue to be at alarmingly high levels. Both the number of infections and the number of deaths attributed to the virus rise every day. It would appear more folks went a visitin’ during the festive season than are admitting it; scofflaw politicians aside.

In light of these rising numbers, the government has initiated a ‘shock therapy’ approach. As I recently wrote, this includes a serious lockdown and a curfew. There are many things to fear during a pandemic, not least of which is the burden on the health system. At the best of times, the system is close to bursting, throw in a couple of thousand COVID cases a day and it is not long before a rupture occurs.

This was the case in one institution, but if similar walkouts happened in other hospitals it is clear the system was hamstrung even before things turned dire.

My wife has a dear friend who works in a Montreal hospital as an x-ray technician. When the pandemic first hit, in the early spring of 2020, not wanting to have anything to do with it, several of her colleagues with compromised immune systems went on extended sick leave. This was the case in one institution, but if similar walkouts happened in other hospitals it is clear the system was hamstrung even before things turned dire.

As an example of the strain put on the whole system, one of the aspects of my wife’s friend’s job is to bring portable x-ray equipment to patients unable to be moved. Think of bringing the mountain to Mohammad if you will. If the patient shows signs of COVID-19 and is coughing, before taking the x-ray gear into the patient’s room, there is a process of suiting-up in what is essentially a hazmat outfit. 

The outfit requires two people to put on properly. The second person is responsible for checking that all is properly sealed, and ensuring that all steps are undertaken. The technician then, looking a bit like Bib the Michelin Man, goes about the business of x-raying.

During this time both she and her colleague, as well as the machine, are not available for other patients.

Once the x-rays are done, there is an extensive disinfecting process to be undertaken. This again requires two people. Not just the machine, which is almost dismantled and decontaminated, but she has to undergo a serious regime of discarding robes, gloves, masks, and then washing herself. A key role played by the second person is to make sure the technician washes her hands after each step: remove gloves, wash hands; remove robe, wash hands; remove face shield, wash hands, and so on. Bearing in mind that proper hand washing is a twenty second procedure, it is understandable how this takes anywhere from 40 to 50 minutes.

During this time both she and her colleague, as well as the machine, are not available for other patients.

That’s just one person in one hospital. If you extrapolate that to the entire health system, it is obvious why there is a fear of increasing numbers.

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Irresponsible To Reopen Elementary Schools

As predicted, in an effort to stem the rapid spread of the anticipated second wave of COVID-19, Quebec announced a ‘shock treatment’ lockdown yesterday . The lockdown comes with a new twist – a curfew. In the original lockdown people could come and go – outside – at will. Starting this Saturday a curfew will be in effect from 8:00 pm to 5:00 am. Stay off the streets!

Not surprisingly there is some pushback to the curfew

Not surprisingly there is some pushback to the curfew. How do dog owners convince their furry pals to hold on until morning? No problem, dogs can be walked at any time within a kilometre of home. Stores must close at 7:30 pm to allow staff a chance to get home before the curfew comes into effect.

Other precautions include the cancellation of services at houses of worship with the exception of funerals which will be limited to ten attendees. But an odd move involves the opening of elementary schools.

The reopening of high schools has been bumped by a week, to January 18, 2021. Until then classes will be held online. However, elementary schools will open, as planned, on January 11, 2021. Premier Legault explained in his news conference that few children suffer from the virus. Masks will be mandatory in many circumstances within the schools. Extensive precautions, such as desks being turned into Plexiglas cubicles, are already in effect.

What about kids passing on the virus to teachers? Other than the social aspect of going to school, which will not be allowed under the restrictions anyway, there is really no reason children could not continue to attend classes via Zoom.

The Premier then added that it would be a good idea to keep these young students away from older folks, including grandparents, as it has been a concern that although kids don’t suffer from COVID-19, they can be carriers of the virus.

Which brings us to the question of teachers. In full transparency, I will point out that my wife is an elementary school teacher.

What about kids passing on the virus to teachers? Other than the social aspect of going to school, which will not be allowed under the restrictions anyway, there is really no reason children could not continue to attend classes via Zoom.

I admit that I don’t know much about home schooling, but it always seemed to me that those people who opted, in a pre-COVID world, to school their child at home deprived them of important social interaction. I have no problem with the three Rs of early education – reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic – being taught at home. But the social aspect is another issue.

Notwithstanding the importance of social interaction, opening schools during a pandemic induced lockdown seems like an irresponsible course of action.

Yet now, while dealing with a pandemic, I believe it is a wise move to limit this social interaction in everyone’s interest: teachers, parents and grandparents. Many children have been home schooled and gone on to be fine members of society. Notwithstanding the importance of social interaction, opening schools during a pandemic induced lockdown seems like an irresponsible course of action.

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Essentially, Essential Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, rumour has it that the Premiere of Quebec will, at a five o’clock news conference today, announce a severe new lockdown for the province. The kicker: it is also rumoured that this new lockdown will include a curfew.

The plan seems to be that from 8:00 P.M. only emergency traffic – both pedestrian and vehicular – will be allowed. Will we see police officers tackling late-night joggers? Tazing someone who nips out for milk? One hopes the concept of a curfew will be managed carefully and with much compassion and limited force.

Will we see police officers tackling late-night joggers? Tazing someone who nips out for milk?

But different people see things differently. This has become clear with the current COVID restrictions. In essence: what is, and what is not an essential item? I was talking to a friend last evening. His wife has significant mobility issues and couldn’t get out even without a request to stay home. He was out getting groceries and thought it would be a good idea to pick up a book of word puzzles for his wife. Crosswords, word search and the like. She is fond of these things and, given her infirmity, they help to pass the time.

Unfortunately, he was unable to purchase the puzzle book as it was deemed non-essential. They government does not want us to go out, yet the purchase of a book that would help one in confinement was not allowed.

I was in Walmart over the weekend. They have sectioned off the non-essential goods from those that are allowed. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw hockey sticks in the non-essential department. C’mon, this is Canada! However, one could argue that a backyard skating rink is the ideal way for kids (and adults) to get some fresh air and exercise without breaking any confinement rules. Perhaps allow child-size sticks and skates?

Doesn’t it seem counter productive to ban night walkers via curfew?

Essentially, essential is in the eye of the beholder, if you will.

I know a person who is out of work directly due to the COVID restrictions; he’s a bartender, and bars/restaurants are closed. As a bartender he is used to keeping late hours. Every night at nine o’clock or so he goes for a long walk. During the course of his stroll, with things as they are now, he passes a mere handful of other walkers.

My wife and I also take a daily walk, but we usually go in the late afternoon, after she has finished her ZOOM teaching day. We are constantly dodging others and dipsy doodling on the sidewalks or park walkways to avoid people. Doesn’t it seem counter productive to ban night walkers via curfew?

Perhaps the SAQ should, like Walmart, cordon-off the expensive scotches and champagnes, but allow access to lesser brands of the gargle

Interestingly the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), the government owned liquor stores (the only liquor stores), remain open during the pandemic. Appropriate measures have been taken within outlets to provide shoppers with a safe environment. Is booze an essential item? Certainly for some it is, but I think alcoholics could get by without high-end hooch. Perhaps the SAQ should, like Walmart, cordon-off the expensive scotches and champagnes, but allow access to lesser brands of the gargle. For medicinal purposes of course.

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Traffic Reporters – Please Don’t Forget Downtown

At this time of a normal year I often feel sorry for radio traffic reporters. During most holiday seasons there is significantly less traffic volume, leading to traffic reporters trying to fill-in the couple of minutes allotted them, four times an hour. Add to these annual year-end doldrums the current pandemic lockdown, and the streets are essentially abandoned. Good luck coming up with something to say, because the reports must go on – sponsors have paid for them.

Monitoring screens and receiving information from government agencies has provided traffic reporters with a wealth of data from which to craft their reports, assuming there’s traffic.

There was a time when traffic reporters flew over the city’s arteries in helicopters, filing live reports. Now the network of traffic cameras is significant, and reports can be made, particularly while in confinement, from the comfort of the reporter’s home. Monitoring screens and receiving information from government agencies has provided traffic reporters with a wealth of data from which to craft their reports, assuming there’s traffic.

For many years I worked in the downtown core of Montreal. I was able to walk to work. On her way home from teaching at a school in a local suburb, my wife would meet me downtown and drive us home. On countless occasions that drive would be hampered by high volumes of traffic, closed streets, stalled vehicles, or emergency situations such as fires. That’s life in a city, stuff happens.

They let you know what routes are most clogged once out of the city core, but if you are driving in the downtown area you are on your own

What irks me is that radio traffic reporters focus almost exclusively on the highways and bridges leading to and from the city, and essentially ignore downtown traffic. They let you know what routes are most clogged once out of the city core, but if you are driving in the downtown area you are on your own. While sitting in a traffic jam on Sherbrooke Street, I’m really not terribly interested in things on the Trans Canada. Had one of the traffic reporters mentioned that Sherbrooke was chock-a-block, and suggested an alternate route, I would have been better served. But nope, it’s all about ‘into’ and ‘out of’ city routes. While in the city, you’re left to your own devices.

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What Part Of Don’t Travel Do You Not Understand?

My next-door neighbour (or neighbor as they prefer), the USA, is a huge country. With a population of some 350 million people, and rising, it is a vast land. It is strong, patriotic, and advanced. Yet it also has one of the highest per-capita rates of COVID-19 in the world.

According to Johns Hopkins University data, the USA has the world’s sixth highest rate of novel coronavirus. This is something that, as a neighbour, is hard to come to grips with. Yet the same can be said, for many reasons, about the last four years under the out-going president. Trump played to his base, those who deny scientific facts, and he foolishly and dangerously went easy on fighting the virus so as not to be seen as limiting people’s rights. No mask enforcement. No real lock-downs. Both of which contributed to the high rate of infection.

The libertarian spirit of individual freedom is all fine and dandy, until it affects others. I have the right to swing my arm until it hits your elbow

Those out in the streets and malls prancing about mask-less in open defiance of suggestions and regulations, are placing fellow citizens in danger. The libertarian spirit of individual freedom is all fine and dandy, until it affects others. I have the right to swing my arm until it hits your elbow.

Yet it’s easy to blame the Trump nutters.

Today is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in the USA. Traditionally the busiest day of the year for travel. You might assume that, under the circumstances of a worldwide pandemic, coupled with the poor handling of the virus, the number of people travelling would be almost nil. But no.

These are people I call ‘Fair Weather Virus Warriors’. They are all in favour of masks, social-distancing, self-confinement right up to the point where it really affects them

As I sit writing, CNN is providing its annual airport coverage. Delays due to weather, but mostly lines of people waiting to board flights. Not all of them can be Trump supporters, or he would have won the election!

These are people I call ‘Fair Weather Virus Warriors’. They are all in favour of masks, social-distancing, self-confinement right up to the point where it really affects them. Like when it comes to visiting at Thanksgiving. Then maybe the virus isn’t all that bad. When push comes to shove, They’ll do what they want, regardless of outcome. Scientifically minded experts are predicting a rise in COVID-19 cases in the weeks after Thanksgiving. But they’ve just got to fly to Aunt Edith’s place for turkey with the folks.

Here in Quebec, we have a similar high infection situation. The province is the second largest, yet has the most cases of COVID-19. There are many reasons, mostly seniors’ residences that were neglected for decades. But the government is trying to balance the upcoming holiday season, a time when families gather, with stemming the second wave of COVID-19.

With a bit of luck and a whole lot of common sense, we may be able to avoid, or at least reduce a post-Christmas post-Hanukkah spike in cases

To that end, bars and restaurants will remain closed until at least January of next year, During the period of December 24 – 27 people can gather at home in groups of up to ten people. But not all four days, just two. New Year’s Eve celebrations have been cancelled. Yep, no gatherings of any size for New Year. That’s it, that’s all.

Is there a mass outpouring of threats to resist, ignore these restrictions? Not really. The majority of people seem to understand that this is not going to be a normal holiday season. With a bit of luck and a whole lot of common sense, we may be able to avoid, or at least reduce a post-Christmas post-Hanukkah spike in cases.

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COVID Vaccine: Down The Stretch They Come

The race seems to be coming to an end. In those famous words that define the final furlongs of the Kentucky Derby, down the stretch they come. But this race is not one which pits horses, or cars, or humans against one another. This is all about pharmaceutical companies and the sprint to come up with an effective COVID-19 vaccine.

Usually new medications take a long time to be approved for use, but with a pandemic in full force the timing has been altered. That seems to mean that whichever big Pharma company gets the OK to sell their vaccine will be using us as guinea pigs. No doubt some testing will be done before approval, but will it be enough?

That seems to mean that whichever big Pharma company gets the OK to sell their vaccine will be using us as guinea pigs

Let’s be positive and assume the vaccine is fine and dandy: no outrageous side-effects (the growing of a second head, additional digits), a high level of efficacy, and a reasonable cost. To inoculate entire populations will take time. Will we have to live under the current restrictions until the vast majority of people have been vaccinated? How will we be able to tell who has and who has not been vaccinated? Of course some will figure that if everyone else gets the shot, they won’t have to.

Then there are the anti-vaxxers, those who will never have any kind of vaccine, ever. Many of these folks believe vaccinations actually entail inserting a micro-chip in our bodies to allow for our control. They also often believe that there is no COVID-19 and that the world is flat.

We are going to be wearing masks, social distancing, staying home and, binging on Netflix for a long time to come even after a vaccine is on the scene.

While all the excitement is understandable, let’s not fool ourselves. We are going to be wearing masks, social distancing, staying home and binging on Netflix for a long time to come even after a vaccine is on the scene.

I suggest we sit back, don’t rush, and binge watch the early recipients to see if they develop bizarre side-effects!

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R.I.P. Father John Walsh – Thank You

A much loved Montreal Catholic priest, Father John Emmitt Walsh, passed away suddenly yesterday. He was preparing to celebrate the funeral of a close friend when he suffered a major heart attack. He was seventy-eight.

Click above to hear my interview with Ken Connors about Father John Walsh on CJAD 800

Father Walsh was many things to many people including, a theologian, a parish priest, a pastor, an author, a professor, a radio host and, my first boss. That was thirty-six years ago. I’d had bosses in summer jobs of course, but this was my first ‘real’ job.

Father Walsh was many things to many people including, a theologian, a parish priest, a pastor, an author, a professor, a radio host and, my first boss

In the early autumn of 1984, then Pope John Paul II visited Canada. The Archdiocese of Montreal decided not to spend money on professionals to organize the Papal events, but rather hired locals to put together the several aspects of the day and a half the Pontiff would be in the city.

One of those events was a Youth Rally at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium; 65,000 people aged fifteen to twenty-five would have a chance to hear from the Pope. Through happenstance, I was hired, fresh out of graduate school, to be the Coordinator of Youth, English Language Services. It was an experience that would mark my life to this day.

Father John Walsh was the person in charge of the English Language element of Montreal’s Papal Visit, and therefore my boss. And a better boss I could not have had.

Papal Youth Rally in Montreal 1984
Courtesy http://www.michaeljournal.org

I can’t begin to figure out how many times in the intervening years, since I spent those months with Father John, that I have found myself in some sort of personal, career, or professional situation and asked myself ‘What would Walsh have done?’.

He was a man of the cloth, and also very much a people-person. He was a bit of a ham, I don’t think he ever met a microphone or camera that he didn’t like. He had a wicked sense of humour. He was a boss, friend, and mentor. He took my name, Deegan, and decided he’d call me Digger.

(often) I have found myself in some sort of personal, career, or professional situation and asked myself ‘What would Walsh have done?’.

He often said to others, about me, that you never saw Digger doing anything, yet you came to know that everything was done and to spec. I have held that observation closely throughout my professional days, and cited it in many job interviews, as a Special Event Organizer, community worker, and coordinator of political conventions.

The last time I saw Father John was about six years ago. It was in early March. He was at a lunch meeting with a group from the local Irish Community in a popular downtown pub. I was having a beer. On his way out we chatted briefly, I offered him a drink, he declined reminding me he always gave up booze for Lent. We exchanged contact info and promised to get together after Easter, but as so often happens we never did.

In a statement the Montreal archdiocese said the Father Walsh had suffered a massive heart attack. It would have taken something of that magnitude to take a man with a massive heart like Father John’s

I was shocked and saddened today when, while enjoying a strangely warm November day in a local park, I received a text from a friend informing me of Father John’s passing. He seemed to be one of those people who you thought would be with us always. In a statement the Montreal archdiocese said the Father Walsh had suffered a massive heart attack. It would have taken something of that magnitude to take a man with a massive heart like Father John’s.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam. Rest in peace Father John. Thank you.

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Lest We Forget: Remember To Remember On Wednesday

Canadian Vimy Cemetery No 2

There is sure to be a plethora of media noise emanating from my southern neighbours for the next weeks, if not months (years?). Even with the election of Joe Biden, after four long days of painstaking ballot counting, the fireworks are not going to end soon.

And once again he has, sadly, opted to be as un-presidential as possible and incite his followers to ignore the democratic process.

The incumbent has dug in his heels and will not concede defeat, nor agree to a smooth transition. Once again he has an opportunity to lead the country in a mature, responsible, statesman-like peaceful manner. And once again he has, sadly, opted to be as un-presidential as possible and incite his followers to ignore the democratic process.

This election has been conducted against the backdrop of the Novel Coronavirus; voting was different, with many ballots mailed in by citizens who chose not to gather at polling places where social distancing would be almost impossible. Therefore there was a delay in the counting.

Many women and men have, over the decades, given their lives to ensure this freedom

The United States does many things very well, running elections is not one of them. Regardless, to a citizen, they claim to respect the right of free elections. The ability to chose who will run the country, make laws and enforce them is sacrosanct. Many people around the world do not have this privilege. My wife is from Venezuela where they may well cast ballots, but the outcome is never in doubt.

But in the US votes matter. As they do here in Canada, and other democracies. Many women and men have, over the decades, given their lives to ensure this freedom. Wars have been fought and won in the name of freedom. This fact is, not surprisingly, rarely considered while standing in line to vote, or dropping off a ballot at the post office.

With the current news cycle focused on the US election and COVID-19, it is imperative that we take a moment this Wednesday, November 11, Remembrance Day, to remember all of those who gave their lives for our freedom. It doesn’t matter what party you vote for, left or right, Conservative or Liberal, the ability to choose is what free elections are all about.

My grandfather G.E Blackwell and his son Russell, my uncle. There names are etched in the local Catholic church with all parishioners who served.

My great-grandfather did his best to do what he believed was his part, but was too old. His son, my grandfather fought in the trenches of France and Belgium in the First World War, my father and uncles did the same, perhaps not trench warfare, in World War II. Fortunately they all came home, many others were not so lucky.

Let’s remember to remember this Wednesday.

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