Magnificent Men! Leadership Lunch
April 25th, 2014
This outstanding Canadian is Canada’s most respected journalist. As the Chief Correspondent and Anchor for CBC’s The National, he has heard and seen the many facets of Canada. Peter is also the host of Mansbridge: One on One and preparing to cover the Sochi Olympics in February. Peter has earned numerous Genie awards, five Honourary Degrees and the Order of Canada. Indeed, he has been promoted within the Order of Canada to the Officer level. Currently, he also serves at the Chancellor of Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.
Peter will give us some insights as to how he overcomes obstacles and defines leadership. He certainly has met most of the outstanding leaders in Canada. You will also have an opportunity to meet Peter and the other remarkable leaders there.
Lessons for Successful Living
Introduction by Lorne Motley
Magnificent Men! Leadership Lunch
Friday, April 25, 2014
Crystal Ballroom, Fairmont Palliser
Thank you very much, Lorne Motley. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a print journalist say such nice things about a broadcast journalist before! Thank you.
I’d also like to say a few things about David Gray, our emcee today. Would like to thank him for his kind remarks, too. David is one of our stand-out journalists and I’ve always been very impressed with him. He now owns the morning time slot in Calgary and I’m proud he’s on the CBC team.
Let me say how proud I am to be here this morning with all of you. I think it takes a certain degree of commitment and courage and leadership for all of you to be here today. It’s one thing to walk out the door and say, I’m going to the Palliser for lunch or I’m going to the Board of Trade or to Rotary.
However, it says something else, something remarkable when you say, I’m heading over to lunch for the Canadian Centre for Male Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. Think about that – that’s something new. Think about that. Twenty years ago, ten years, five years ago, we wouldn’t have said that’s where we’re going for lunch. There’s been a kind of a stigma attached to this issue, to this cause… but things have changed and all of you are part of that change.
I think we know when the change started. I think we all know who deserves credit for that change, who had the courage and determination and leadership to stand up and talk about the issue. That, of course, was Sheldon Kennedy!
Sheldon Kennedy is someone whom I have, and I know all of you share this, an enormous admiration for him, for what he has done after all he went through.
There’s something about courage. It’s contagious. He was alone when he stood up and he was alone for some time but soon it became clear that he wasn’t really alone when others eventually stood up as well and acknowledged what happened to them. Others stood up with Sheldon and said let’s do something about it!
You can draw that line of courage through this room today but it goes back to Sheldon.
One other person whom I would mention and who is the reason so many of us are here today and that is Frances. I’ve known Frances for almost 15 years now. I first met her and interviewed her when she was President of the Famous 5 Foundation. You know that achievement, too, took courage and determination and leadership.
When you think about it, in 2000 the rules were very ironclad about who could be honoured on Parliament Hill, have statues there. I’m not, of course, talking about the living statues!
There can be no statue on Parliament Hill unless it is honouring a deceased Prime Minister, Fathers of Confederation and a monarch of Canada.
Well, in the year of 2000, that meant there were no statues of Canadian women on Parliament Hill. None. Frances and her friends at the Famous 5 Foundation successfully pushed for statues of the F5 and now 10,000s of people pass that statue every year marking the Mothers of the Confederation and we can thank Frances Wright for that.
Now we have a new cause which Frances champions and that’s why she asked me to come today. When I saw the title of the series was Magnificent Men, I thought, of course, I’ll come! I’m a magnificent man, aren’t I?!
If there is one thing that all of us know, it’s that you don’t say no to Frances. It’s just a matter of working out the logistics and we were able to work out the logistics. Then I wondered what I should talk about…
Frances said, “Please talk about leadership. You’ve met lots of leaders and you’re a leader, too.” Actually, the theme of my remarks lately have been about leadership because I’ve been extremely lucky in my job to be able to meet and interview all kinds of leaders – religious leaders like the Aga Khan and Dalai Lama; sports heroes, artists and, of course, politicians like Prime Ministers and Presidents. I’ve interviewed quite a few.
Let me tell you about interviewing an American President who was still in office. I’ve interviewed a number of Presidents out of office particularly when they are on a book tour. They really like us then and want to talk to us.
Interviewing them whilst they are still in office is quite different, much more difficult. In fact, CBC had never been able to interview a sitting US President until Barack Obama, three weeks after becoming President, agreed to an interview with me.
I had the privilege of being the first person from CBC to extensively interview a sitting American President. It was big deal for CBC and a big deal for me, too, as I had actually tried to get an interview with him for several years when he was a US Senator. Like a lot of people, we saw that he had the potential to become the President.
Finally, we got a phone call saying, come on down to Washington and meet with the President at 9 am the next day so off I went.
I got to the White House around 8 am the next morning and our crew was already there, all set up on the Main Floor. There were probably about 15-20 people in the room – our small crew, White House Secret Service, White House staffers, White House Communications people, their Press Office people and others.
When I got there, I spoke with the chap who seemed to be in charge and asked when will the President be arriving? In a very solemn voice, he said, ‘The President of the United States will walk through that door ‘, pointing to the door beside him. He announced ‘He’ll be arriving at 9:13.’
I chuckled and said, ‘9: 13; not 9:10 or 9:15 but 9:13?’ No one said anything…
A few moments later at 9:13, the President walked through the door. He walked right over to me with his arm outstretched and said, ‘Peter, welcome to the White House. Great to have you here!’
I thought to myself, ‘Wow! He must know me! He must watch CBC online every night. ’ However, I saw a chap whisper to him as he came in the door…
Anyway, they were in a rush because they had to go somewhere so he sat down and we started our interview. I asked about Afghanistan, the economy, about oil – Alberta oil – but he was as non-committal then as he is now on that issue.
Anyway, we went through the interview and all the time, there was a guy standing just out of camera range with cards saying, 10, 9, 8 and soon the interview was over. We actually spoke for a couple minutes longer than the agreed upon 10 minutes.
His staff stepped forward and said, ‘Mr. President, we have to go. The helicopter is waiting for you.’ He shook my hand and out the door he went.
I thought it was a good interview and turned to my producer who was a young woman, a very sharp journalist who had worked hard with me and others to get this interview and who had produced great interviews. During the interviews, she sits nearby out of camera range and takes notes so I asked her, ‘Samara, what do you think? How did we do?’
She looked me in the eye and said ‘He’s so gorgeous!
I agreed with her but reminded her we had a lot riding on this interview including history so I asked again, ‘How did we do?’
‘Sorry, Peter,’ she said, ‘I didn’t hear a word he said!’
There were still a lot of people in the room and they laughed uproariously. We started teasing Samara for a few minutes and then all of a sudden, the door opens and there’s the President again. Barack Obama calls out, ‘Peter, I’ve got somebody you have to meet!’
Well, I’m thrilled. The President cares about me! Thinks of me as his friend!
The President is a tall guy, probably 6’2”, 6’3” and with him is taller guy, about 6’5”, 6’6”. The President says, ‘Peter, I’d like to introduce you to Marvin Nicholson. He’s from Victoria!’
I’m trying to put this all together… Think of if I’ve heard Nicholson’s name before… Nothing.
If ever you see pictures of the President playing basketball or golf, you’ll probably see Marvin because he’s the President’s sports buddy who also has the job in the White House as the Director of Travel.
But before Marvin and I can do more than say hello, Obama’s other staffers hustle the President and Marvin out of the room, onto the lawn towards the helicopter.
Apparently, Marvin mentioned to the President, ‘I’ve been watching Peter since I was a kid’.
‘Oh,’ says the President, ‘Well, let’s go back so you can really meet him.’ and back in they come! The White House photographer starts taking photos of the three of us talking. Other White House staffers quietly grumble…
Eventually, the President heads to the helicopter again. He stops, turns around and calls to me, ‘You really should come out here and see the helicopter take off! It’s really neat!’
And so we did.
I like to tell this story because it’s funny; it happened just three weeks after he became President. He was the biggest star in the world at that time and yet he saw me as a friend, not a close friend, but a person worthy of introducing a special staffer to, of showing me a kindness.
I often look at those photos and at a current photo of Obama now six years later and see that he has aged more than six years. What this tells me not just about Obama but others, too, is that leadership, particularly serious leadership, comes with enormous pressures for those in leadership.
Whether a person seeks leadership or it just happens to them, sometimes I don’t think we realize the extent of the pressures which come their way. We can argue about whether or not they are doing a good job or not. We can be for or against their policies and style but we need to remember all the pressures on them. Most of us are not willing to step forward and assume these pressures. Most of us are not willing to pay the price of being a leader. They are. They make these difficult decisions, facing enormous pressures.
Now when I think of all the different people I’ve interviewed, sports heroes, political leaders, religious leaders, certain people have really intrigued me. I have interviewed the Aga Khan three times since the late 70’s. The first time he was standing with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau as they were good friends. The Aga Khan, a remarkable man, always explains various aspects about the Muslim and the non-Muslim world so that I can understand.
I find him a fascinating person as all my interviewees are but I think when I try to determine who I respect as leadership role models, it’s none of these famous people. It is, often, certainly in my career, ordinary people who have been caught in extraordinary moments who are the most inspiring. I feel lucky to have been able to talk with these people at that particular time.
Here’s my favourite leadership story because it captures my career and the opportunities I’ve had as a journalist, both in a junior role and in a leadership role.
In 1979, I found myself in S.E. Asia covering the exodus of the boat people – a huge story at that time. Ethnic Chinese people were persecuted in Viet Nam and wanted to get out of Vietnam so they piled onto tiny little boats, and set out on the South China seas. They didn’t know what was out there or really how they were going to get to their new place. They crowded tiny boats meant for 7-8 people but there were 100 people in them. Many boats were not sea worthy.
I was sent over to do daily stories plus a documentary. I was about 30 years old and this experience shaped my life about responsibility and leadership because I was able to meet these incredible people who were risking everything, even their lives. It was a horrible situation. Children were brutally beaten, women were raped, men were thrown overboard in some circumstances. These images are frozen in the minds of everyone who saw it.
I met some people in refugee camps and later in Canada, and when you talk to them, without exception, they said they were doing it for their kids and their kids’ kids. They said they were trying to find a home which accepted them, a country which would accept them and give them opportunities.
By telling their stories over the summer of 1979, I was able to see the power of good journalism because the world responded to them. I saw how good journalism could motivate people, could make a difference.
Canada accepted 60,000 boat people to join other immigrants from other parts of the world.
I remember their stories and it affected me. Women handed me their babies and asked me to find them a good home. It still moves me today. It never leaves you.
After being in Vietnam and meeting the amazing boat people, I came back to Canada and somehow, I’ve had a good career. I enjoyed my assignments and increased responsibilities with CBC, travelling to national capitals, covering politics and other adventures. I’ve had a very good life. However, the boat people and the other experiences I’ve had in difficult situations have impacted me, changed me.
With my career going well, my family and I discussed how we could give back and I’m sure many in this room have done the same thing. My family and I decided to share our wealth. I know that many people in this room have given back to their community, to Calgary, in a major way.
One of the things I do is fund scholarships in five provinces. A couple of years ago, in Toronto, I was invited to the Junior Achievement Gala. Some of the people in this room were there.
Junior Achievement receives all the applications and sends the top ones to me for final decision. I read the applications, think about them and then make a decision.
Several years ago at a Junior Achievement banquet, I very happily announced the winner of my scholarship. She was a young woman from Milton with outstanding marks and a plan for an entrepreneurial future which included going to the University of Western Ontario.
She was very excited when I phoned her and gave her the good news. At the Junior Achievement dinner, I meet her and give the plaque and the cheque. She’s charming, gives a wonderful speech, everyone’s happy, people applaud, we take pictures and just as she’s leaving the stage, she asks me if her parents could meet me at the end of the dinner and have a picture with them. I say, ‘Yes, I’d be honoured.’
When the event is finished, Priscilla comes over with her family. The photographer gets ready and the mother leans over to me and says, ‘I was a boat person. I came over in 1979.’ She didn’t recognize me. She just wanted me to know where she came from.
This for me was the story full circle. She would have been her daughter’s age at that time, one of those little kids on the boat that had sadden me, worried me. When I looked at her now, I saw exactly the same look in her eye as I saw in the eyes of the parents many years ago, the determination for a better life for their children. That one day their children would have a voice. Every once in a while, my reports had a small role in Canada accepting these refugees. I felt the moment deeply.
This is one of the wonderful things about journalism. I felt keenly the power of good journalism once again. Most of the time the stories we cover are tragic, unnecessarily political, even somewhat boring. But every once in a while, stories come along where journalists can make a huge difference, make a big difference by telling the story in a way that touches people, moves people.
Look what happened in this city one year ago with the floods and how a whole city stepped forward. By telling your stories, more stories came forward, a community strengthen and was moved to help. That’s where journalists can play such an important leadership role.
Yes, journalists are leaders, too. I’ve been in this business for 46 years and I’m at the half way point!! I’m asking myself, what did I achieve? How did I make the world a better place? What moments am I proud of?
It’s meeting people like Priscilla and her mother that matter the most to me.
As a journalist, I’ve been lucky. I’ve had the privilege of being where the world changes, several times – places like Berlin when the wall came down… and it came down just behind me. People were using axes and their bare hands. It was exciting.
Right beside me was Tom Brokaw from NBC telling the Americans about this wonderful moment. On the other side of me was a Japanese journalist looking into his camera telling his audience about this moment in history. As far as we could see, journalists were telling their countries about what was happening here. We were all hearing about it at the same time.
There were so many journalists there sharing the triumph of freedom. It was Marshall McLuhan’s Global Village. The world was hearing something momentous at the very same time, hearing about something which would change the world. This, too, is leadership.
A couple of years afterwards, I was in Rome covering the funeral of Pope John-Paul. Correspondents from around the world converged on the Vatican. A priest comes to my hotel door. He introduces himself and says he’s there to help CBC in any way. Then he asks if there is a Peter Mansbridge present. I say, ‘I’m Peter.’ He then proceeds to invite me to come right away to the Vatican to pay my respect to the Pope who is lying in state. Although not a Catholic, I was honoured and we left right away.
We went into a back door of St. Paul’s Cathedral and soon I was in the rotunda where the Pope was lying in state and many people who had waited 7 hours to pay their respects. The priest encouraged me to approach the coffin and so I did. I bowed my head and thought about the good things that this Pope had done during his life. Although the leader of the Catholic Church, he had fans from other religions, too; had an impact beyond the Church, particularly on the Communist world. I met him during one of his four visits to Canada and thought about that and what a remarkable person he had been.
When I got back to my hotel, my colleagues immediately wanted me to look at the reports of me at the Vatican. They showed me the pool shots which the Vatican distributed. I saw how the CNN commentator interrupted his colleague to say, ‘We have a very important person coming to pay his respects to John-Paul’ and there I was on screen.
I was shocked. Imagine being described to the world as a very important person.
However, the commentator continued, ‘Yes, there he is – the President of Poland.’
We laughed and some of my friends have never forgotten that incident much to my chagrin.
Thank you all for coming today, for being here.
I think you know that by coming today you are making a commitment to help in some way with this very worthy cause. By being here today, you have helped and I know that some of you will do even more.
These Magnificent Men! Lunches are an excellent idea and I’m pleased that they are growing in attendance. I’m certainly glad to be at one of them.
Thank you very much for inviting me.