Bowing to young leaders

Monte Winter announcing he’ll be stepping down after 32 years’ service in Ontario Legislature. Toronto Star

A few weeks ago, I read a story about the end of an era. A man who’d come from a family-run gourmet meat business and then had been elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1985, was stepping down. Monte Kwinter had served his constituents in the riding of York Centre for 32 years, but now he was retiring. The Toronto Star’s Robert Benzie asked the former solicitor general about his decision to leave.

“I am proud of what we accomplished during that time in my riding,” Kwinter told Benzie. But then the 86-year-old Member of Provincial Parliament added something I didn’t expect when he said:

“It’s time to turn over the reins to a new generation.”

Workplace and symbol

It was about 1 p.m. One of the clerks outside the chamber went over the rules I was to keep in mind when I went inside: Enter quietly. No briefcases or parcels. No applauding or talking out loud. Rise to your feet when the Speaker enters, when you’re introduced and when you leave. It made me think I was entering the Vatican.

But it was actually the Speaker’s Gallery at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton last Thursday afternoon. Eventually, the MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) for Sherwood Park, just outside Edmonton, rose to address the government and opposition members present.

“Speaker, I rise to introduce distinguished visitors,” MLA Annie McKitrick said.

Up the sleeve of an audience

You’d think in a room full of people over 70, there’d be somebody with a light for candles on a birthday cake for a 90-year-old. Ronnie Egan and I had to do the cake cutting without lit candles.

The event was coming to its climax. Guests were assembled. Speeches from dignitaries, family and friends were in the books. We had even sung “Happy Birthday” to the birthday girl. All we had left was to present the cake and candles to her, invite her to make a wish and watch her cut the cake. But there was a problem. Nobody had a way to light the candles. No problem, I thought, I’ll ask the audience.

“Anybody got a light?” I asked. And I looked out at a sea of faces expecting a smoker or a boy scout to come forward.

But nobody moved. Not one person had either a lighter or a book of matches to offer. If any group might be expected to have one or the other in its pockets, for sure, I thought, this one would.