Who needs civics? You do!

The business report on the radio began with the latest dooming and glooming. The commentator used all the appropriate clichés about this poor outlook, that unexpected downturn, and, of course, the uncertainty prevailing. Then, he surprised me with his ignorance by describing this week’s outcome in the French election.

“European markets are surging,” he said, “because of leftist Marine Le Pen’s showing in the first round of the French elections.”

Leftist?” I repeated out loud. “Does he have any idea what he’s talking about?”

Lucy in the sky…

Gerald Le Dain took several years to reach a decision on decriminalizing marijuana use.
Gerald Le Dain took several years to reach a decision on decriminalizing marijuana use.

The media came out in droves to hear an important pronouncement about law and the use of a controversial hallucinogenic substance in Canadian society. Then, three sober-looking legal figures proceeded to offer their findings. J. Peter Stein, Heinz Lehmann and the man after whom the report was named, Gerald Le Dain, unveiled their findings.

“The cultivation of cannabis should be subject to the same penalties as trafficking,” Judge Le Dain said, “but it should not be a punishable offence…”

If you thought those pronouncements were a recent dress rehearsal for the current Trudeau Liberal government’s plan to decriminalize the medicinal or recreational use of marijuana next spring, well, you’d almost be right.

Surviving the night

NIGHTTIME_HIGHWAYAt about 3 or 3:30 in the morning, one hardly expects anything very important to happen. After all, most civilized people are asleep in their beds at that hour. But last Tuesday night, I didn’t have any choice. I had to drive a long distance – between Winnipeg and Saskatoon – to arrive in time for a media appointment the next morning.

As I drove my car rental late that night, I suddenly became aware that the sky was growing brighter in the wrong place. Not behind me to the East where the sun would be rising in a couple of hours, but to the North. I dimmed the lights on the console of the car and peered off to my right.

“The Northern Lights,” I said to myself in a hushed tone, as if speaking the words aloud would scare them off. “Aurora borealis,” I added.

A brother’s keeper

Bill Doig at the wheel of his favourite pick-up, Muriel, about 1977.
Bill Doig at the wheel of his favourite pick-up, Muriel, about 1977.

I think I can pinpoint the first time I ever felt self-confident.

It didn’t come on graduation day. It wasn’t contained inside that rolled-up education degree. I can’t even say I felt self-assured when I got married or with my first steps as a professional. You’d think a guy who had his first newspaper column published in high school, his first radio show as a teenager, his first book released in his twenties, would have loads of confidence. But no. The day I think I realized I had found my niche in the world was the day my brother-in-law Bill Doig gave me a friendly poke in the shoulder.

“You know,” he said, “you’re pretty good at what you do.”

I had only just left my hometown of Toronto for work a few months earlier in 1976. My wife – his wife’s sister – and I had only been married a year or so. She and I really had no car of our own (my folks had given us one). We didn’t have a roof over our heads (Bill solved that; he invited us live with them). We had very few possessions. Heck, we didn’t even have a credit rating. But somehow because I was (overnight) Bill Doig’s brother-in-law and working in the same city as he was, I suddenly became a somebody.