Peter Mansbridge

As somebody who reported for over 30 years on some of the major events in modern history, Peter Mansbridge is in a unique position to offer some insights on leadership and Canada's place in the world.

The now retired host of CBC's Television's The National was the keynote speaker for the FCC Forum held just before Christmas. The event was held virtually due to COVID-19.

During his career, Mansbridge has conducted over 20,000 interviews-- some with world leaders (including 11 Canadian prime ministers) but he said many of the stories that define leadership and Canadian values for him are from people who might best be described as "ordinary" Canadians.

Still on the prime ministerial front, he first met John Diefenbaker as a child as part of a documentary on youth visiting Parliament Hill. Mansbridge said Diefenbaker (who had a reputation for remembering names and faces) recalled Mansbridge's mother telling him they had just come to Canada from England when Peter asked him to sign the picture years later.

While his relationship with many of the succeeding prime ministers were often adversarial as he interviewed them on tough issues, he said the frostiest relationship was with Jean Chretien, who did not do interviews with him for much of his time in office.

One of the stories that stands out for Mansbridge was a visit to Vimy Ridge, where he had the opportunity to film in an underground tunnel that was recently cleared for the first time in almost 100 years. He was moved to see the names of Canadian soldiers (often including the cities and towns that they come from) written on the rocks.

"I was down there for two hours and it was really quite a moment because here you are standing on the other side of the world and you passed through this space where Canadians stood 100 years before," he told the forum. "When I got out of the tunnel, I felt more Canadian than I have ever felt before."

Mansbridge also relayed a story about a visit to the Scottish Highlands where he came upon a row of gravestones all adorned with Canadian flags. The graves belonged to Canadian soldiers who were killed during a training mission in 1944.

"it reminded me that not all our soldiers, sailors and airmen were heroes in battle. Some were heroes in a different kind of life. They never got past training but they committed themselves to serving their country."

He noted 11 of the 15 people on the plane were Canadian and they were from all parts of the country adding "these guys were Canada on that plane."

Mansbridge noted how a chance meeting at the Frankfurt airport with a DFO officials led him to broadcast from the Arctic and shine a light on impact of climate change in the north. He also shared what he called a trilogy of stories he said reflected what Canada is and how others in the world see us.

The first story occurred during the tsunami in southeast Asia in the early 200's that claimed the lives of over a quarter of a million people. While in Sri Lanka, he met a nine year old girl who said "Canada good" after seeing the Canadian flag on his bag. She came to that conclusion due to the fact she received needles from a trio of nurses from Vancouver who volunteered their services.

"That little girl will always tie those two words together," he noted.

The second part of the trilogy was a parade in the Dutch city of Appledorn honouring Canadian veterans who liberated the town from Nazi rule in 1945. He said the stories about the role of Canadians during the war have been passed down from generation to generation in Holland.

The final story is of an immigrant who came to Canada from Afghanistan in the 1990's when the Taliban took control. She went back with the coalition forces to help women understand their rights in a free society.

"She did it because of the example she had grown up with in Canada-- a country that has unlimited possibilities," Mansbridge said.

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