Today was flag day in Canada and this year marked the 40th anniversary of the first ascension of the maple leaf banner up the Peace Tower flagpole on Parliament Hill. To mark the occasion Prime Minister Paul Martin, Minister of Heritage Liza Frulla, Speaker Peter Milliken, and Col. John Matheson gathered at Kingston city hall.
I received an email from the Queen’s University Liberal Association bragging about the PM’s visit to Kingston a few days ago, asking Queen’s Liberals to attend the fete and to “bring friends”. I’m on every political association mailing list at Queen’s — it paid off today, of course. The email boasted of a meeting with Paul Martin and photo-ops! As a conservative, I could go undercover that morning; I wasn’t going to pass up a meeting with the Paul Martin. He is the Prime Minister! I shot an email back to the club president expressing my interest and inquired about the need for an RSVP. None required! I was all set…
Of course, things weren’t as they seemed as I arrived at city hall with a friend. Only a few members of the Liberal association were on the guest list and they were listed as “Friends of Paul Martin”. There were, as I learned, several tiers of invitations such as “Friends of John Matheson”, “Media”, “Other guests” etc. I asked the Heritage ministry staffer at the reception table if we could get on the “invited” guest list. Perhaps, only if some others didn’t show up, she suggested. We decided that it was worth a wait anyways.
So, we waited and greeted Mr. Martin after his car arrived at city hall. We then tried to enter the hall again (in the pack of Queen’s Liberals). Yes, we all discovered, three tickets were available. My friend and I were selected from the group of the now temporarily dejected Queen’s Liberal fan club (I saw them inside later, so they must have made other arrangements).
We found out that our tickets were somewhat special. Yes, we found ourselves on the list of “friends of Paul Martin” and were immediately ushered towards the front of the auditorium into the front row. Not bad for a couple of non-Liberals (and one de facto conservative) for an invitation only-event. The mayor of Kingston must have also been a “friend of Paul Martin” because he was sitting next to us. Maybe they golf together?
The ceremony itself was particularly interesting as we were lectured on the emergence of our red and white maple leaf banner. Apparently Paul Martin Sr. had a hand in outlining the selection criteria for flag designs. The highlight of the ceremony was the recounting of historical anecdotes and minutia from the man who submitted the winning design, Col. John Matheson, a former Liberal MP.
The low point of the ceremony was the playing of the Historica minute clip of the process behind John Matheson selecting the flag. The low point came when the actor playing Matheson scoffs at “what the Tories are proposing” as the Red Ensign is displayed. This elicited a loud singular scoff from an audience member who most likely didn’t realize that the Red Ensign was Canada’s flag prior to the maple leaf. Thus, while the man thought he was voicing his knee-jerk disapproval of the Tory proposal, he was instead scoffing the banner under which every fallen Canadian soldier in WWI and WWII died. Sadly, the Historica minute seemed to suggest the Red Ensign as laugh-worthy due to its juxtaposition with the big, bad Tory plan to protect the status quo. It was flag day, after all, and I was there to celebrate and share appreciation of every flag that has represented this country.
After the ceremony, the crowd cleared the hall into a reception area where the mayor, the Speaker, Matheson and the PM were socializing with invited guests. Well, since I was apparently a “friend of Paul Martin” I made my way over to the PM for a photo. The crowd surrounding him was large as every part of it jockeyed into position to say a few words or offer its advice.
I met Paul Martin once before when I was in high school when he was campaigning during the 1997 general election. I invited the then finance minister into a chat with some other keener students that had been selected to attend the event. Martin chatted with us for about five minutes on various issues of that campaign, and at the conclusion of our discussion, politely wished us well.
Today, time with Paul Martin the Prime Minister was sought after by every person in that reception room from the school children on the field trip to the pensioner with key points of his own plan for saving healthcare written down and passed to Martin. Surrounding the time of our brief handshake and photo, I had the impression that Mr. Martin was, for the most part, passed about the room like a political prop and he appeared to have much more on his mind than the flag day ceremony. While everybody was gathered there to celebrate their common history, Martin looked tired and distracted perhaps by his anticipation of the fractuous future months to come.