This week, Paul Martin appointed a new Governor General and thus ensured a stunning repeat for the CBC. Rob Johnston heads the CBC’s Cultural Installation Department: a little-known collective within the nation’s broadcaster that grooms, educates, and provides professional support for future Governor Generals. He was kind enough to provide a tour.
As we walk through the large atrium of CBC HQ on Front street in downtown Toronto, Rob motions towards the front desk and quips with a short smile, “It all begins there for the bright eyed graduates from Ryerson with the proper Cape Breton accents (called CBC English, as I’ve learned). But if you really want to get ahead here, you’ll have to learn how to talk the talk.” Interested, I encourage Rob to explain as we take the elevator up to the third floor. “Well, for example, when referring to Kansans who don’t believe in evolution, not only are they Christian but they are properly labelled ‘conservative’ Christians. Middle-Eastern Imams that encourage extremism are also called ‘conservative’, and any pro-American organization can also be referred to as ‘conservative’. Pretty much any political position that counters the CBC’s image for Canada is called ‘conservative’. It also has the effect of keeping our patrons in power and the cheques from bouncing. Neil McDonald is a master at ‘The Talk’. If you get a chance, speak with Neil.”
On the third floor, we enter another reception area where we both sign-in. After a pleasant nod from the receptionist, we exit the reception area and and walk down a large hallway. The hallway is lined with framed B&W photos of smiling alumni of the GG grooming program. Johnston remarks, “Of course not everyone makes it to the top, but we’re still proud of our many ‘graduates’.” Among the photos I notice Susan Murray, Carole Taylor, Romeo Leblanc and Adrienne Clarkson and of course Michaelle Jean. I stop before a portrait of a smiling, blond and attractive woman. “Is that Mitsou Gelinas?” I ask, somewhat surprised. Rob responds empathetically despondent, “Poor Mitsou was such a mess last week when she found out [about Michaelle Jean’s appointment]. She was the PMO’s other French-Canadian option and she took the news with much sadness. I comforted her, as I always comfort those who are passed-over by reminding them that there’s always the Senate…”
We come to a large set of double doors and my host unlatches a heavy latch, weathered by generations of patronage, and swings open the heavy doors. A large room opens before us and the current crop of vice-regal hopefuls is all there. I look around and see CBC personalities at desks writing an exam while a few staffers wait ready with imported bottled water.
To the left I see that Heather Hiscox is reciting a language lesson, “insurgent, extremist, gunman, militant, um, um… terrorist?” The instructor slams a ruler on her desk and exclaims emphatically, “WRONG! See me after class.” Over on the other side of the room, George Stroumboulopoulos is performing Queen Elizabeth’s trademark Royal Wave for himself in the mirror as he smirks with a sense of absurdity and humour. Johnston rolls his eyes and explains, “George, as you are likely aware, is a new recruit. He requires a bit of maturation, but I believe that he’ll make a great Governor General one day.”
As the tour of the facility ends and as we’re walking out the door, I spot Peter Mansbridge, in a tracksuit, doing side-bends, with an utter expression of futility on his face. Rob explains, “He’s been waiting for his phone call for ages. He even plays golf with the Paul Martin, but it seems to have no effect.”