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Red Star Tattoo

Red Star Tattoo

My Life as a Girl Revolutionary
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A canvas backpack.
   A sleeping bag. 
   A drinking cup that collapsed flat into a little case.
   Two matching wooden bowls, one for Dale and one for me. 
   A combination fork and spoon. The spork. 
   My teddy bear. 
   Some clothes. 
   A toothbrush. 
   A small case, hand embroidered by my mother, to hold my "travelling papers." 
   Pounds and pounds of homemade granola, made the night before and packed in plastic bags. Slightly burned. 
   I remember what we packed for the journey. 
   But what did my parents say to me when it was time to go—goodbye? See you soon? See you later? 
   When the drivers slowed down to look at us, I tried to catch their eye. Sometimes I wiggled my outstretched thumb slightly, optimistically, and sometimes I tried to look sad and hopeful. Anything to imprint this scene in their mind: little girl sitting on a grey canvas backpack, young man with a guitar case, standing by the highway. Anything to slow them down until curiosity or sympathy made them stop.

Everyone knew that a kid was better than a dog or a woman for hitchhiking. At the Sweetgrass commune, where me and Dale, my parents, and another dozen or so people lived, everyone pitched in, did their share to keep things going. This was something I could do. I was eight years old and already an experienced hitchhiker, a travelling partner for anyone who needed luck and company on the road. I’d also sung in the Sweetgrass band that played folk and gospel songs at old folks’ homes and rock and roll at high school dances. I’d helped sell wildflowers, daisies and goldenrod and fireweed tied up in twine, to tourists in the city. But hitchhiking was the thing I did best. Up and down country roads into town, or the hundred-mile trip from Lennoxville to Montreal and back. 
   I was Dale’s plan to get west cheap and in a hurry. Dale was in his early twenties and from Los Angeles. He and another Californian played the lead guitars in the band. They’d helped start Sweetgrass, but Quebec winters and the winding down of the Vietnam War had them longing for home. His friend had already left with another commune member who was caught up in a custody battle for her baby. Dale and I were the second wave. My parents and a few others would be following soon. Behind us was Sweetgrass. Ahead of us was California and a new life. But in between was this long stretch of road. 
   By day three I could feel Dale starting to wonder if this highway was more than my small charm could manage. We’d spent hours waiting to catch the next ride. I knew it didn’t help to look too miserable or be crying. No one wanted to deal with that kind of kid. Instead I sat by the side of the road with my teddy bear and sucked my thumb, trying to look younger and cuter than I really was. 
   To keep us entertained, Dale played his guitar and sang. He sang the Beatles and Dylan but the old country songs were my favourites. 

   Take me home, my heart is heavy and my feet are sore 
   Take me home, I don’t wanna roam no more
I liked that song, I liked the idea that what we were doing was roaming, and that when we got to California our roaming days would be over.

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Being Prime Minister
Excerpt

DRAFT

BONO, BIEBER, AND ‘AMERICA’S SWEETHEART’: PRIME MINISTERS AND CELEBRITIES

“I like his grim jaw, kind eyes, sugar-daddy hair and suave features. If he’d put his bow tie away forever, and have his wardrobe overhauled, he’d go places. Neither Marlon Brando nor John F. Kennedy could compete with him.” —Jayne Mansfield on Lester B. Pearson in 1963

It is just a few days before Christmas in 1969 and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is waiting in his Centre Block office for a famous couple on a mission to spread peace. Trudeau’s schedule is a little lighter due to the coming holidays, so he has told his principal secretary, Marc Lalonde, to take a break from this mid-morning meeting while he receives his guests. The appointment is scheduled to take 10 minutes but will end up taking closer to 50. The prime minister is wearing a dapper three-piece suit and polka dot tie. A newspaper report of the meeting will say afterward that if it had been the PM’s intention to lower the voting age before the next election, “the meeting yesterday did him no harm.”

Through the oak doors of Room 311-S walk John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who are warmly greeted by the prime minister. The member of the Beatles is wearing a black suit with broad black tie. His long hair and full beard are signatures of the hippie era. His wife is similarly clad in a black dress. Trudeau smiles broadly with his right thumb tucked into his waistcoat pocket, clearly enjoying the meeting. A collection of photographers snap pictures. Lennon and Ono grin as the PM gestures and continues to welcome them. Later, Yoko Ono will say, “If all politicians were like Mr. Trudeau, there would be world peace… you people in Canada don’t realize how lucky you are to have a man like Mr. Trudeau.”

The story of prime ministers and celebrities appears to be a modern one, born in the age of television as politicians attempted to ride the coattails of famous rock stars or athletes, hoping for an uptick in the polls. The reality, however, is that Canadian prime ministers have met with the famous from home and abroad at least since the days of R. B. Bennett in the early 1930s. Indeed, meeting with celebrities is part of the job of being prime minister and these encounters give us not only insights into the political pre-occupations of the times in which the meetings took place, but also into the character and sensibilities of the office holders themselves.

What is more, the prime minister alone is a celebrity. “There is, at any given time, only one person who is the prime minister of Canada,” wrote Kim Campbell in her memoirs. “That, and the fact that constant TV appearances have a way of conferring an aura of celebrity, make the opportunity to get close to the prime minister exciting for most people, regardless of their partisan loyalties.”

Whereas fame was once confined to movie stars and athletes, the growth in consumer demand for more and more news about the lives of the famous meant the net had to be cast wider to produce more celebrities—hence the creation of celebrity politicians. In fact, this very chapter—perhaps even the entire book—is a reflection of the interest there is for the personal and private lives of people who are famous. While prime ministers back to Sir John A. Macdonald have been famous across the country, the projection of fame goes much further today. There is no better example of this in Canadian history than the celebrity story emerging in the prime ministership of Justin Trudeau, once dubbed by an opposition MP as the “celebrity-in-chief” of Canada. Whether it is selfies in Davos or Dundas or appearances on the covers of magazines such as GQ or Hello!, Trudeau is the avatar for the celebrity PM.

* * *

So what is the benefit of meeting celebrities for a prime minister? Like in any relationship, there is often a symbiosis. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were in Canada to promote their peace festival to be held at Mosport raceway the following spring. Meeting Pierre Trudeau certainly helped the cause. As for the prime minister, after more than a year and a half in office and his popularity on the wane, he and his handlers saw these types of endorsements as only beneficial for him. As Tim Porteous, Trudeau’s speechwriter at the time recounted, “For the prime minister’s staff, the principal object of the PM meeting John and Yoko was not the discussion of how to achieve world peace. The proposal was for fifteen minutes of conversation and — more importantly — fifteen minutes of photography.”

Porteous and Trudeau got their money shot, partly by happenstance. Peter Bregg, the Canadian Press photographer who took the famous picture of the threesome, got his unique vantage point by being one of the last photographers to join the PM, Lennon, and Ono, in the prime minister’s office.

“The rest of the media were already inside so I had to kneel in front so as not to get in the way,” Bregg remembered. “This turned out to be a good thing. The problem when you have several reporters and photographers shouting questions and orders to look this way is you end up with three people looking in different directions. At one point Trudeau looked down at me and said, “watch out for this guy". All three looked at my camera and I had the shot I needed.”

While diplomacy and celebrity can go hand in hand, the latter can occasionally get in the way of the former. Prime Minister Stephen Harper found this out the hard way when he met former Soviet hockey star Vladislav Tretiak in 2007. The legendary goalie was in Ottawa as part of the thirty-fifth anniversary celebrations of the eight-game 1972 Summit Series defined by Paul Henderson’s dramatic game-winning goal with thirty-four seconds left in the final game. Harper was asked by a reporter if meeting Tretiak was a perk of the office. “Yes,” he replied with wide smile on his face. Unfortunately, for Harper, Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf — the first African woman elected as a head of state — was also in town. The matter was raised in the House of Commons by Liberal MP Bryon Wilfert.

“The prime minister yesterday had an opportunity to meet with hockey players,” he began. “That is very nice, but unfortunately the president of Liberia deserves better from the prime minister. As we celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, why will the prime minister not take time from his schedule today to meet with the president of Liberia? Does he not care?”

After the pressure from Question Period, Harper agreed to meet with Johnson-Sirleaf, a get together that apparently lasted for ten minutes. Mr. Tretiak got thirty-five minutes of the prime minister’s time.

Diplomacy and celebrity certainly played a large role in the friendship that Prime Minister Paul Martin enjoyed with U2’s lead singer, Bono. Both share a mutual interest in improving the life of those on the continent of Africa. They met when Martin was finance minister — a meeting after which Bono called Martin “a f**ing great guy.” But the Irish singer was unable to get Martin to boost Canada’s foreign aid to 0.7 percent of GDP. Nonetheless, the two were amicable and enjoyed a few beers together after the G8 summit at Gleneagles, Scotland — “more than one if I remember correctly,” Martin recalled.

In similar fashion, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau crossed paths with the late Gord Downie, lead singer of the Tragically Hip, in 2016. Both Downie and Trudeau shared a desire to address Canada’s ongoing reconciliation with the country’s Indigenous Peoples. A tweeted photograph of the two men embracing before the band’s final concert in Kingston, Ontario, contained added poignancy since Downie was dying of brain cancer. During the Tragically Hip’s show, Downie took a moment to hail Trudeau for his work on the Indigenous Canadians file. “Prime Minister Trudeau’s got me,” he told the roaring crowd. “His work with First Nations….he’s got everybody! He’s going to take us where we need to go! He's going to be looking good for about at least twelve more years. I don't know if they let you go beyond that. But he'll do it.”

Trudeau, who wore a concert T-shirt like no prime minister before him ever could, did not address Downie’s comments afterward. He didn’t need to. With a television audience of more than ten million, Gord Downie had just given the prime minister the best publicity possible for one of his policy priorities as well as a ringing endorsement from one of the country’s most beloved rock stars. When Downie died in October 2017, an emotional prime minister—in tears—told the country about the pain he felt at his passing. “I thought I was going to make it through this but I’m not,” he told reporters.“It hurts.”

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A Very Double Life

A Very Double Life

The Private World of Mackenzie King
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