First of all, a big, blustery “Hum……bug!” to CBC, which is “celebrating” Christmas Eve by showing the washed-out, colourized version of A Christmas Carol, the one with Alastair Sim at his most brilliant as the definitive Ebenezer Scrooge. All the gloom, dark shadows and winter bleakness that are such a part of the classic 1951 British version of Dickens’ oft-filmed tale are gone, in return for vapid browns and greens. I could barely bring myself to watch the promos. When it comes to CBC management, I am forced to ask, as Scrooge did: “Are there no prisons.”

To make up for this travesty, I offer those of my blog followers who are as devoted to A Christmas Carol as I a pair of web stocking stuffers sure to delight them. But first, a few preambles.

“Waiter. More bread!….Ha’penny extra, sir…..No more bread!”

“Business???!! Mankind was my business!”

“Fetch down Master Scrooge’s box!”

“Isn’t that old Fezziwig?”

“It’s such a goose, Martha!”

“The one as big as me? It’s hanging there, still.”

“I don’t deserve to be so happy….Label, label, label, label, label.”

“Merry Christmas, Mister Scrooge. In keeping with the situation.”

“You’ve made Fred so very ‘appy.”

“I am behind my time, sir. I was making rather merry yesterday….I’m sure you were. Step this way, Mr. Cratchit. I’m not going to put up with this sort of thing, any longer. Which leaves me no alternative…but to raise your salary…. No, I haven’t taken leave of my senses, Bob. I’ve come to them.”

Yes, like millions, I watch it every year, as much a part of my Christmas tradition as the pudding singing in the copper. I know as many of the wonderful lines as those in Casablanca. (Come to think of it, both Scrooge and Rick turn from cynics into guys with a heart, however bruised…a similarity little remarked upon….until now.)


And so it came to pass, long ago, in the little town of Newmarket, that I first became aware of Dickens’ classic tale. On a snowy morning just before Christmas, a time no one referred to as ”the festive season”, all the kids on our street were talking about what they had seen on television the night before. Something about ghosts and chains and a mean old guy named Scrooge and being scared out of their wits. It was, of course, Alastair Sim and A Christmas Carol. But, like the Cratchits without a turkey, we were a family without a television. So it was not until a year or two later, when a small “idiot box” finally made it into our house, that I finally got to see A Christmas Carol for myself.

My appetite for the movie, which is perfect in every way, was whetted by our Grade Seven teacher, who might have been our own version of Scrooge. She was the meanest, crabbiest, fiercest teacher you could imagine, with a well-used black strap she didn’t hesitate to use on whomever might be in her bad books on a particular day. But as Christmas approached, she miraculously turned into a big softie. We sang Christmas carols, put up decorations, and best of all, she read us Charles’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It was if she, too, had been visited by the Three Spirits.

Before there were videos, my mother, who also loved the movie, would scour the TV listings every Christmas Eve to see which channel was playing Alastair Sims’ great tour-de-force, and when. Once, I seem to recall, the only showing was midnight on CKVR in Barrie. We watched late into the night, barely disturbing Saint Nick as he filled our stockings ng with such care. Like Christmas Day without Martha in the Cratchit household, it would not have been Christmas Eve without A Christmas Carol.


But last week, I did something completely different. For the first time since Rocket Richard retired, I read good old Dickens’ original. Verrrrrrrry interesting, as they say. Many scenes in the movie were taken directly from Dickens, word for word. However, much to my surprise, some of the best bits were not even hinted at in the book. They were the creation of the movie’s perfectly-named screenwriter Noel Langley. He did the seemingly impossible. Yes, folks. In my opinion, believe it or not, the movie version is better!

The sheer, unbridled giddiness that courses through the movie Scrooge on Christmas Day, with Sim prancing around in his nightgown, standing on his head, scaring himself in the mirror, frightening Mrs. Dilber before giving her a guinea, hollering at the boy to buy the turkey, and on and on, far surpasses what’s in the book. And is any scene more wonderful than the 1951-xmas-maidheart melting moment when the reformed Scrooge hesitates nervously before going into his nephew’s drawing room? He receives a nod of encouragement from the sweetest maid in the history of filmdom. With the strains of Barbara Allen playing softly in the background, I choke up every time.

Okay, enough of me. Here are those promised treats. First is a definitive account of all the scenes from the 1951 movie that were not written by Dickens. That’s followed by the pièce de résistance, an interview with the young actress who played the maid all those years ago. It was her last appearance before the cameras.



As Stompin’ Tom liked to say: Merry Christmas, everybody!



Photography - imaging by marlis

(Update: A week after I wrote this, the Governor-General announced that Dr. Montaner had been appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. Fancy that! http://www.gg.ca/document.aspx?id=15922&lan=eng )

Dr. Julio Montaner is hailed world-wide for his critical contribution to combatting the spread of HIV/AIDS. His aggressive treatment methods are in the forefront in Africa, in Brazil, in China and in Europe. But what does he get from Canada’s political leaders, outside his own province of British Columbia? A big, fat, collective cold shoulder.

While his landmark Treatment as Prevention strategy to stop transmission of HIV is now the cornerstone of UNAIDS’ ambitious goal to eradicate the AIDS epidemic by 2030, no province except B.C. has fully embraced it. Nor is it part of Health Canada’s approach to treatment. At the same time, despite a string of international awards that would make anyone blush, including one from, of all people,  the president of Austria,

Dr. Montaner is not even a member, officer or anything else of the Order of Canada. Austria, yes. His own country, no. It’s hard to escape a conclusion that this is the reward someone gets for speaking out against the federal government over its lack of action on AIDS and its “ideological” opposition to Vancouver’s safe-injection facility, Insite. images-4

Yet, as B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake put it last month, while announcing yet another award for Dr. Montaner, who was named to the Order of B.C. in 2010: “Nobody in Canada has made a bigger contribution to the field of HIV/AIDS research and treatment.”

I would go further than Minister Lake. Dr. Montaner may have done more than any living Canadian to save lives around the world. Although such a statement would undoubtedly make the brilliant, passionate researcher uncomfortable, it is certainly arguable.

From his modest, cluttered office among the maze of workplaces at venerable St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver, Dr. Montaner has spearheaded treatment and programs administered to millions of Africans and others throughout the world. As a result, the impact of HIV/AIDs is slowly beginning to recede, and the dream of an AIDS-free planet is no longer mere fantasy.

Dr. Montaner is the first to point out that this has hardly been a one-man show. Many colleagues and other researchers have contributed to these advances, as well. But none perhaps with the intensity and drive of the longtime head of B.C.’s renowned Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. Under his watch, employing the powerful anti-retroviral drug cocktail (HAART), originally devised by Dr. Montaner, AIDS has gone from a virtually-certain death sentence to a chronic, manageable disease.

He then went on to pioneer the game-changing Treatment as Prevention. In a recent interview, on the eve of World AIDS Day, Dr. Montaner spent most of the time celebrating the dramatic progress in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. Just this fall, UNAIDS announced its bold 90-90-90 program, with the target, as mentioned, of ending the AIDS epidemic as we know it within 15 years. Treatment as Prevention, of course, forms the core of the UN body’s stepped-up assault. DrJulioMontaner_0-1 But near the end of our conversation, Dr. Montaner began to reflect on the situation back home in Canada, where other provinces and the federal government continue to shun the proven treatment program that saves lives and reduces the spread of HIV. His mood darkened. “People are sitting around, looking the other way, because this is not a daily epidemic, or something,” he told me. “I can’t shake the feeling that is wrong. That is deeply, deeply wrong. And it tells me something about human nature that I don’t want to accept.”

In our many encounters over the years, I had never heard him sound so morose. Angry and frustrated. But never gloomy. The premise of Treatment as Prevention is simple. HAART not only halts the killer nature of the virus, it was found to reduce a patient’s viral load to such minimal levels, the danger of passing on the virus is negligible. Hence, if enough patients are treated, transmission can be stopped in its tracks.

B.C.‘s full-bore employment of Treatment as Prevention, seeking out those on the margins of society and providing drugs free of charge, has slashed the rate of new HIV infections by more than 70 per cent. This in a province whose drug-riddled, impoverished Downtown Eastside area in Vancouver once had the highest HIV infection rate in the developed world. In the rest of the country, meanwhile, the number of new cases is on the rise, highlighted by an alarming increase among First Nations individuals in Saskatchewan.

As for Ottawa, its so-called national AIDS strategy has not been updated since 2004, and Dr. Montaner, for all his global tributes, can’t even get a meeting with federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose. No wonder his thoughts turned sombre. “When you think about the role model we have created for dealing with AIDS and HIV in British Columbia, it is probably one of the biggest public health successes in the history of Canada,” he said. “Yet we still don’t get the attention we should be getting. This little voice inside me keeps wondering why. Why is it that we have to work so hard for people to show their compassionate side?”

At 58, Dr. Montaner could retire from the field, content with an astonishing legacy of achievement. But his inability to make a similar mark in Canada propels him forward. “It drives me more perhaps than all the success we have had,” he said. “All the good stuff is all very nice, but it’s that dirty aspect of this business, that is so perverse, that is really what keeps me focused on going on. “Because we know how to do it,” he maintained. “We know what needs to be done. It’s right there in front of us. Yet here we have an epidemic that is out of control on the prairies, and a country that is not interested in talking about it. That is not acceptable.” Quite right.

In the meantime, at this festive time of the year, let us give thanks that we have someone as tireless and committed to the good fight as Dr. Julio Montaner. Few will be surprised to learn that he is currently planning to use the principles of Treatment as Prevention for yet new campaigns, beyond HIV/AIDS: against the growing scourge of Hepatitis C and further, against socially contagious afflictions such as smoking, obesity and addiction, itself. Will the man never slow down?

May I wish the Argentinian-born, raised and trained good doctor Montaner a very hearty Feliz Navidad.

REsised_Julio_Montaner P.S. Lest you think it’s presumptuous to suggest his induction into the Order of Canada, consider the following. For his vital efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS, he has been showered with global recognition, including research bestowals, totaling $3.5 million. He served as president of the International AIDS Society from 2008 to 2010, and remains an elected member of its Council. In 2010, Dr. Montaner received the Albert Einstein World Award of Science for his “leadership and development of novel HIV treatment strategies with world-wide impact”. The same year he received the Prix Galien Research Award for “spearheading clinical trials that have revolutionized the management of HIV/AIDS.”

Next year, Dr. Montaner will be inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. The lengthy list of tributes also includes that Grand Decoration of Honour for Services to Austria. “Dr. Montaner’s leadership and innovation in HIV and AIDS research has improved the lives of thousands of people in Austria and millions of people throughout the world,” explained Austrian ambassador Werner Brandstetter. If far-off Austria can find itself free to honour Dr. Montaner, why can’t Canada?

(A complete list is at the end of this lengthy Wikipedia entry on Dr. Montaner. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julio_Montaner )


Image John Reed was the only Western reporter covering the Russian Revolution. Now I know how he feels. Assigned by The Tyee, I was the only reporter covering last week’s convention of the B.C. Federation of Labour. Okay, not quite the same. For all his anti-corporate fulminations, not once did Jim Sinclair proclaim: “Let us now begin to construct the social order”. Nor did anyone storm anything, let alone the Winter Palace, unless it was the coffee bar. The masses actually voted to choose their new leader. How non-revolutionary. Kerensky would have been pleased. Still, there I was, the lone scribe at last week’s B.C. Fed convention.

You can see why editors would take a pass on assigning coverage. After all, the Federation represents only half a million workers, the convention was merely going to choose its first president in 15 years that was not named Jim Sinclair, and the winner would be the first woman to head the labour organization in its 104-year history. Plus, the contest between Irene Lanzinger and Amber Hockin was tight as a drum. What could possibly be newsworthy about any of that? (There was coverage of the Fed fight before and after the convention, but none during.)

Of course, this is not surprising. The mainstream media decided long ago that regular coverage of organized labour was like Iron Maiden, some sort of relic from the 1980’s with no place in the hip world where editors reside. Just another self-interest group trying to crowd out all those much worthier self-interest groups on the business page. Yes, labour matters are still occasionally covered on a one-off basis, but the ranks of full-time labour reporters in the country are the same as the number of working steam locomotives. Zero. Despite my solitude, however, in addition to picking up free pens at the booths and buying buttons from Melva, the famous “button lady”, I did manage to keep myself engaged. Herewith, an old-style Mickle notebook on some of the things that caught my interest.

  1. I should not have been surprised at the dearth of reporters. Even the Fed seemed shocked that a journalist would show up. When I arrived, a staffer escorted me around the room, looking for the media table. Finally, she realized that all those empty chairs at the front were, in fact, the media section.
  2. Outgoing president Jim Sinclair did his best to emulate Lenin, delivering a long, fiery speech on Day One that seemed Image 13to touch on every hot button issue in the country. The standing ovations piled up like cockroaches at the Cobalt Hotel, where Sinclair once lived. As the convention headed towards a sharply divided vote for his successor, Sinclair, who was backing Fed secretary-treasuer Irene Lanzinger, pleaded for unity: “I hate it when we fight each other. I really hate it when unions raid each other. I worry when workers fight, and we are not there to help them. I love this movement when we are truly one.” And in case anyone was wondering what Brother Sinclair will be doing when he turns 77, he told delegates: “I will be out on the picket line with you.”
  3. There was a good, vigorous debate over strategic voting, as delegates considered a resolution opposing the “stop Harper” strategy of voting Liberal in ridings where the NDP has no chance of winning. “We have to support the NDP right across the country,” said a guy from CUPE. “The answer is not Justin Trudeau. He is not going to stand up for workers in this country.” Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s impressive BC area director, strongly disagreed. “I will never stand by and see Stephen Harper win another election,” he declared, in ringing tones. “If there are aliens from another planet who can defeat the Conservatives, then I’ll vote for those aliens.” The resolution passed, narrowly.
  4. Guaranteed applause line: “First time delegate, first time speaker.” A speaker who said he was a “second time delegate, second time speaker” drew laughter.
  1. This was my first chance to hear from the man who shared a drink with Christy Clark this summer and parlayed that lounge relationship into helping settle the bitter B.C. teachers’ strike. That would be new Canadian Labour Congress president, Hassan Yussuff, who toppled our boy from Trail, 12-year incumbent Ken Georgetti, from the post. Hussuff had a message for anti-union governments and employers: “We’re not going to take this shit no more.” Ooooo-kay. Hussuff went on to pledge union defiance, should the government pass Bill C377, the odious private member’s bill that would require public disclosure of all union spending over $5,000. “If Stephen Harper wants to throw us in jail, he will have to start with me.” Applause.
  1. There was also non-labour news at the convention. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, announced Tuesday he would be arrested at the Kinder Morgan pipeline protest on Thursday morning. “This is a matter of principle. Leaders can’t just talk the talk. We have to walk the walk. As I’m being arrested, I’m going to think of my grandchildren and your children.” Huge, emotional ovation. And CUPE BC president Mark Hancock revealed that his union would be suing failed mayoral aspirant Kirk LaPointe and the NPA over their “union corruption” charges during last month’s campaign. “You picked the wrong people to fight with,” Hancock thundered. “We will kick your ass in court.” Two modest scoops and nowhere to go with them, except Twitter. If there is news and no one is there to report it, is it news?
  2.  Delegates also rallied in the rain to support the Fed’s new campaign for a minimum wage of $15 an hour. Even the mayor was there.IMG_41227 (a). There was yet another tribute to Big Jim Sinclair, this one featuring not just a video and veteran Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer suggesting Sinclair go back to newspapers as an unpaid intern, but real live people extolling the outgoing Fed head. Along with the likes of former premier Glen Clark and prominent First Nations leader Ed john, there was the afore-mentioned Hassan Yussuff. Perhaps thinking it was a roast, the CLC president wondered who was this great great guy. “The [Jim Sinclair] I know has been pretty annoying for all these years. He always had an opinion he couldn’t wait to get out,” Yussuff observed. Alright, he also said: “Jim has shown you’ve got to stand up and fight for others who don’t have a voice in this province. We are a better labour movement today because of [Jim Sinclair’s] leadership.” In response to all the accolades, Sinclair rebuked a reporter (me) who had pointed to the perceived split in the Fed, given the strong challenge for president by those wanting a change in direction: “There’s not a divided B.C. Federation. There’s some democracy going on.”
  3. A scholarship in Jim Sinclair’s name will be established as part of the Labour Studies program at Simon Fraser University. No, no, really. There are young people who study labour history. Think of them as medieval scholars. Here’s the link to SFU’s worthy program. http://www.labour.sfu.ca
  4. There was a presidential debate between Lanzinger, former head of the BCTF, who defended the Fed’s record and policies under Sinclair, and challenger Amber Hockin, Pacific Regional Director for the CLC, who called for change. Neither said: “You had an option, ma’am.” Hockin noted B.C. has had the biggest drop in unionization in the country. “If we’d kept our foot on the gas over the past 15 years, we’d have 95,000 more workers with union cards….This is no time for the status quo. It’s simply not getting us to where we need to go.” Lanzinger pledged to continue Fed policies developed under Sinclair, particularly its philosophy of standing up for all workers, not merely union members. Part of that, she recounted, was occupying the Kitsilano Coast Guard station to protest its closure by the feds. “It’s been a long time since I slept in a sleeping bag beside a 20-year old.”

Image 110. Election years are always a big deal at Fed conventions. Unions pack the hall, filling as many of their allotted delegate slots as they can muster. With two credible candidates – and clear divisions between them –running to take over from Jim Image 10Sinclair, there was a record turnout of more than 2,200 delegates. Unions large and small seemed to line up evenly on either side. Adding to the drama is always  the dramatic, archaic announcement that they are “tiling the doors”, meaning no one, especially pesky reporters, can enter the hall while voting goes on. After a long count that inextricably stretched past lunch, “Landslide” Lanzinger was declared president of the Fed for the next two years by an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny margin of 57 votes.

11. Running on a two-person slate with Amber Hockin, BCGEU’s northern regional coordinator Aaron Ekman had been unopposed to take over as secretary-treasurer of the Fed. But a surprise, last-minute nomination put Howard Huntley of the storied Grain Workers Union on the ballot. His nominator explained he didn’t like having the public sector holding both of the Fed’s top positions for the first time. The result was no romp in the park. Ekman defeated his virtually unknown opponent, but with only a modest 60 per cent of the vote. Some delegates may have registered their dislike over a remark he made while expressing support for Amber Hockin. He pointed to her “decades of experience, not limited to one union, alone.” That was a clear shot at Lanzinger’s long tenure with the BCTF. Cries of “shame” and boos erupted in the hall. Still, he is the first northerner to hold high office in the Fed, and, a committed trade unionist at 36, he could be organized labour’s face of the future.

12. I took Friday off. Solidarity, sisters and brothers. Image 11


Jean-Beliveau-640x432 As a diehard Leafs fans in the late 50’s and all through the 60’s, I don’t feel qualified to say much about the magnificent Jean Béliveau, who gave up the game Tuesday night, after a long skirmish in the corner with numerous afflictions. As always, it took more than one of them to finally lodge big Jean off the puck.

I hated the Habs in those days. There was no greater joy for this kid in Newmarket than when the Leafs would rise up to smite the mighty Montreal Canadiens, particularly their Stanley Cup win out of nowhere by Punch Imlach’s aging warriors in 1967. Such Leaf victories didn’t happen often. Most of the time, I would sit there glumly in front of our small, black and white TV set, watching the Habs pour it on, while my father chortled with every Montreal goal. images-5

Yet no matter how many times he killed the Leafs with a late power play goal or a perfect set-up, I could never bring myself to hate Jean Béliveau. Deep down, I knew I was watching someone who played hockey on a different level than almost everyone else, a master of the craft, as someone put it. So, instead of hate, my prevailing emotion whenever Beliveau had the puck in the Leafs’ zone was fear. You expected him to score on every play. My memories are not the goals he scored or the plays he made, but the constant anxiety he caused in my tense, blue-and-white, Maple Leaf heart.

Then there was the other stuff. Not only was he incomparably skilled on the ice, Bèliveau was absurdly handsome with perfect teeth, well-spoken and the personification of class. How could a guy who played the same game as Eddie Shack and Moose Vasko have these attributes, as well. It didn’t seem fair. Whenever he was interviewed between periods by Frank Selke Jr. (“Well, Junior…”), he never seemed to shed a drop of sweat, no hair was out of place, his voice as mellow and unruffled as if he’d just stepped out of a boardroom. Smooth, elegant, seemingly effortless, cruising the ice like a big, sleek Cadillac. That was Jean Béliveau.

For heartfelt reviews of a great great hockey player, I first offer this fine obituary by Gare Joyce. The last paragraph says it all. As a bonus, there is also an excellent video tribute at the top of the page by the great Stephen Brunt. http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/beliveau-obituary/

And closer to home, a lovely piece by Tom Hawthorn on what happened when Le Gros Bill came to Victoria in 2005. http://tomhawthorn.blogspot.ca/2014/12/fans-flock-to-meet-part-of-nhls-holy.html