Monday, 5 September 2016

FEDS DELIBERATELY EXCLUDED MINISTER FROM 100th BEAUMONT HAMEL CEREMONY

Don’t think for one moment that Chris Mitchelmore’s absence from the podium for the 100th Anniversary Ceremony at Beaumont Hamel was anything but a deliberate snub by the Federal Department of Veterans Affairs, of a lowly Minister from the boonies”.

Telegram reporter Barb Sweet reviewed 300 pages of materials obtained under access to information legislation for her story in the Saturday edition. They contain an indictment of a Federal Government all too willing to lie and to engage in cover-up.

The conversation described by the reporter between the local Honour 100 lead, Melanie Martin, and Peter Mills, project manager for overseas events at Veterans Affairs Canada, would have us believe the affair was an “oversight”. But the truth is something far different.
Mills, undoubtedly with senior officials in Veterans Affairs in the loop, dealt with provincial officials as if they were a group that had to use the idiomatic expression ‘fallen off the turnip truck’.

Said the Fed’s Martin to Mills:

“As discussed. An oversight.  We’re carving out 2.5 minutes for the Minister’s Speech… Unfortunately, this will not be reflected in the official program as it has been shipped to France already… leave it to me to do the dance on July 1?”

Peter Mills’ message to Melanie Martin, properly understood by those who know how large events are organized and official protocols at this level are conducted, will spot Mills’ officious deception in an instant. Mills played the locals for fools and persisted in the lie up to the time the Ceremony got under way.

The insights I have to offer on this matter, as a blogger, are inextricably linked to the eleven years I spent serving two Premiers, in the 70s and 80s. Part of that role included occasionally participating in preparations for official visits, and as a party to the numerous briefings which the Premier received when officials, including Her Majesty the Queen, came to town.

Such visits are always a challenge for organizers. Visits by Her Majesty and the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana, as one might expect, placed huge demands on the Protocol Office and commanded the participation of the Government’s, and the whole Province’s, best organizers over a two-year period.

The same can be said for an event like the 100th Anniversary of Beaumont Hamel, except it would have been exponentially larger and the planning begun long before the Ball Government was elected.

A Protocol Office runs such events like a military operation.

The expertise and resources of the Federal Government make such operations seem easy, but only because those resources are vast. .

Nothing in a Protocol Office is ever left to chance. Every detail is checked and re-checked dozens of times. After all, the competence, sophistication, and pride of a Nation is exposed every time the world is asked to watch. The operation does not end until every last detail has been executed that is, after the dais and the public area have been cleared.

The very idea that a Minister could be left off the Programme, given this Ceremony’s provincial, national, and international significance, and given the senior level of the dignitaries participating which included the Prince of Wales and the Governor General of Canada is simply preposterous.

Every dignitary participating in the Ceremony, the order and duration of their Address, and other details would have been accounted for almost with split second accuracy months in advance. The Ceremony would have had the timing of an orchestra, headed not by a Conductor but by a Maestro.

In this context, can you imagine a Minister left off the Programme and it cannot be changed? Because it is already sent to France!

Peter Mills may be an incompetent but, more likely, he is disingenuous or dishonest or both. He was clumsily covering for the Veterans Affairs Department.

Veterans Affairs' willingness to stand by the “lie” only deepens the deceit manifested by Mills. His assertion that “we’re carving out 2.5 minutes for the Minister’s Speech… leave it to me to do the dance on July 1” is so obviously false and contrary to the way major ceremonies are conceived, planned, and executed, that he could only have been referring to how he intended to kick up his feet in the nearest French bar when the event was over.

Even if Mr. Mills or one of his team was incompetent, the planning and review process of the event would have passed through so many hands, at a very high level, that no personage, however diminutive, would be left out of the Ceremony. It simply would not happen.

Simply put, the Minister was not on the dais because Veterans Affairs wanted him left off.

When Premier Dwight Ball advised that Chris Mitchelmore would be his stand-in, the jig was up. Officials in Veterans Affairs decided immediately that there was no way a lowly provincial Minister was stepping on the heels of the Prince of Wales Newfoundland’s relevance to the Beaumont Hamel massacre be damned! 

Frank Sullivan, President, Royal Canadian Legion Newfoundland Command is quoted in the Telegram story stating “he saw Mitchelmore practicing his Speech in French prior to the ceremony”.  Sullivan confirms that Veterans Affairs permitted the ruse to continue to the very end.

Eight hundred members of the Newfoundland Regiment answered the roll call to face a barrage of German artillery. Only 68 answered the roll call the next morning. There were 324 killed or missing. Another 386 were wounded.   

Even with this history as a backdrop, Veterans Affairs could not muster the sensitivity to recognize how important it was to this Province, then a struggling self-governing Dominion, and even now a society still feeling its disproportionate and sad loss. They did not even have the good sense to understand our presence was a right inscribed by the blood loss of our own heroes. The reason is straightforward.

Ignorance rendered the petty incapable of rising above themselves.

Perhaps, to his credit, Chris Mitchelmore took the high road despite the obvious snub: The Telegram quoted him saying: “It was unfortunate that I was not able to speak on behalf of Newfoundland and Labrador, however there were a lot of measures taken to include Newfoundland and Labrador that may not have been as visible to those in attendance.”

But there is no honour, not a scintilla of respect, to be found in the transparent deceit exhibited, first by the Federal Government’s Department of Veterans Affairs, and then here at home by Premier Ball’s silence.

In particular, the Premier ought to have “called out” the Federal Government for its boorish behaviour. For its deceit. For its insult to the Minister, and to his Administration. For what was, ultimately, an offense to the people of this Province

Peter Mills is irrelevant in this province just as Veterans Affairs has proven in countenancing a lie it is unworthy to represent ours soldiers' or any brand of heroism. 

But Dwight Ball is not irrelevant. Among other things, he is charged with defending the Province’s honour and national pride. The guileless Premier never ceases to amaze in what he will subvert in the interest of political partisanship.

6 comments:

  1. Something isn't right about this story, Des but it is not quite a simple as you have painted it.

    I liaised the 75th for Gallipoli and Beaumont Hamel in the early 1990s. Both events were tucked away upwards of 18 months beforehand. In other words, speakers, time allocations etc were all defined well in advance.

    If this story had proceeded precisely as we have it now, from Barb's story, Mitchelmore was a substitute for Ball who decided in January 2016 not to go. As such, he should have been slotted into Ball's place on the program.

    Reading this story it is fairly obvious that either the speaking program wasn't set as recently as January or they took Ball out and no one on the Newfoundland end of these things noticed this until a week or two before the event. That doesn't sound sensible either since this event was so big that the folks on this end should have watching every communication like hawks.

    Admittedly this year was different: Beaumont Hamel was finally recognised as a national Canadian event as it should have been all along since 1949. But still that doesn't make out as the "it is no accident" tale you have here.

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  2. Ed thanks for your comment. If there is another explanation I would like to hear it. You are correct that Mitchelmore simply "should have been slotted into Ball's place on the program". But Veterans Affairs had an opportunity the oversight if it was that with the Director having said to Melanie Martin: "...leave it to me to do the dance on July 1?” How could one not interpret the comment as a promise that the Minister would simply be inserted as a Speaker? But this undertaking did not get follow through either. I suppose you could conclude that the protocol people at Veterans Affairs are all bunglers but in my experience such people do not get close to directing such major national ceremonies. I'll stick with my thesis.

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  3. My experience dealing with Ottawa bureaucrats (and as a federal public servant working in the NL Region) was by and large that they were competent and thoughtful.

    Nevertheless, policies often had a centralist perspective and if the Regional representatives (and/or provincial governments) failed to grasp the centralist policy perspective, failed to grasp the scope of the centralist policy and failed to push back and settle for nothing less than what was in the NL Region's best interest, then we would end up getting the shaft.

    I also always found the representatives from Quebec to be very strategic in their thinking and planning (great, big picture planners). They settled for nothing less than what Quebec needed. I often thought that we would do well to be more like them.

    Was this another case of the NL government failing to take whatever action was necessary to ensure that this province had its proper place with respect to the 100th Beaumont Hamel Ceremony? Maurice Adams



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  4. Points of view from my three favourite bloggers, and in this order:
    Des Sullivan: an excellent writer, and sometimes witty and entertaining, and good analysis. Number 1. His blog topic is mostly the Muskrat boondoggle, but sometimes other subjects. He posts opinions of others.
    Ed Hollett: His blog titled Sir Robert Bond Papers, ( Bond, perhaps our greatest Prime Minister, who eventually quit politics because of on-going corruption in Nfld). Ed writes and informs readers on many subjects. Good analysis. Number 2 blog. Does not post comments.
    Maurice Adams: Writes excluseively on Muskrat Falls, with his analysis and also provides links to most everything connected to the Muskrat issue, both within out outside the province. A good source for Muskrat material. Does not post many opinions.
    Today, all 3 weigh in on that touchy subject: Beaumont Hamel.
    Here`s my take:
    This is a subject too traumatic for most to deal with,( especially if one has relatives killed or injured or played a part in this war. Many, if not most Nflders would rather forget, rather than remember.I believe a Telegram question gave the result that some 40 percent of would not bother to visit the Regiment display at the Rooms. Bob Wakeman describes the advance of the Regiment on July 1st, 1916, as a suicide advance. Ed Smith writes of the noble advance and compares it to the Charge of the Light Brigade. Ed Hollett would like to see a Caribou erected in Turkey, while Desmond McGrath writes of the neglect of the existing Caribou monuments in France. John Crosbie`s 3 part series on Beaumont Hamel and on Haig (the Butcher of the Somme) published in the Telegram last year, got virtually no response.
    We now have the medals at the Rooms of the commander Hadow who ordered our Regiment over the top in a futile advance, and for which not one advancing soldier received a medal. The idea of a noble advance is disputed as a myth. Not disputed as to the facts of the advance, but that is has been perpetuated as a noble event. Our soldiers involved are called heroes, including by Des Sullivan. If so, what was heroic should be better defined. Was it gallantry as Ed Roberts calls it. The idea of putting Hadow`s medals at the Rooms, has been viewed by some as adding insult to injury. Beaumont Hamel: a tradegy, a great loss, many were teenagers. What was the cause that put them there. Was it a just cause. Did the loss serve a great purpose or was it in vain. Does the significance get reduced by the concept that it is now a part of Canadian history, rather than Nfld history. Will the event be loss upon the younger generations despite the vows to remember. Is it the natural outcome of all past wars, that its importance gets lost in the mists of time. Perhaps the fact that no Nfld official spoke at the ceremony in France speaks to the complexity of the that traumatic day on July 1, 1916. And I wonder, if there had been a 2.5 minute speech, what would have been said.
    Winston Adams

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  5. Take close look at the photo of Michel more that accompanies The Weekend Telegram story. Apparently he wore sneakers to the formal 100 remembrance ceremony at Beaumont Hamel. Doesn't look like a guy prepared to play a formal role in an important ceremony.

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  6. Where was the provincial Protocol office on this one? Non-existent it appears. Protocol issues are not normally handled by contractual employees at Honour 100. There was failure on the Newfoundland side in addition to the federal official embarassing our Minister.

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