Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Charismatic Montreal morning show weather specialists Laventure and Verdon-Diamond share the stage

Readers of my column and blog know that I am a big fan of our two English language morning televisions shows: The Global Morning News and City's Breakfast Television. I go back and forth between the two and watch their daily video footage online.

One thing the two shows have in common is the presence of two very dynamic weather specialists: Jessica Laventure with Global and Catherine Verdon-Diamond from City.  Attractive, bubbly, full of life...these are some of the words which can be used to describe both of them. Laventure not only does the weather. She also goes to remote locations in the community and once a week records a report aimed at adopting animals. Verdon-Diamond does the traffic as well.

Oh yes, Laventure and Verdon-Diamond share something very significant in common. Their mother tongues are French. It was this in mind when I persuaded my colleague Alysa Kuzmarov to book them as the keynote attraction for the annual French for the Future Forum. The Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) Salle Marie-Gérin-Lajoie was the site for the 2014 event on   April 16 . Aimed at promoting bilingualism amongst Canadian youth, the theme was Respect, Culture and Integration Into Québécois Society. Some  550 students from 13 Montreal high schools and four school boards were present.
Catherine Verdon-Diamond and Jessica Laventure strike this pose minutes after meeting.
Laventure and Verdon-Diamond accepted our invitation. What better role models than them to speak French to our kids and promote the benefits of bilingualism. I was there first thing in the morning to see them meet in person for the first time. Within minutes it was as if they were lifelong friends.  They both have to wake up around 3 a.m.

 "I went to sleep at 5 p.m. yesterday," Jessica said. 

"It was 7 p.m. for me," said Catherine.

Their messages to the students resonated. Everyone listened attentively and  moderator
Pierre-Michel Jean-Louis had to end up cutting off the questions. Both of them speak such beautiful and understandable French.  Laventure, who has a great sense of humour, told the kids that she speaks four languages: English, French, Italian and Franglais. "It is like a secret language," she said, in reference to the absolute mixture of French and English words in the same sentences.

"When I was young I went to elementary school in English and I read a lot," Laventure said. "In Grade 5 my dad said it was time for me to start reading French. I ended up going to high school in French. That was hard. I had to leave all of my gang of friends. Once I got to Secondary V my parents said it was my choice regarding what CEGEP to attend. I did choose Champlain College and then Concordia University.  I did not have to choose based on language; but rather the programs offered. It was the best thing that could have happened because when I graduated I had double the opportunities than other people."

Here is a great report Laventure did a few days before the Forum, having Westmount High School students do the weather in French.  Reporter Anne Leclair filed this excellent story on the Global  TV evening news. Watch closely for Verdon-Diamond's Global (on camera) debut.

Laventure originally came to Global for a three-week internship. She ended up staying to work as an editorial assistant in Montreal, and later Quebec City, which is where she got her first crack at on-air reporting. After leaving Global in 2007, she worked at CBC Radio in Quebec City during the city’s 400th anniversary. She switched from the fast-paced news environment to the delicious world of food to become a researcher on cooking shows “Qu’est-ce qui mijote” and “What’s cooking” for a few years, before discovering the joys of weather reporting as co-host of the MétéoMedia morning show. When The Global Morning News debuted  more than a year ago, news director Karen MacDonald made an extraordinary hire in Jessica.

Verdon-Diamond  told the kids how she was born in Haiti and adopted by a white French-speaking family at the age of seven months.  Her dad's job saw the family posted in places like Egypt and Israel where she attended international schools and learned English. She went to Dawson and Concordia, with broadcasting not exactly on her career objective path. In fact she worked at Bell Canada as a customer service telephone operator.  In 2012, while working at CBC Montreal behind the scenes, she was offered the opportunity to report on the evening weather newscasts. Soon after, City Montreal executive producer Bob Babinski spotted her, saw a "diamond in the rough" and decided she was his weather person. It was a good decision for just like Laventure, she is great to watch. The mother of two young sons,  during her spare time she coaches her sons’ soccer team and volunteers at their school. 

"I am lucky for my international schooling experience," Verdon-Diamond said. "If you just speak French that it is not good enough. The international language is English."

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Witnessing some Justin Trudeaumania in St. Michel; tough talk about PQ

I experienced a little Trudeaumania today—as in Federal  Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau- when he dropped by John F. Kennedy High School in St. Michel for the inauguration of a new student support centre bearing his late father’s name. The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Student Support Centre will provide comprehensive support service to all students, Secondary I through V. It is designed to provide additional assistance to students who request this help or for those who are referred by school staff. 

Now I should say that I have used this headline in previous articles about Justin and he has personally shared with me that he is not crazy about the comparative wording used for his late dad, our  former Prime Minister. However, when you see the reaction when Justin shows up to speak the excitement in the audience is overwhelming.

This all started well before Justin went into active politics as the Member of Parliament for East End Papineau in 2008. His memorable speech at his dad’s funeral made him an instant icon. We all knew he was destined for politics, even when he began his vocational career as a high school teacher in British Columbia. Now he is preparing to run for Prime Minister of Canada. The next federal election in October 2015 will be one amazing race to watch: incumbent PM Stephen Harper,charismatic NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Trudeau.

Following a brief ceremony to unveil a plaque in the student support centre, Justin headed to the auditorium where an excited room full of students greeted him with a rousing ovation.
Justin Trudeau
Now this school is situated in his Papineau constituency, so he has made previous visits. Following a few opening remarks he invited students to ask questions and they did on a variety of topics.

Justin said that it is good news the PQ is no longer in power. “I was worried by the way the PQ was going about trying to win an election by creating division and stoking fear,” he declared. “The politics of identity and division were rejected. People also did not want another referendum or the threat of one. I do not believe that the best way to protect the French language  and culture is separating from Canada.”
Thursday, April 17 will mark the 32nd anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “Madame Marois’ divisive plan would not have passed mustard around the Charter of Rights,” he said. “Her plan would have ended up in the courts. It works out much better that this was resolved at the ballot box.”

Ottawa has become Justin’s main home now. It makes sense given his major travel schedule. He and his wife Sophie have three young children ages six, five and six weeks. “I resisted this job as leader for a long time,” he said. “But I looked at the way the federal government was running things and I decided that this is the best way I can help my family and the country.”

Friday, 11 April 2014

The PQ just does not get it and I have the proof

Now that former Quebec Premier Pauline Marois is mulling over retirement options, perhaps she would consider a trip to the Super Expo Sciences Hydro-Québec in Terrebonne with her colleagues Bernard Drainville, Pierre Karl Peladeau and Jean-François Lisée. There are two more days to go and yes, bilingualism is alive and well in this province and there is no reason to be ashamed of it.

I have been at this provincial Science Fair since Wednesday. There are 159 students from 12 regions in Quebec. Virtually all of the proceedings have been conducted in French. For the kids I am chaperoning that has not been an issue. They understand everything just fine. We are all staying together in a Laval hotel, dining “ensemble” and I see a lot of bonding taking place. And when  the subject of last week’s Quebec election comes up, folks from the Saguenay to the Mauricie and Outaouais seem content to see the Parti Québecois out. 

“We don’t want to separate from Canada,” said one.

“I never liked their Charter of Values,” added another. “It made me uncomfortable.”

One chaperone, who is Muslim, said that the entire Charter debate prompted her daughter to come home from school one day questioning whether she should change her last name. “I may not have been born here, but this is her native land and she should feel welcome,”  the mom told me.

This is a perfect example of how the PQ misread the electorate.  And thank goodness for that.  The next Quebec election will not take place for four and a half years as the fixed election law brings that vote to October 2018.

So what happened? Here are some of my thoughts. 

PKP helps send the Liberals to victory.

-Thank you Pierre Karl Peladeau. Your entry into the campaign with a famous fist pump and a call that you wanted to build a country for your children gave the Liberals an extraordinary shot in the arm. There was no turning back. PKB handed Philippe Couillard a gift. Now the PQ may reward him with the party leadership.

-Mr. Drainville really thought that his xenophobic Charter would bring the PQ a majority. But just look at the Cremazie riding, where former Commission scolaire de Montréal chairman Diane De Courcy was defeated after only 18 months as their MNA and the Minister of Immigration and Responsible for the Quebec Language. The Charter was clearly her undoing.

-Good for Fatima Houdin Pepin. She chose to embarrass Couillard and her party over the Charter. Wisely, the leader ousted her from the party. After 20 years of service and a very health pension in sight, she should have done the right thing and walk away. Instead she ran as an independent in her South Shore La Piniere riding  and was trounced by star candidate Gaetan Barrette. 

-I wonder how Henri Paul Gautrin feels now? The veteran MNA for Verdun went public before the election was called that he foresaw a PQ majority. What was he thinking? Couillard wisely replaced him. To Gautrin’s credit, he walked away quietly.

I feel great relief today. Real estate agents I speak to our elated. Businessmen who contemplated closing up shop if a PQ majority came to pass are now thinking the opposite.

If the PQ wants to take power again, their members should think clearly before selecting a new leader. Separation and the Charter do not sell. Just ask people at the Science Fair.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Demers, Lafleur and Calvillo headline another superb Sports Celebrity Breakfast

High profile personalities from the world of sports were on hand for the 10th annual Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors Foundation Sports Celebrity Breakfast on Sunday, April 6 at the Gelber Conference Centre. It was once again my great privilege to sit on the  organizing committee and shared the emcee duties with Charles-André Marchand for this sold out event with 600 people on hand. Here is a video of the introduction of our head table guests.
Jacques Demers receives his award from (left to right) Federal Minister Denis Lebel,  Sentaor Judith Seidman, Senator Leo Housakos and Mark Routtenberg.
The event featured a special tribute to the Honourable Jacques Demers, a Canadian senator and former Stanley Cup winning coach for the Montreal Canadiens.  Legendary Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo, who recently announced his retirement, was honoured as the Sports Personality of the Year. The Gazette's Herb Zurkowsky delivered an outstanding introduction.

Here is a nice video done by The Gazette

More than $190,000 was  raised from the event to support "Seniors in Crisis," a program that delivers much needed assistance to seniors.  Since the inception of the Breakfast, more than  $1 million has been raised.

New Alouettes head coach Tom Higgins, players Josh Bourke, Scott Flory, John Bowman and Luc Brodeur-Jourdain were on hand. So were Canadian Olympic diving legend Alexandre Despatie (now of City's Breakfast TV), RBC athlete and Canadian Olympic Snowboarder Caroline Calve,  former Quebec Nordiques enforcer Wally Weir, former Habs Guy Lafleur, Patrice Brisebois and Mathieu Darche, now a senior executive with Delmar International.

See Despatie talking about the event with highlights here on BT Montreal.

Red Fisher and I present Dick Irvin with the Larry Fredericks Media Award.

Dick Irvin was presented with the Larry Fredericks Media Award (named after my late dad Lawrence Frederick Cohen by Red Fisher, the 2013 recipient.  Members of the media on hand included André Corbeil of CTV, Bob Babinski and Wilder Weir from City Montreal and  Conor McKenna and Matthew Ross (the chairman of Expos Nation) from TSN 690See this excellent CTV report.

New this year was a live feed and special interviews from the VIP Room, with McKenna and Ross.  We also had the team from Montreal Hockey Talk broadcasting live. This amazing internet show, hosted by the great Ted Bird, has been posted here on their website so give it to a listen. Superb interviews with Guy Lafleur, Tom Higgings, Scott Flory, Anthony Calvillo, Jacques Demers and Wally Weir. Hats off to producer Kosta Papoulias and  his team.

Fan Daniel Alon meets Guy Lafleur.

Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors Foundation Past President Michael Wagen and businessman Bram Naimer served as co-chairs of the event. Morden “Cookie” Lazarus was honourary chair. 

The Cummings Centre is one of the largest senior centres in North America and its doors are open to all seniors, regardless of religion. One in five Montreal seniors lives below the poverty line. This is a shocking statistic that is expected to increase over the next few years. 

In 2013 the Cummings Centre saw a 35 percent increase in dollars spent for crisis needs. This includes the cost of medication, rent, Hydro, clothing, dentures and eyeglasses. This past winter was the coldest winter in 45 years. Without the help of the Cummings Centre how many of our seniors would have been without a roof over their heads, heat & hot water or a warm winter coat? When our seniors are in crisis the Cummings Centre is there for them and the dollars raised at this event will help us continue to be there for them.
Diane Dupuis Kallos of the Cummings Centre meets the Alouettes cheerleader.

Close to 500 Meals on Wheels are delivered to needy seniors per week. In many cases this is the only full meal these people will have all week.

Over 3,000 clients are served annually through our Social Services department. This includes a team that is dedicated, and trained, in helping Holocaust survivors and their unique needs. Every person that comes through our doors is treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

When people bought raffle tickets or participated in the silent auction at the breakfast we told them to consider the following:

  • $20 will buy two Meals on Wheels;
  • $40 will buy two hours of Homecare Services. This can include help with bathing, dressing, shopping, meal preparation, routine household tasks, respite from caring for an ill relative or just simply keeping someone company;
  • $100 will help buy a senior a warm coat for the winter;
  • $150 will help pay a senior’s hydro bill so their electricity won’t be turned off;
  • $500 will help pay a senior’s rent so they are not evicted;
  • A minimum of $1,500 is needed to replace a senior’s dentures, $700 for a hearing aid, $250 for a new pair of eyeglasses, and the list goes on. 
    For more  information log on to