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, who is Haitian,  told the kids how she was born in Montreal 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.”