October 3, 2000

On Location II

What Do Laundry and Flags Have in Common?

12:45 PM:
On the patio of a small, well-kept strip mall /office complex in Laval, outside the laundromat where our king size winter comforter is churning around in a king size washing machine.

I have all summer to get the winter comforter washed but always seem to leave it for the first warm day in October; warm, because it hangs on the line to dry.

The laundromat is next to a small deli-coffeeshop, hence the outdoor seats. There are a few other people out here, but nobody I know. They're all speaking French. I can understand it if I concentrate but it's easier to tune it out.

This mall is on a hillside, facing downwards towards the section of river that divides the islands of Montreal and Laval. There's a cool breeze and a good view of the clouds moving from my right to my left. There's also a clear view of three flagpoles presumably belonging to the office complex, which houses some city offices.

These flags (one Canada, one Quebec, and one torn and indistinguishable, probably the City of Laval) are flying at full mast, as if today is a normal day. It isn't, though. As I write, the funeral of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau is going on in downtown Montreal.

The flags in front of the Laval City Hall were at half mast, as were the flags in front of the Post Office nearby. Other flags varied. This is not a normal occurrence in Quebec, but, I fear, a political statement. Things in Quebec have been a little more tense lately anyway, with a fringe separatist element making some noise by firebombing a church basement where an English rights groups was to meet. Politics is one thing but withholding this standard, minimal sign of respect is beneath contempt.

So, imagine my surprise when Hubby told me (and I verified today) that the flags outside Rob's school were at full mast. Hubby, who has about as little social conscience as is possible for someone of his generation, suggested that I bring it up at the next meeting, which happens to be tomorrow (Wednesday).

The more I thought about it, the more perturbed I became, so I called the school and spoke to the secretary.

Me: Hi, this is Pauline, how are you?
Sec: OK thanks and you?
Me: Good thanks, can you tell me why the flags outside aren't at half mast?
Sec: (sighing) They're stuck. We had them repaired and the people bolted them to the top.
Me: That's awful! Are a lot of people calling?
Sec: People in the building are asking about it.
Me: Can you at least take the flags down completely?
Sec: No. They're fixed up there.
Me: Who did that repair?
Sec: Someone sent by the School Board.
Me: (grumble) OK thanks.

I find it appalling, that an English school, run by an English school board, finds itself in that position. Appalling and embarrassing. I'm personally embarrassed, as a member of the "Governing Board"* of the school.

Somewhere inside my head is a tiny voice that says I'm making too much out of it. I disagree. It's symbolic and it doesn't stand for anything good, no matter what the reason. Incompetence is no excuse.

I will definitely bring this up at the monthly meeting tomorrow and hope to get some answers, especially the one that says this will be rectified, ASAP.


Surfing through the news stories about the funeral, I came across this, at the CBC website:

Cuban President Fidel Castro and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter were among 21 honorary pallbearers. Others included songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen and the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslim community. Prince Andrew also attended the service. Castro has declared three days of mourning in Cuba for his old friend Trudeau, and ordered all flags lowered to half-mast.

Good enough for Cuba but not good enough for Quebec. Disgusting.

*Re the school Governing Boards in Quebec: This is the official description, from the Ministry of Education website:

In September 1998, a governing board will be created in each school. Parents will play a prominent role on this board since they will have as many seats as school staff. Also, the governing board must be chaired by a parent.

The governing board is a true decision- making body whose purpose is to adapt the school’s educational services to students’ needs. The board approves the approach proposed for the implementation of the basic school regulation, that proposed for the enrichment or adaptation of the programs of study and for the development of local programs, the time allocation for each subject and the implementation of student services and special services.

The governing board also informs the school board of the school’s needs in terms of human resources, goods and services, and premises or immovables; it approves the budget and submits it to the school board for approval; it approves the use of school premises and may enter into agreements regarding their use.

The board may organize services other than those prescribed by the basic school regulation and social, cultural or sports activities for its students or for the community.

Linque Du Jour:   A Son's Goodbye

Courtesy of the CBC, the text of the eulogy given by Pierre Trudeau's eldest son, Justin. It loses something in the translation to print but is compelling and appropriate nonetheless. It's accompanied by other Trudeau links.

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