Category Archives: Guest Commentary

Zoom funerals: some suggestions for etiquette

The Honourable Steven Fletcher has served as a member of Parliament as part of Canada’s federal government and Manitoba’s provincial government.


Zoom funerals… I just experienced my first one, and here are some observations.

My beloved Uncle Peter passed away this week. He died in New Zealand.

I wish to share some lessons that may be helpful to you when using Zoom or equivalent.

It happened so quickly and my family is all over the world, so we could only participate using Zoom. Unfortunately, it was done badly.

I will share with you some suggestions so you will not have to experience what my family did this week.

First, make sure everyone has the correct app.

Second, be very clear on which time zone is being used and everyone should know their local time.

Third, people should familiarize themselves with Zoom beforehand. For example – know how to mute and unmute.

Fourth, make sure everyone who is speaking at the funeral is speaking into the microphone. Sadly, at our Zoom event, somebody moved the microphone and no one online could hear what was being said.

Fifth, make sure that the funeral chapel or whomever is controlling the feed can be accessed by an alternate method of communication. It would have been very helpful if those who could not hear could in real time email, text or message the funeral staff to place the microphone appropriately.

Sixth, the funeral chapel staff should stay in the room to deal with incoming text messages, or microphone movements etc. The person at my Uncle’s funeral just disappeared for the family portion, which is also the most important segment.

Seventh, consider introducing those in attendance, especially if the numbers are manageable. The family may know each other, but they will not know the friends of the deceased if they live on the other side of the world.

Eighth, the camera needs to be focused. Perhaps more than one camera could be used. In this way, those online can look around the room or zoom in or out. We only had one view from the corner of the room.

Ninth, those on Zoom need to be aware of the lighting behind them: too much light messes up the view.

Remember people can see you during a Zoom service, unless you change the setting which would be rude in my view. In the same vein, since you are going to be seen, it is important to dress appropriately. If you wear a suit and tie in person at a funeral, then one should do the same on Zoom. This last suggestion is my personal preference, but my logic is with Zoom, it is supposed to be as if you were there, and if I was there, I would have been wearing a suit and tie regardless of whose funeral it was.

Finally, number ten. Let there be time to notify family, even though they may not be there. In this case, the service was only a couple of days after my Uncle’s passing. With another few hours, we could have contacted many more cousins and second cousins, and childhood friends etc.

If you cannot be at a funeral, there are ways to be there in spirit. My Uncle was a New Zealander through and through. His loss is felt.

I hope these ten lessons will be of help. Remember to record the ceremony!

–The Honourable Steven Fletcher

May 17, 2020


What has caused Tracey Cook to change her mind about Uber?


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The Honourable Harvey Spiegel, Q.C.

by Harvey Spiegel

On Nov. 18 2014, at a press conference announcing the City’s application to restrain all Uber operations in Toronto, Tracey Cook, the executive director of Municipal Licensing and Standards Division of the City (MLS) said:

“Uber has been operating since 2012 without a proper taxi brokerage license or a limousine brokerage license and since September of 2014 have been recruiting unlicensed drivers with unlicensed vehicles to provide taxi services.”

Uber’s unregulated status puts people in harm’s way due to unregulated fares resulting in alleged price gouging, inadequate insurance, increased safety risk to the drivers due to lack of training.

In her sworn affidavit filed in support of the City’s application, Cook also made the following statements:

  1. The City has brought this application to restrain Uber’s ongoing business operations in the Toronto because Uber is operating in flagrant disregard of the City’s licensing regime, even while it aggressively promotes and expands its services and continues to recruit drivers.
  2. Also, the longer that Uber continues to operate in the City, the greater the potential
    for damage to the taxi and limousine industries. …, protecting the economic interests of participants within these industries is not the City’s role as regulator, but the City has an interest in the long-term sustainability of the industry because it is an important part of the public transportation network. The
    , City wants, among cither things, tdencourage-investment toensure safe, affordable; and equitable service, increase the number of accessible and fuel-efficient taxicabs, and support other important policy initiatives.
  3. I am also concerned about Uber vehicles increasing congestion in Toronto and,
    particularly, the downtown core, which is a key consideration the City makes when determining the appropriate number of taxicabs. It is important to the economic and environmental well-being of the City and beneficial to public health for the City to reduce vehicular traffic when possible; increasing the number of vehicles operating as taxis and limousines will do the opposite.
  4. Therefore, for the protection of public safety, consumers, and the economic and
    environmental well-being of Toronto, the City is seeking clear direction that Uber must cease its operations immediately. It is important to the City and to the public that the issues raised in this application be determined quickly, on an urgent basis

As the executive director of the body charged with the duty to enforce the City’s Licensing laws, Ms. Cook, has an obligation to explain to the public what has caused her to change her mind since she made these statements.

The City’s 2014 injunction application failed because the court found that narrow definitions of Taxicab Broker and Limousine Service Company in the Municipal Code did not capture the activities carried on Uber. Following this decision, the City amended these definitions in the Code to clearly capture Uber’s activities.

Yet Uber continues to flagrantly flout the law; only now, they are doing so with 15,000 to 20,000 vehicles instead of an estimated 6000 in 2014. What has happened to Ms. Cook’s concern about of these vehicles impact on traffic congestion and impact on the economic and environmental well-being of the City?

What happened to her concern about the potential for damage to the taxi and limousine industries? That potential has now become a devastating reality which seriously threatens the long-term sustainability of an industry that in Ms. Cooks words “is an important part of the City’s public transportation network.”

In 2014, Ms. Cook asked the Court to act on an urgent basis to direct Uber to cease its operations immediately for the protection of public safety, consumers, and the economic and environmental well-being of Toronto.

What has caused her to change opinion about the imminent danger posed by Uber’s illegal activities?



Insurance Amnesia: When did auto insurance become a joke?

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Philomena Comerford, President and CEO of Baird MacGregor Insurance

By Philomena Comerford

President and CEO, Baird MacGregor Insurance


To your auto insurance company, carrying paying passengers falls into the same group of troubling excluded uses as does carrying explosives or radioactive materials.

For UberX drivers who mistakenly believe they are “ride sharing,” the news is not good. UberX is not ride sharing; UberX drivers are carrying paying passengers for profit which is absolutely excluded under their personal auto policies.

Unless you have an OPCF 6A Endorsement that permits carrying paying passengers as part of your policy, you are not insured. Every taxi and limousine in Ontario carries this endorsement. UberX drivers are either under the mistaken impression that they do not need this endorsement or are deliberately hiding this excluded use of their personal vehicle from their insurer.

To those of us who have worked for decades as insurance professionals, it seems that politicians, police, and media have been stricken with some kind of “Insurance Amnesia,” the chief symptom of which is to forget that it is against the law to drive without proper insurance, and that personal insurance policies specifically exclude drivers who carry paying passengers.

UberX continues to operate without insurance despite Toronto Council’s motion requesting they cease operating until they are brought within the law.

Insurance Amnesia is running rampant. Officials who are elected to design and uphold the law are, incredibly, promoting wholesale disregard of Ontario’s insurance laws. By now, Tim Hudak, John Tory and City Councils across the province should be fully aware that UberX drivers who do not carry an OPCF 6A endorsement are not covered to carry paying passengers; yet when Toronto’s Chief of Police says he does not have the resources to enforce the law, no one bats an eye.

When did insurance become a joke in Ontario?

In the case of UberX drivers who are pulled over while transporting paying passengers, police or licensing and standards by law enforcement officers should simply ask for a copy of the 6A endorsement and charge the driver if he fails to produce evidence of this proper insurance.

City Council does not have the authority to re-write Ontario’s Mandatory Insurance Act or the Highway Traffic Act. No matter how much users love UberX, technology does not trump the law. To the insurer, it does not matter if the car was dispatched using an app or dispatched using a telephone. If you’re making money from it, you are carrying paying passengers. It’s black and white; there are no shades of grey.

In October, Aviva Insurance began cancelling the policies of clients found to be driving for UberX. Politicians and police now have concrete proof that UberX drivers are not covered by their personal policies and yet police have no plans to take action; this, while they tow hundreds of cars during the “parking blitz.”

This begs the question: which is the greater societal crime to which enforcement resources should be allocated, illegal parking or uninsured vehicles?

Promoting the idea UberX drivers need some special new insurance product is disingenuous and irresponsible. The product that UberX drivers need exists right now: it is the OPCF 6A endorsement. UberX drivers are free to purchase this at a cost of about $4000 to $10,000.

Let’s admit the truth. Uber doesn’t want a new product; it wants a cheaper product.

In spite of all the recent publicity, UberX drivers continue to drive without commercial insurance; this constitutes insurance fraud. By systemically hiding UberX activity from their insurers, considerably increased injury exposure will push the cost of your personal auto insurance up over time, undermining Ontario’s mandate to reduce it.

UberX drivers stubbornly ignore the Financial Services Commission of Ontario and Insurance Bureau of Canada’s warnings about the personal auto paying passenger exclusion and the City of Toronto’s cease order.  It is wishful thinking that these same UberX drivers would buy any new product later when they won’t purchase the existing product now.

Now that Aviva has had the intestinal fortitude to take a stand with uninsured UberX drivers, perhaps the rest of the insurance industry will drink a cup of courage and do the same thing….. before a tsunami of uninsured injury claims come rolling in.


A modified version of this commentary was originally published at Landmark Report

Philomena Comerford is President & CEO of Baird MacGregor Insurance Brokers LP and its affiliate, Hargraft. 

She joined the firm in 1980 after serving at a national brokerage, is the incumbent President of the Toronto Insurance Conference Board, member of the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada’s board of directors, and is a past Chairman of the Insurance Institute of Canada having also served on IIC’s Examination, Education and Executive Committees. 

She is also the incumbent Chair of the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada’s Political Action Committee.  Philomena has served on the Ontario Automobile Operating Committee of the Facility Association and is a frequent public speaker on insurance and risk management topics.

Philomena participated in The City of Toronto Taxicab Review in a series of roundtable consultations regarding public vehicle insurance and risk management best practices.  Baird MacGregor is an established specialty commercial automobile insurance provider with significant public vehicle insurance expertise. 


Political will, not new rules, needed to regulate Uber

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“We took 7 million calls in 2012,” Gail Beck-Souter said that year. “No one is more interested in making riders happy than we are.”

By Gail Souter, President

Toronto Taxi Alliance

Toronto’s taxi industry agrees with Uber’s Chris Schafer on one thing: Uber must be regulated.

As a matter of fact, all of the authority required to regulate it exists right now, in Toronto City by-laws section 545 (which govern ground transportation) and Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act (section 39.1 which governs public transportation for compensation).

We disagree that Uber deserves its own special, custom-created regulatory category.

UberX came to Toronto one year ago and launched its business deliberately choosing to disregard and ignore every one of Toronto’s by-laws and the insurance requirements of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act. This outrageous act of civil disobedience has, astonishingly, been tolerated by Toronto politicians and Toronto police.

Toronto has all the power and authority it needs to regulate Uber right now. However for the past year, it has simply chosen not to enforce its own laws when dealing with UberX, whose drivers provide transportation for compensation in their personal vehicles, an activity which flies in the face of every regulation Toronto has ever enacted to protect public safety.  Yet at the same time, it has continued to enforce these bylaws with the legally licenced taxi industry.

Uber, a foreign company, has ignored all of Toronto’s local laws, and is now demanding Toronto re-write its by-laws to satisfy Uber. This is brazen and unacceptable.

The taxi industry in Toronto is subject to hundreds of separate requirements under By-law 545. Either these requirements are important to public safety and need to be followed; or they are no longer necessary and do not need to be followed by anyone. Fair enough: what is not fair is to use these rigorous requirements to commercially hog-tie the taxi industry while Uber is allowed to ignore them.

No one is suggesting Uber should not be allowed to dispatch cars in Toronto; we maintain simply that Uber should follow all the same rules for accountability and public safety that all the other dispatch companies follow.

When Schafer writes “Uber welcomes the opportunity to be regulated and follow the rules proposed by MLS,” he overlooks completely the fact that this regulatory framework already exists, and Uber wants nothing to do with it. Why does anyone suppose Uber would follow this proposed new set of rules designed just for them? Ignoring local regulation is an entrenched part of Uber’s business model all around the globe.

Should Uber next decide to get into providing cheaper bus service on TTC routes, or running cut-rate, discount, uninspected Uber restaurants and bars, will Toronto bend over backwards once again to re-write the rules for Uber?

London’s Guardian newspaper interestingly identifies Uber’s motivation in interfering with city governance:

“A more apt understanding of Uber’s ambitions is that the company wants to be involved in city governance – fashioning the new administrative capacities of urban environments. Rather than follow government rules, like any other utility, Uber wants a visible hand in creating urban policy, determining how cities develop and grow, eventually making the city itself a platform for the proliferation of ‘smart,’ data-based systems.

“While Uber is currently fighting for deregulation, it is misleading to understand this as simply attempting to remove legal barriers to market forces. Rather, it is a process of disrupting political power. And Uber has already established itself as a power player.”

The taxi industry calls upon Toronto politicians to demonstrate political will in enforcing its own existing laws fairly and consistently for everyone. Do not reward Uber’s aggressive stance on flouting the law by writing Uber a law of its own.


The Op Ed above was submitted to the National Post on September 18th in response to Chris Schafer’s work of fiction on September 17th. We can only hope the Post will run it.


Star Wars Wisdom from Tom Smith

Princess Leia would have been fired from her job, but would launch a kick-ass start-up, Tom Smith theorizes.

Earlier this year, my brilliant friend Hugh MacPhie published an interesting piece: “What would Star Wars characters be like to work with?” 

I sent the link off to my son Tom in England; he’s so busy launching a new business, it took about 3 weeks to respond but when he did, it was totally worth reading! Nobody loves “Star Wars” more than Tom Smith; and no one works harder. So when he shared his observations on how useless Han Solo is, and how kick-ass Princess Leia would be to work with, he definitely caught my attention.

Just yesterday a friend and I were discussing how fundamentally
useless Han Solo was to the Rebel Alliance – he’s completely
self-centred, takes them to meet his friend Lando on Cloud City where
Darth Vader is waiting for them, then he gets frozen in carbonite
because he owes a gangster money and then the whole team (Leia,
Chewie, both droids and Luke) have to stop fighting the Empire and
spend the first third of the next movie recovering Han from Tattoine.

Han is worse than completely useless; he’s a liability. He can’t even
fix his own ship and needs Chewie to do it. He doesn’t deserve to be
such a popular character. (The only pinch he comes through in is
taking down the tie fighters that are locked on to Luke in the Death
Star trench; but why did he leave in the first place?)

For C3PO, in his defense, although he is a big downer he doesn’t
actually get in the way and he is like one of those co-workers you
have to put up with because no one else has his technical skills
(“fluent in over 2 million forms of communication”). Without C3PO the
whole story would have stalled in the first 30 mins because Uncle Owen
couldn’t find anyone that understands the binary language of moisture
vaporators and Luke would just have to spend all his time trying to
suck water out of the desert rather than going to find Old Ben Kenobi.
There are about a dozen points where the whole story would just
have to stop without C3PO’s translation skills.

R2D2 is a manager’s idea of a good employee, always does what he’s
told, loyal even though he could be paid double if he went elsewhere,
he’s no threat to take his manager’s job, doesn’t come up with his own
ideas and then get attached to them. It doesn’t sound like a career
path worth emulating. He doesn’t even get a medal after they blew up
the Death Star, even though he’s co-piloting Luke’s ship. He’s too
comfortable being underappreciated, which of course the organization

If I had to work with one of them it would be Leia. She’s always on
the ball, has lots of skills, family connections and isn’t a douche.
She would be the most valuable. She’d probably be fired from a big
company because she threatens her manager but then she’d succeed with
her own kick-ass start-up.


UberX drivers and insurance risk: it’s black and white

Media release

June 29th, 2015

June 29th, 2015 (Toronto) — To your Ontario auto insurance company, carrying paying passengers falls into the same troubling category as carrying explosives or radioactive materials.

Unless you have an OPCF 6A Endorsement as part of your auto insurance policy, you are not insured to carry paying passengers, states Philomena Comerford, President & CEO of Baird-Macgregor insurance.

“It’s a very specific endorsement. That’s what you need. This is the endorsement for which taxi drivers pay dearly; without it, your insurer can deny your claim,” she says.

“Technology does not trump the law. To the insurer, it does not matter if the car was dispatched using an app or dispatched using a telephone. If you’re making money from it, you are carrying paying passengers. Period, full stop. It’s black and white; there are no shades of grey.”

Comerford, a specialist in auto insurance, is gravely concerned that Ontario drivers have gotten the impression that they can work for so-called “ridesharing” organizations like Uber and Lyft with only the personal insurance policy they put on their car.

“People are getting into it thinking ‘Oh, it’s like delivering pizza! I’m going to be an UberX driver!’ They do not understand that they could lose everything they own. If they get involved in an accident and there’s no coverage; they could get a judgement against them putting all of their personal assets at stake plus they could face charges for not being properly insured.”

Uber, she says, “is trying to introduce a thousand shades of grey to something that’s black and white.”

Indeed, section 3 of Ontario’s OAF 1 Standard Auto Insurance application asks this very straightforward question:

“Will any of the described automobiles be rented or leased to others, or used to carry passengers for compensation or hire, or haul a trailer, or carry explosives or radioactive material?”

The answer to this question is either “yes“ or “no.” If the applicant answers “yes” to this question, he or she will almost certainly be declined for personal coverage and will instead be referred for a commercial policy.

If the applicant answers “no” to this question and then proceeds to carry passengers for money, the insurer can take the position that there was either misrepresentation or non-disclosure; potentially facing up to a quarter million dollar fine or even jail time for misrepresentation.

“The problem is that everybody is unaware.  It’s been hard getting people to see how important it is. The fact that the City of Toronto is ignoring the insurance issue is maddening: none of these people are properly insured! Injured UberX passengers, pedestrians, cyclists or other motorists could find out the hard way about personally insured UberX vehicle coverage gaps. Toronto has jurisdiction over municipal taxi licensing regulations, but not the provincial Insurance or Highway Traffic Acts.”

The issue of insurance for Uber drivers is now in the spotlight, owing to an accident which took place on June 3rd in Toronto when an Uber car carrying paying passengers apparently ran a stop sign and plowed into a Diamond cab. The Diamond cab is insured with an OPCF 6A Endorsement; the driver of the Uber car had a personal policy with DesJardins.

Joe Daly of DesJardins was quoted in the media after the accident stating, “DesJardins does not insure Uber drivers. We do not insure taxicabs. We do not offer commercial policies in Ontario.”

Comerford points out that a good deal of the confusion has resulted from the fact that Uber holds out an SPF 6 policy as “coverage” for its drivers.

“An SPF 6 provides non-owned auto liability coverage, and there is absolutely no connection between that and the OPCF 6A,” she says. “The purpose of an SPF 6 policy is to protect a corporation whose staff or others use their cars on company business. It does not provide primary coverage; nor does it meet the financial responsibility requirements of the province of Ontario. The critical endorsement is the OPCF6A, Permission to Carry Paying Passengers which must attach to an Ontario Auto Policy OAP #1- Owner’s Policy.”

“Without it, an UberX driver could lose everything they own in the event of an accident.”


 Media wishing to interview Philomena Comerford can call

Mary Valvano

Tel 416-778-8000 ext 2269


Backgrounder:  Risks of Misrepresentation

What is the risk of misrepresenting yourself to your auto insurance company – for example, declaring in Section 3 that your automobile will not be used to carry paying passengers, when in fact you are carrying paying passengers? The possible ramifications are significant, and they are printed on every insurance application[1]:

  • Warning – The Insurance Act provides that where: (a) an Applicant for a contract, (i) gives false particulars of the described automobile to be insured to the prejudice of the Insurer, or (ii) knowingly misrepresents or fails to disclose in the application any fact required to be stated therein; or (b) the Insured contravenes a term of the contract or commits a fraud; or (c) the Insured wilfully makes a false statement in respect of a claim under the contract, a claim by the Insured, for other than such statutory accident benefits as are set out in the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule, is invalid and the right of the Insured to recover indemnity is forfeited.


  • Warning – Offences It is an offence under the Insurance Act to knowingly make a false or misleading statement or representation to an Insurer in connection with the person’s entitlement to a benefit under contract of insurance, or to wilfully fail to inform the Insurer of a material change in circumstances within 14 days, in connection with such entitlement.


  • The offence is punishable on conviction by a maximum fine of $250,000 for the first offence and a maximum fine of $500,000 for any subsequent conviction.


  • It is an offence under the federal Criminal Code for anyone to knowingly make or use a false document with the intent it be acted on as genuine and the offence is punishable, on conviction, by a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.


  • It is an offence under the federal Criminal Code for anyone, by deceit, falsehood or other dishonest act, to defraud or to attempt to defraud an insurance company. The offence is punishable, on conviction, by a maximum of 10 years imprisonment for fraud involving an amount over $5,000 or otherwise a maximum of 2 years imprisonment.


[1] Source: Ontario OAF1 application form

Dyslexia: how I hate the term

The trouble with dyslexia

by Malkin Dare

April 18, 2015 by mdare at 08:30 AM

This article by a teacher about her “dyslexic” daughter got me going. How much do I hate the term “dyslexia”? Let me count the ways.

Children’s ease of learning to read falls along a continuum. A few kids find it so easy that they practically pick it up if someone whispers the word “phonics” in the next room. The vast majority of kids readily learn to read with so-so instruction. And there is a smallish group of kids who find reading really hard and need to be taught very carefully.

The further along the continuum a child falls, the more carefully he or she needs to be taught. If only this were widely understood! Instead, most education systems find it easier to label the hard-to-teach kids “dyslexic” and thus avoid the heavy lifting necessary to overcome their difficulties. Particularly pernicious is the practice of focusing on the child’s strengths, in this case math and science.

Here’s what Siegried Engelmann, who has taught thousands of students to read directly or indirectly (as a trainer), has to say. “And we’ve shown for the past thirty-four years, that if kids are taught properly in kindergarten, you won’t have non-readers. There are NO non-readers. I’ve never seen a kid with an IQ in the range of 80 or above that couldn’t be taught to read in a timely fashion. And I’ve taken on various comers that said, ‘Oh, this kid has no visual perception’ and so on. They can all be taught to read if you start at the right level and you provide a sequence that is going to teach them systematically.” Thirty years ago, Mr. Engelmann offered a thousand dollars to anyone who could produce an exception to his boast, but he still has his money.

The trouble with the term “dyslexia” is that it implies a life-long condition, a handicap that must be accommodated and worked around, but the truth is that all children who are taught to read properly, no matter how difficult the process, end up in exactly the same place as children who were easy to teach – and the same high standards and bright future should be held out to them.

For more detail, click here. H/T TB


Parents turn in their kids

Small-town Ontario values survive.


From the Orono Times Weekly, March 25 2015:

Two sets of parents turned their sons in to police after seeing reports of stolen military-style pellet rifles.

Durham Regional Police are crediting parents of several teenagers for ensuring their sons took full responsibility for their role in the theft.

In a media release issued last week Tuesday, police reported that sometime between Saturday, February 21 and February 28, 2015, a cube van parked deep in the bush on a rural property on Concession Road 8, east of Canadian Tire Mosport Park was broken into. The property was used by weekend “war game” enthusiasts. Items stolen from the van include five assault style rifles – which according to police look very similar to real AK-47s and MR assault rifles, flare guns, a blank firing pistol and a 1964 decommissioned anti-tank missile and two black helmets. Investigators had been advised the missile was used as a prop during war games, it had been made inoperable. According to police the property is used be weekend “war game” enthusiasts who use decommissioned military equipment and Airsoft pellet rifles.

In a media release issued on Monday, March 32, Durham Regional Police report that two different families brought their 16-year-old sons to the Bowmanville police station in relation to the thefts. Three suspects were involved in the theft of the items while others knowingly took possession of stolen items. In all seven boys 15 and 16 years of age confessed to stealing or possession stolen items.

All the stolen items have been recovered and the seven teens have entered into diversion programs with the court, which if successfully completed will leave the teens with no criminal record.

Happy Accidents and Agreeable Disagreements:  My year with the Norwegian Trade Unionists

Our tiny school in the hills near Lillehammer, Norway. (Source: Arbeiderbevegelsens Folkehøgskole, Ringsaker)


by Ingrid Thompson

When I was 18 years old, I accidentally signed myself up to attend the Norwegian Trade Unionist school of journalism, Arbeiderbevegelsens Folkehøgskole, Ringsaker.

I say “accidentally” not because I didn’t realize I was enrolling; but rather because I failed to translate the school’s tortuous name and did not realize the school focused on trade unionism.

It didn’t take long for my mistake to become evident: I was a card-carrying member of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party. Debating almost any issue, it was me versus the rest of the student body, and teachers too.

They were arguing in their mother-tongue, while I was speaking in my slowly-improving third language.

Many of my fellow students knew each other well, having come directly from the famous “Utøya” summer camp run by the Arbeiderpartiet.[1]   In very short order the tiny, tight-knit student body began to feel more like a family of 98 people.

And family discussions were all about setting the world to rights: social safety net, individual responsibility, small versus big government. As discussions played out in class or in late-night dormitory chat, I sat tongue-tied: a mute, one-woman minority.

But then, something funny happened.

I didn’t have the language skills to dive in and start arguing, as I might have in an English-language discussion.   It wasn’t an option.  Instead, I was forced to listen.  Really, really hard.

Just to understand what was being said, I needed to ask questions.   Most were basic, such as asking the meaning of the words and phrases; others were contextual.  But regardless, my barrage of (sometimes stupid) questions had a strange effect I hadn’t expected:  my interlocutors felt listened to.

The dynamic of the discussion became almost collaborative, as they held my hands through the process of making sure I fully understood why they believed what they believed.

This understanding was important to me.  My fellow students were kind, smart, and enormously helpful — in contrast, I was the slowest to catch on, and unfailingly last to submit any assignment (except photography).  I was new to Norway; they were keen to introduce me to my heritage.

An early photo assignment: “Five on the Street” is a standard newspaper layout featuring five street interviews and accompanying head shots. I chose to interpret it literally.


No matter what, I would have been horrified to meet such kindness and generosity with disrespect.

As my language skills grew, however, I did want to be able to be honest about what I believed.  So my questions began to lead to counter-statements.  I tried to explain why I saw fiscal conservatism as a foundational value to a sustainable society.  I expressed my nascent views about the role of government – to be supported in the things it is proven to be good at, but prevented from being squeezed into roles best left to families or communities.

Of course I got creamed, at least at first.  I was a fiscal conservative who was once evicted from a Ryerson student meeting for suggesting that tuition costs were good value for the quality of education received; in Norway, I was pitted against students who received not only a fully-funded education, but also spending money from the state (considered a necessity in light of the crazy-expensive beer).

Before Christmas, we went on a school bus trip to Oslo, to see the ‘LO Congressen’ – the Trade Union council often called Norway’s “2nd parliament.”  We left ridiculously early. Waking from a nap when the bus stopped at a gas station around 7am, I moved my things to an area at the back of the bus where there was more room to stretch out, and joined the queue for the washroom.

When I was done, it took me a minute to realize… the bus had left!  My seatmate quite reasonably thought I was sleeping up front.  I still hadn’t learned the name of my school, and I was clueless about where specifically we were headed.

Abandoned on the side of a Norwegian highway, at 7am on a cold winter morning with no wallet or coat, I almost gave up and called home.

Luckily for me, a stranger pumping gas noticed my distress.  Thus ensued a car chase on a winding mountain highway that would have stood up well in a James Bond film.  Eventually, Sjur the bus driver was shocked to see me waving frantically at him from the back hatch of the Toyota weaving erratically in front of him.

Eventually, the adrenaline subsided.  But for the rest of the trip – for the rest of the year! – every time we went out somewhere as a group, confirmation was humourously sought: “Har vi Ingrid med oss?  Ikke glem Ingrid!” (Do we have Ingrid with us? Don’t forget Ingrid!)

As the dark winter months saw my language skills improve, my confidence grew.  Arguments and discussions continued.  I could feel how passionate my friends were; saw that their beliefs came from a love of their country that I already shared.   I respected how much work they were willing to expend to back up their opinions, and how, as budding journalists, the path to any “victory” lay in having the best grasp of inarguable facts.

Progress felt slow.  But eventually I began to surprise them by sometimes being able to hold my own.  Bit by bit, I became more than just the class pet and sounding board.  I argued back.  Sometimes, passions got heated.  Usually, I still got creamed.

But never, never did I feel disrespected or alienated. When tempers cooled, and apologies had been offered, there were no winners and losers – just more understanding, bridging an ideological divide that felt increasingly smaller.

Later that spring, when “Arbeiderbevegelsens Folkehøgskole, Ringsaker” celebrated its 50th anniversary, I was honoured to be chosen to speak on behalf of our student body to the invited guests.

Few experiences have made me more proud.

And no experience would have been better preparation for the new job I started 10 years later, as Press Secretary to a Minister in the Mike Harris cabinet.

In fact, my accidental year spent studying among Norwegian Trade Unionists ranks among the happiest memories of my life.  I’m signed up to attend our 25th reunion, this June.  Will I still get creamed in debate?  Probably.

But then the question will come “Do we have Ingrid with us?” And the answer will be heartfelt: Yes!

Speaking with my co-host Ståle Melhus to the 50th anniversary gathering for our beloved school, Arbeiderbevegelsens Folkehøgskole, Ringsaker (Photo: Paal Ravnaas)








[1] Sadly, the same camp tragically terrorized 20 years later by Anders Breivik.