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Inside Stories: The Story of Our Lifetime

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Disponible en anglais seulement

Former CBC News Anchor and Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge has spent an entire career covering major stories, but they all pale in comparison with this one. Join Peter as he shares his perspective – and his Inside Story.

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Inside Stories, presented by BMO, provides an intimate look into the lives and coping strategies of people during the COVID-19 era. From well-known North Americans through to the new everyday heroes at your local grocery store, these unusual times have impacted everyone. Host Scott Simmie asks the questions that count, prompting his guests to share their very personal, inner stories.



Scott: Hey, thanks for having me over. Really appreciate it. I don't know about you, but I have been going a little bit stir crazy over at my house. And I think, you know, we all have that feeling to some extent and we're all coping with it one way or another. I'm Scott Simmy and this is a podcast series presented by BMO that we hope will inform, entertain, and possibly even inspire as we collectively weather this storm. The show is called Inside Stories. We all have them, and this is a place where we share them.

Scott: Joining me on today's Inside Stories is Peter Mansbridge. Now, if you're in Canada, you'll know Peter as the former chief correspondent of CBC News and former anchor of The National, the countrywide daily newscast. If you're in the U.S. or elsewhere, just think of Peter as your most trusted reporter, network news anchor. Peter lives with his wife, well-known film, television and stage actress Cynthia Dale in Stratford, Ontario. And a lesser known fact, Peter and I actually worked together at The National many, many years ago. Thanks for joining me, Peter.

Peter: Thanks. It's great to talk to you again, Scott. Terrific.

Scott: Peter, your entire career has been spent covering stories and, and some of those stories have been massive. 9/11, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tiananmen Square. How do you rate this?

Peter: This is bigger than, than everything. I mean, this is the biggest story of our lives whether we’re in journalism or not and certainly for journalists, it's, as far as I'm concerned, the biggest story they've ever covered.

Scott: Now Peter, you were doing a weekly podcast and now you're doing a daily podcast during COVID-19. It, it would have been easy for you to just say, you know what? I've had a stellar career, dust your hands off and say, I'm gonna kick back and watch Netflix? What, what kept you motivated to do this?

Peter: I'm still watching Netflix. It is part of my day now, because, as we’re all having to do in this kind of isolation period, we gotta find ways to occupy ourselves in constructive ways. And, and so I focus on the podcast for a few hours a day, and I try as often as I can to find something, you know, I guess positive is not the right word, but something in a way that's constructive and, and it's not going to, you know, scare everybody.

Peter: You know, I, I, I feel as though, you know, some people do that. There, there's only so much news I can watch right now.

Scott: Yup.

Peter: Cause it, it, it just really tests your ability to, to stay sane on some days. And when you see some of the craziness around and that we witnessed in certain briefings, you'll never guess which ones, but, so there's often, there are good things to talk about in terms of what's going on through this pandemic and the attempts by a lot of people to try and find a, a way to resolve this.

Scott: Although you're not out there with a television crew, there would have been days when you would have been, and certainly for people who are trying to do that, this type of story poses certain challenges that we haven't seen in the past. Maybe you could, you could touch on that?

Peter: Well, it, it sure does, because in, you know, in many cases the crews just aren't allowed to, to leave the station. But, but some are under special circumstances. And, you know, as much as we talk about and deservedly so, about the amazing work of frontline workers and police officers and firefighters and paramedics and grocery clerks and, you know the list, it goes on, but journalists are part of that, too. You know, they're, they're, they’re, many are going to work under very difficult situations in all around the world, not just in our country, and trying to, you know, inform their viewers or listeners or readers in the best possible way with the most truthful reflections of the story as it develops each day. And it's not easy work. And I have nothing but admiration. I mean, we can quibble about some of the journalism that's taken place and we should. I mean, everybody has to be accountable. But overall, I, I think the work that's being done by journalists, especially in this country, is, is quite admirable.

Scott: It's also, I think, challenging because some of the data just isn't there yet. This is a new virus. We don't have all the information we need about it. We have questions about countries like China, whether we're getting the full picture. And, so, some of that data that is so necessary to, to tell these stories is just not available in the way that it would be in, in other stories and I wonder if that, in your mind, compounds this as well?

Peter: It does. Very much so. And it also is, you know, you hear it in all the different briefings and news conferences, whether they're in this country or others, where reporters will challenge public officials, whether they're elected or unelected, about, well, you know, a month ago you said this and now you're saying this. And what are we supposed to believe? And were you wrong when you said what you said a month ago? Well, the fact is, as you just mentioned, Scott, the story keeps changing. We're dealing with something that we've never dealt with before and the facts surrounding this issue are changing and as a result, people are having to adapt. We’re we’re, we're often critical of, of public leaders that they don't adapt to changing situations and then when they do, we're critical as well.

Peter: So it's, you know, accountability is a major part of this story and it will be a very major part of this story when it's finally over and the various investigations and commissions of inquiry and you name it, that take place will take place and accountability will definitely come up in it. But right now, you know, there, there's a fine line between asking some of these questions and trying to develop, for your public’s consumption, exactly what's happening right now.

Scott: Now I'm not asking you to predict when a vaccine will come out or when places might open up again, but in terms of news, how long do you think this story, and you were just alluding now to the various commissions and investigations that will undoubtedly take place in the future. How long is this gonna be on, on the public radar? This, this story?

Peter: Hey, quite a while. You know, I, I think Angela Merkel has been one of the strongest, best leaders on this issue to road. The German chancellor. She just said recently that, you know, we're not even at the beginning yet. We're certainly not at the end of the beginning. This story's gonna go on for a long time. Obviously, things can change dramatically if there's a vaccine discovered and there's an all-out race to find that vaccine and it's taking place all around the world. And the difference between now and past situations like SARS is that the race is very much an international one now. The, the scientists and the researchers are talking to each other. You know, we have a number of our research labs involved in this. One of the leading one is in Saskatoon at the University of Saskatchewan. And they've told me that they are dealing unlike any other time that they've been in the vaccine research business and it's been, I think, twenty years for them. Unlike any other time, the cooperation level between scientists and researchers around the world is phenomenal. You know, you can sometimes say the country's political leaders aren't getting along and in many cases, they don't, but the researchers and scientists do. And they're learning from each other, they're exchanging information daily. That, that's an extremely positive story.

Peter: We always hear about 12 to 18 months it takes for a vaccine. That's true. You know, at, at the best 12 to 18 months, while we're already three or four months into that 12 to 18 month period. So, there are possibilities here and we will all keep our fingers crossed. The vaccine will change things. Obviously, if, if there's a working vaccine and the production levels to the extent that we can supply that vaccine around the world, but it's not gonna change our world. We're suddenly not gonna be, you know, let's go to the Leafs game tonight. That's not gonna happen, for a while. And everything about our lives. I mean, as you mentioned, Scott, I live in Stratford. We're known here for the Stratford Festival. We're known around the world as one of the great theater places. The theater is not open. We don't have any idea when it will be open. If it'll be open at all this year, it's hard to imagine people getting on buses coming in from Toronto, you know, from old folks homes, which is a mainstay of the, the theater. That's, you know, to go to a theater and sit in a crowded theater. Man, that's you know, that's one assumes at least a year, if not more away.

Scott: I, I’m the designated shopper for our family and so I take these weekly grocery runs and I'm also shopping for my 90 year old mother in law who actually, as a little girl, sheltered in the tube during the Blitz in London. And there's always this surreal feeling when I'm out dressed like an, an extra from a Mad Max film with goggles on and, you know, I'm walking past people with respirators in the aisle and it's just so surreal. And, and even if you're just getting out for a walk sometimes and you look around, it's like, hey, some sunshine, the trees are out, but it's so different. I'm wondering if, if you've had a moment of being outside where sort of that surrealness kind of hit home for you.

Peter: Cynthia, my wife does the shopping every, every two weeks. We, we seem to be able to do enough to last a couple of weeks. But when I do go outside, if, you know, for a walk or what have you, you know, I mean, it’s a small town. There’s not, you know, there’s only thirty thousand people here in the whole town. So, when I go out for a walk most days I never see another person, but when I do there's this, I just kind of dance to make sure, okay, which side of the street are you gonna go on and which side of the street am I gonna go on? That's not natural, you know, that's not how we grew up, and so that is a surreal moment. It feels odd.

Scott : Absolutely. I, I'm curious about, about you and Cynthia. I mean, are there things that you two have more time to do together or are you having Zoom chats with friends? How are you two filling your days when you're not involved with the podcast or Cynthia isn't working on All Mighty Voices or some of her projects?

Peter: We, you know, we're finding ways to do things that we perhaps should never have not done, you know, in the past. Cynthia's, is an artist as we know from her, you know, acting on stage and on television. But she's also an artist painting. And so she's been painting a lot and she's, she’s pretty, a pretty damn good painter. In fact, we've got canvases all over the place here now, but the, so that's, you know, that's one thing she's doing. I'm doing the podcast, I'm reading. I've just finished a, a book that'll come out later in, in the year that I wrote with my, my friend and your former colleague, Mark Begich. And, and, so, you know, writing has occupied some of my, some of my time. But the Zoom thing has been, I mean, I'd never heard of Zoom a couple weeks ago and it didn’t mean anything to me and now suddenly, you know, two or three times a week, we’ll, we'll have dinner with somebody by Zoom and it's fabulous!

Peter: You know, it's, it's great and it's a great way of connecting with family. And, you know, so we're, so we're, we're doing all that. I, I've learned to walk around the back yard. It's not a very big backyard, but I know exactly how many times I've gotta walk around it to do four, five thousand steps in a day, which is, which is the goal apparently to do at least that. I mean, that's the least you should be doing. You know, fifteen or twenty thousand would be better, but you should at least be doing that much. So say the experts and, you know, trying to, to stay fit in in some fashion.

Scott: Any advice for Canadians who feel a bit overwhelmed by all of this? Every time they turn on the television, this is what they see. Just how to step back?

Peter: Well, first of all, you shouldn't feel bad about being overwhelmed. It is an overwhelming story, but you do have to find ways to, to break up your day as opposed to being fixated on this, all the time. Talk to friends, reach out to help people, check your neighbours, check your, you know, whether it's your grandparents or your grandkids. Keep in touch with, with you, with your family and see what you can do to, you know, to help others on a, you know, a grander scale. You know, I'm, I'm part of the, the group in our neighbourhood that goes out every night in our, in our town at 7: 30 at night and we, you know, bang pots, or clap hands, or yell and scream, play the harmonica, do whatever we can do to celebrate our, our frontline workers. And, you know, we've, we've done a number of things, you know, on, on that front.

Scott: So, listen, we're gonna wrap things up. This particular sound means that we're heading into the final little round where I'm gonna ask you a few quick questions. Look for a few quick answers. One of them I think you touched on earlier, but quickly, what world leader do you feel has done the best job with COVID-19?

Peter: You know, I think there have been a number. There, there’ve been a number who have been terrible, but the one I, I look to most is Angela Merkel. I think she's been incredible and the world is gonna miss her once she steps away from the, the world stage later this year.

Scott: And the worst?

Peter: I don’t even have to look far for that. You know, and I, I, I, I’m. It boggles the mind some of the things that Donald Trump says. I just, I don't understand it. I, I just don’t understand how he gets away with it. I don't understand how those around him allow him to continue on saying the things he says.

Scott: Winnipeg Jets, miss ‘em?

Peter: Yes. And the Leafs. You know, I have dual allegiances to those two teams. They're my teams. And they were both, you know, they're sort of hovering around the playoff position this year. And, you know, maybe we'll get back to some form of hockey at some point. But I do miss, I do miss live sports, a lot. You know, when I, when I can sit there, as I did the other night and watch the draft in the NFL, which I've never watched before, and find it exciting then you know how much you're missing live action.

Scott: Finally, what's the one thing that you cannot do now that you really can't wait to do when this is all over?

Peter: Probably golf. You know, I'm not, I'm not, I don't even classify myself as a golfer because I'm not, I'm not very good, but I love to golf. And, and the fact that you can't right now, I think that's gonna change in some places. Saskatchewan's kind of leading the way and coming up with some rules that would allow with the proper distancing and everything to golf. I also we're, we're, we’re building we're in the midst of building a place in the Highlands in Scotland that's right next to a golf course and everything’s stopped, you know? Like you can't golf, you can’t do construction. So everything's on, on hold and could be for some time. But, but I miss that and the freedom of, you know, you know, seeing people who you want to see and see ‘em in person.

Scott: Peter Mansbridge, thank you really so very much for spending this time with me. Give my best to Cynthia and stay safe.

Peter: Yeah, and you, too. And it's good to hear your voice again, Scott, because people don't know that not only did we work together, but you were often the voice that introduced me on The National. And I, you know, until I finally said, this guy's voice is better than mine, we can’t, we can’t have him on there every night.

Scott: Thanks for remembering that, Peter. Listen, take care and thanks again for this. I really appreciate it. It was so great to hear your insights.

Peter: Thank you, Scott. You take care too.

Scott: Great to hear from Peter. It's been a really long time. Mind you, my sense of time is a bit messed up these days. March of 2020 feels a bit like a decade ago. Thanks for joining me for today's Inside Stories. If you enjoyed this, please subscribe and enable notifications. That way, you'll know when the next episode pops up. Thanks to BMO for presenting this podcast. And thanks to our dog, Ranger, for barking only a little bit during the recording. I'm Scott Simmy, you've been listening to Inside Stories. Thanks for having me over. Oh, and, and  your living room, it is way tidier than mine.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal, its affiliates, or subsidiaries.



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