Goodbye Rick Mercer and thanks for the memories

Like millions of other Canadians this week, I watched the final episode of the Rick Mercer Report Tuesday night.

For the past 15 years, Rick Mercer has been a staple in our household most Tuesday nights.

What struck me the most when I watched his final episode was how much his show personified what it means to be Canadian and the best about our country.

I’ve been lucky to see Rick in action twice over the years—once in Kingston when he did a segment on a national tree climbing competition in Lake Ontario Park, and last November at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. Both times he was engaging, funny, genuinely happy to meet and learn about people, and clearly proud to showcase the best about our country.

On Tuesday’s show, Rick did a special tribute to all the para-athletes he’s interviewed over the years. While we still have a long way to go in making Canada accessible, I believe thanks to legislation and guys like Rick, who have illuminated the wit, grace, and determination of people with disabilities, we are more aware and understanding of the needs and unique talents of this segment of our population.

Another segment was dedicated to politicians. There were some clips I hadn’t seen before (how did I miss the show where he and Bob Rae jumped into a lake buck naked?) I couldn’t help but contrast the relationship between Canadian media and our politicians with the United States.

While there is still an appropriate level of adversarial criticism and oversight, necessary for the media to do their jobs, the Rick Mercer Report personified how accessible our politicians are to the media, and the deep-rooted respect Canadians have for those who devote their lives to public office.

Through the Rick Mercer Report, we were able to explore the best of our country. From showcasing schools raising funds for Spread the Net to end malaria in third world countries, to the weird, wacky and wonderful events and people from coast to coast, Rick was our own personal Sherpa each week, taking us to new places and adventures across the land.

In his “Go See Canada” rant, Rick urged us to explore Canada, saying “I know in my heart of hearts, we would be better, stronger, and more unified if more Canadians could make it their business to see more of Canada.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to go see Canada. Thanks for the memories Rick. All the best in your next adventure.

And in case you missed it, I almost fell off my chair laughing this week watching Rick’s Seven-Day Forecast, especially since we’re frozen in this never-ending winter. Here it is again for your viewing pleasure.

Ed. note: A political note, thank you CBC for bringing Rick into our homes each week. Shows like the Rick Mercer Report would never exist if we didn’t have a publicly funded broadcaster. Keep them coming, and for all of you who fear going into withdrawal each Tuesday night, there’s still This Hour Has 22 Minutes, one of the best on television.

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Lessons learned from the great Stuart McLean

Stuart McLeanThis week, Canada lost a national treasure. Stuart McLean, best known for his radio program The Vinyl Café and early days on CBC radio, passed away at the age of 68.

Stuart was one of the best teachers and mentors I ever had. I first met Stuart in 1984 where he was one of the young, hipper instructors in the Ryerson school of journalism. (I’m smiling as I write this because Stuart never in a million years would have considered himself hip.) We were instantly smitten by him.

Stuart wasn’t just a teacher. He was a friend. He was one of us. He’d invite us to his home for coffee on the weekends to hear our story ideas, and review transcripts or tape, or go out for a beer after a full day in the studio.

As a teacher, he was patient, encouraging and insightful. He’d let us explore and discuss ideas, perched on a desk at the back of the room, always watching and observing and jumping in when needed to steer us in the right direction. He knew the greatest learning was by doing and exploring, and gave us full reign to make mistakes, learn and grow.

While many people may remember Stuart as a great storyteller, I will always remember him as a great listener. Stuart had this uncanny ability to make you feel like you were the only person in the room. He gave people his undivided attention and hung on their every word.

I remember the time Stuart turned the tables on me and interviewed me for his radio program and one of his books. The segment was on Ernie the Hot Dog Man. Ernie was a fixture on Ryerson campus, and Stuart interviewed some of his students to find out what Ernie meant to us.

It was unnerving to be on the receiving end of the microphone and Stuart’s steely gaze. He thrust the microphone under my chin and started asking questions. His eyes never wavered once from my face. He said nothing–just sat and nodded with a slight grin on his face. I realized after I had watched a master at work. Stuart had perfected the art of listening and knew how to get his subjects to open up and share their inner most thoughts and feelings simply by staying silent.

Here are just a few of the things I learned from Stuart McLean.

I learned that every person in this world matters and has a story worth telling.

I learned to be curious and to ask questions.

I learned that people appreciate when you take an interest in their lives

I learned the importance of listening with your heart

I learned the power of silence in drawing people out

Most of all, I learned what it meant to be a good human being.

As I was reading the many tributes to Stuart this week online, I came across one story about his philosophy on teaching. The first duty of a teacher he said was to build confidence, no matter how deep you may have to dig. “If there’s something good in the assignment turned in, praise that,” he said. “If the writing’s bad but the broadcast quality is good, praise that. If the broadcast quality is poor, but they’ve organized it well, praise that. And if everything is bad, but their posture is good, well, dammit, praise that.”

I’m still learning from this great man.

Stuart, I know you’re up there in the vinyl café in the sky, microphone in hand, capturing new tales. This one’s for you.