My Air Canada no-fly zone

Finding wheelchair help these days a disaster no thanks to privatized system.

It has been a few weeks now since I flew my last Air Canada flight and the anxiety attacks are fading, although the drone of an aircraft overhead can still pop perspiration beads on my brow and cause my hands to shake.

It is not the fear of flying that has grounded me. It’s the fear of being delivered overseas from Toronto Pearson International Airport on a routine Toronto-Vancouver flight.

I am no novice at air travel. As a member of the airline’s Million Mile Club, Air Canada awarded me a model Boeing 777, new luggage tags, priority boarding and access to the business lounge, even if I am travelling in the back of the Airbus.

The problem is I am a bionic woman, with several metal joints that limit my mobility. I need a wheelchair to proceed through security and the airport terminal.

Air Canada or airport personnel usually have pushed me in the wheelchair, my carry-on balanced on my lap, through the terminal to the aircraft with cheerful expertise.

But recently Air Canada replaced airport personnel in some airports with privately contracted attendants who, in my case, were inexperienced in airport terrain, wheeling me about with no clear idea where they were going.

Attendant A wheeled me from Air Canada’s regional jet across the tarmac to a door with access to Boston’s Logan International Airport terminal. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the code to unlock the door. I was worried my cousins would think I had missed my flight and leave.

Frustrated, I grabbed my walking cane and beat furiously on the door of the terminal while the hapless attendant stood by. Somehow a security barrier was breached. Sirens screamed. Lights flashed on and off. Trucks roared up, entrapping in their headlights a female Canadian senior, trapped in her wheelchair with luggage, purse and duty-free Scotch, attacking the terminal with her walking stick.

Did shots ring out? I couldn’t hear in the din. Finally the door was unlocked by a uniformed official.

When I arrived at Toronto’s famed Pearson airport on my Air Canada flight a few days later, there was no one to meet me and another woman with limited English, who also needed assistance. We waited for 35 minutes, accompanied by the entire flight crew, who explained they could not leave the aircraft until all passengers had been discharged, flight schedules be damned.

Finally one lone Attendant B appeared at the end of the corridor, pushing two wheelchairs. The brakes didn’t work on my chair, which I discovered as it edged backwards.

B struggled to manually push both loaded wheelchairs to the elevator, where she handed the other passenger off to a passing attendant and managed to wheel me down to the customs lineup.

Like a scene out of a disaster movie, there were 12 or 13 people slumped in their wheelchairs at the side of the customs hall. There were no attendants in sight. Some seemed to be falling out of their chairs, waving their arms for attention. Some waved tickets, fearful they would miss their connecting flights.

Two uniformed Canadian Air Transport Security Authority agents pounced on B, demanding to know why there were no attendants present. B shrugged and stoically pushed me through the flight crew customs booth, as determined to off-load me as I was determined to be off-loaded.

Finally, we emerged from the terminal and B pushed me to the express bus stop to downtown Toronto, where an official told us the express bus service had been cancelled months earlier, pending a new rail link between airport and city.

For my return trip to Vancouver, I booked the hotel limo, which delivered me as arranged to C with a wheelchair at the terminal entrance. I gave her my boarding pass for the Vancouver flight. C told me she had worked for 23 years in groceries. It was good I arrived early, she said, because Pearson had 1,200 wheelchair passengers booked that afternoon.

She wheeled me through the terminal to the international security section, where the agent looked at my boarding pass and told us Vancouver was not an international destination. “All my other passengers today boarded international flights,” C said. She pushed me back to the domestic flight section at the other end of the terminal and handed me off to D at Security.

The rest is a blur. D had no idea where to go. I directed him through the terminal crowds to the Vancouver gate as boarding began. I dumped my luggage out of my lap and lunged out of the wheelchair. A concerned Air Canada agent asked me if I needed assistance to board the aircraft. “I would rather cling to the walls and crawl down the jetway,” I said, sobbing.

Tucking my arm in hers, she walked me on-board the aircraft and told me Air Canada ground personnel were concerned about the problems experienced by wheelchair passengers under the new privatized system.

They should be. For those of us who use wheelchairs, Air Canada is a no-fly-zone.

Pat Carney is an author, retired politician and former Vancouver Sun journalist who lives on Saturna Island.

Canada day address to Saturna Island lamb barbeque July 1,2015

Welcome to Saturna Island on Canada Day. Nearly 500 years ago, an old Greek sailor met an Englishman in a bar in Venice and told him about a sea he had sailed which the sailor believed was the fabled passage which linked the pacific and atlantic oceans.

The Greek sailor was Juan de Fuca. The strait he found bears his name. That sea was our Salish Sea. And because of that strait the aboriginal people who first explored these waters were joined by the Spanish in 1791, also searching for that passage; Saturna is named after the Spanish ship S.  Later the British, Americans, and Russians and now the seafaring nations of the world sail their ships along our  shores.

Today as we celebrate the 148 anniversary of Canada’s confederation, lets honour our maritime heritage here on  Canada’s pacific coast, which is the treasure the colony of British Columbia contributed when it joined Canada in 1871, creating one of the world’s great maritime nations, and linking Canada from Pacific to Atlantic Oceans.

Since colonial times, our lighthouses and their keepers have ensured the safety of mariners and our coastal communities. The history of Canada is chronicled in the stories of our lights. In recognition of their role, all political parties in the parliament of Canada passed legislation to protect their heritage status for years to come.

Now 21 BC lighthouses  are designated heritage lighthouses, from our own East Point Light Station North to Green Point near Prince Rupert. Heritage lighthouses include Trial Island off Victoria, where the colonial naval ships conducted their sea trials, Active Pass on nearby Mayne Island, a beer stop for the miners rowing their way to the Fraser River gold fields, Entrance Island which guided the coal ships sailing from Nanaimo, the famous West Coast trail lights — Carmanah, Pachena, Cape Beale, built after 100’s died in ship wrecks along the graveyard of the Pacific, Langara Point on the northern tip of Haida Gwai and many more.

We are all stewards of our coast and our country. So lets remember our heritage and embrace our future and sing O Canada!


That accused plagiarist, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente doesn’t like the Senate. She thinks it is a nuisance. Writing about the Mike Duffy trial recently she opines: “Maybe this peanut- sized scandal will give us an excuse to hog-tie and horn-swoggle the lot of them (senators) so they can do no further harm.”

Wente’s ludicrous comment is just one example of the hysteria–defined in my Oxford dictionary as “wild uncontrollable emotion or excitement”–of the media coverage of the trial of former media star Senator Mike Duffy, who in court facing 31 criminal charges associated with expense claims he has filed since he was appointed to the Red Chamber in what CBC’s Evan Solomon claims is “the trial of the century.”

Never mind that most Senators  are going about their business, correcting errors in legislation, serving on committees and following up on complaints and issues that MP’s are too busy to deal with and filing their travel expenses  as defined by Treasury Board without incident or media coverage. All Senators, according to the media, are patronage pigs lining their pockets with taxpayers’ money.

Let’s turn the tables here.

In September 2012,Wente was accused of committing plagiarism- -defined by my  Oxford dictionary as “to take or use another’s thoughts or writings etc as one’s own”– by lifting quotes and rewording passages from published sources without credit. The Globe and Mail’s public editor addressed the allegations, conceding that “there appears to be some truth to the accusations but not on every charge,” according to Wikipedia.

Curiously I have been unable to find any evidence that politicians and commentators at the time subsequently labeled  all members of the Fourth Estate as ” plagiarists” who were unworthy of the public trust and who should be  “hog-tied and horn-swoggled”  so they can do no public harm. To do so would be as ludicrous as Wente’s  hyperbole.

And no media commentator has rushed to point out that both Duffy and television host Sen Pamela Wallin, whose expenses are also being investigated by the RCMP are products of their media culture, not a political one. Are you listening, Don Martin?

More seriously, no commentator, in my view, has reported that a Senator’s prime role, enshrined in our Constitution, is to represent his/her region in order to represent its unique interests, or to protect those interests from the unruly majority in the House of Commons. That is why Senators must be residents of that region so that they are more likely to identify regional needs and views.

Oxford defines “residence” as “place where one resides.”

There may be ways to improve Senate rules and regulations hamstringing senators’ ability to represent their region’s interests.  In the meantime, as a proud westerner I invite Wente to show off  her hog-tying and horn-swoggling skills. That would be worth the price of a ticket.

Pat Carney





POLITICKING: Friend or Enemy?

With “friends” like former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, current contender Justin Trudeau doesn’t need enemies. Chretien uses his well reasoned opposition to Stephen Harper’s decision to send Canadian fighter aircraft to fight ISIS in Iraq as “support” for Justin Trudeau’s position on the issue.

But what position? Justin doesn’t have one, relying on his caucus colleagues to present their own, confusing Canadians.
Drawing on his own popular decision to oppose the George Bush war on Iraq in the past, Chretien argues that Harper’s move to send a few aircraft and support staff to participate in the US –led air war strikes against the Islamic State is “marginal” at best. Many Canadians, including myself, would agree.

Instead, Chretien proposes a major humanitarian effort by Canada, absorbing 50,000 refugees from the war zone and committing $100 million to restock the rapidly depleting food sources available to feed the thousands fleeing the conflict. Again, many Canadians would applaud this alternative to military action.

But by stating he supports Justin’s “position”, is Chretien saddling the new Liberal leader with a program that would bring its own problems of processing, transporting and resettling thousands of refugees to Canada, and ensuring that major new funding would achieve the elusive objective of feeding the hungry?

Poor Justin. He can’t say no, and he can’t say yes. But he better say something. Soon.

When my ship goes down, I want maestro Bramwell Tovey on deck at the piano. The popular conductor of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra demonstrated at a recent fundraiser that he can keep the musical ship afloat when everyone else is thinking of running for the lifeboats.

The fundraiser was a lunch and concert played host to by the Holland America Line on board its Statendam cruise ship at Canada Place on a refuelling and revictualling stop en route to Alaska. The musical event was scheduled in the few hours between passengers disembarking to leave the ship or to tour Vancouver, or embarking with their luggage for the cruise north.

It is a busy time for the crew. Turnaround time is tight. Tests and emergency drills are held while the cruise ship is in the harbour. The 220 VSO guests were told on boarding that a fire fighting drill dictated that the schedule would be reversed. Lunch would be served first at 11 a.m. and the Bramwell’s piano performance would take place afterward.

The food was decent and the wine plentiful; the service punctuated by sirens and fire alarms. Vancouver’s famous fire boats circled other vessels in the harbour. The Canadian Coast Guard also swished by. So it was a satiated, somewhat sleepy audience sipping mimosas and champagne who gathered in the ship’s theatre to hear Bramwell play after lunch.

Bramwell loves to tell his audiences how he was a member of a Salvation army family, playing in the Sally Ann street band in England, singing carols at Christmas and playing his tuba or whatever instrument was available to families who came out on their porches to listen.

He has become a globally recognized conductor and accomplished jazz pianist, playing regular gigs at Jazz Vespers in St. Andrew’s United church in Vancouver. He plays more than 25 school concerts in the Lower Mainland a year. He knows how to entertain a crowd.

On the Statendam, he recounted a joke about parrots who could sing opera and launched into a stirring Beethoven sonata when, in mid-note, the ship’s public address system gave a piercing whistle, followed by an ascending three-note chord.

From speakers in the room’s ceiling a voice squawked: “Good afternoon passengers and crew. This is the officer of the watch speaking. The following is an important announcement. There is a fire in the pump room. All crew members are to take their stations. This is a drill only.”

When the announcement abruptly squawked off, Bramwell swivelled on his stool to face the piano and ended the Beethoven piece by mimicking the three note chord, G, C, E.

“I often think how lucky Beethoven was to be deaf,” he said to his audience, who at that point didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, clutching their champagne glasses and looking at each other for a cue. Was the concert going to be cancelled?

Tovey then switched to a gentle classic by Robert Schumann, glancing fearfully at the speakers on the ceiling. He managed to finish it before the speakers chimed G, C, and E again. This time the officer of the watch announced: “Good afternoon. This is an important announcement for all passengers and crew. There is a man-overboard drill in progress.”

Bramwell didn’t miss a beat. “Now there is a man overboard. Sounds sexist to me. Time for a little boating song.” His fingers drew a plaintive Over the Sea to Skye melody from the grand piano. We listened to the music in a silence broken by the whine of pulleys and the wheeze of pumps and various thumps and bumps.

He was telling funny stories about his concert career — about Margo Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev and others he has performed with — when, again, there was a shrill whistle and those familiar dulcet G, C, E  notes. Again the officer of the watch made an important announcement for all passengers and crew. “We have finished fuelling and you are now free to smoke in designated areas.”

His punch line torpedoed again, Bramwell turned to the grand piano and pounded out the fierce Wedding March for Juliet’s marriage to Paris for his hugely entertained audience. “My program is completely shot,” he said. “Think what you can do with those three notes”.

Standing at the piano he played  G, C, E in a minor chord. “This is the captain speaking,” he said in sombre tones, implying disaster. Shades of Rufus Wainwright, I thought, who sang: “Everybody knows the ship is sinking, everybody knows the captain lied.”

Still standing, Bramwell switched to a spooky version, swivelling his head with anxious look on his face, like Sherlock Holmes searching for the missing evidence. Then he sat down on the piano stool and improvised a frolicking number, riffing on those three familiar notes, before the familiar voice interrupted: ”This is the officer of the watch. This is an important announcement for passengers and crew.” This time the ship was testing the emergency generators, which would affect elevators. His audience stirred, apprehensive. No elevators?

Ignoring the officer of the watch, Bramwell played from the orchestral score of Act 2 of the ballet Swan Lake to the delight of his enraptured audience. When the watch officer finally announced the test of the emergency generators was completed and the elevators were now in use,

Bramwell knows how to close a set. He played an uptempo, jazz version of Don’t Get Around Much Any More.

We all left the ship as the watch officer announced: “Shore leave for crew is now granted until O600 hours.” The VSO audience wouldn’t be returning. But it is reassuring to know that Tovey will be in command for the opening of the VSO season this weekend. We can expect everything to be ship-shape.

Pat Carney is an author, retired politician and former Vancouver Sun journalist who lives on Saturna Island.


Canada Day 2014

Welcome friends and neighbours to Canada Day, Saturna Island style( bon jour,mes amis)

Today we celebrate the 147th birthday our beloved country and celebrate its glorious past, present and future. This year is special because it is the 150th anniversary of a historic step towards confederation, the Quebec conference of 1864.

The steamship Queen Victoria which carried the delegates down the St Laurence River to Charlottetown in August that year 150 years ago carried them up river to Quebec in October. In Charlottetown, the champagne flowed as delegates agreed to form a coalition between the maritime colonies and Upper and Lower Canada, leading the media to claim that confederation was created by hung-over politicians as befogged as Charlottetown harbour.

Unlike the festive Charlottetown, the conference in Quebec city was a sober affair. An early snowstorm had stripped away the colourful autumn leaves. Delegates met around a conference table in a nondescript hotel overlooking the St Lawrence river. The media was banned. Drinking was confined to dinners and pub crawls after work.

There the delegates debated and agreed to compromises which formed the foundation of our Canadian confederation. The US civil war between the states was raging and the delegates were determined not to repeat the mistakes made by their American neighbours. They agreed to establish legislative assemblies in each province and a strong central government with two houses of parliament, the house of commons and the senate.

They overcame regional resentments and language divisions between English and French and agreed on 72 resolutions, the basis of our constitution. Their main achievement was summed up by Thomas Darcy Mcgee, an Irish rebel who became a Canadian nationalist as the Canadian way. It was, he said, “a scheme not suggested by others, or imposed on us, but one the work of ourselves, the creation of our intellect and of our own free, unbiased and untramelled will”.

For his efforts, Darcy Mcgee was shot dead on the steps of his Ottawa boarding house after a midnight parliamentary debate, the only Canadian federal politician to be assassinated. The execution of his assailant Patrick Whelan was the last public hanging in Canada.

The result of the efforts of the fathers of confederation is Canada, glorious and free, and which has the world’s best reputation as a country for the last three years, according to a survey of G7 countries and of course the only Saturna Island lamb barbeque. So raise your glass and your voices to join Sue Kendall in O Canada!

Welcome to my website. We’ve posted information here about my political work: the ongoing effort to preserve heritage lighthouses through the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, my official biography and key speeches that I delivered while serving as Senator for British Columbia.

Outside of federal politics, I’m also a long-time supporter of the Arthritis Society of Canada and the Arthritis Research Centre, the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden, the Emily Carr Foundation, and Music by the Sea. Information and these and about my memoir, Trade Secrets, are featured here, along with recent media coverage.

I encourage you to contact me with your feedback and questions, and look forward to hearing from you.