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Remembering Geoff Scott–journalist and parliamentarian

Remembering Geoff Scott–journalist and parliamentarian

Geoff Scott who died last week in Mississauga at age 83 was a familiar face to viewers of CHCH during the 1960’s and 1970’s as the Parliament Hill correspondent for CHCH TV. Although he was a household name in Hamilton because of his TV work he was really an Ottawa boy through and through. Born in Ottawa, he attended Glebe Collegiate and Carleton University, studying journalism. While still in school, he worked with his best friend, Rich Little, performing comedy shows where they would do vocal impressions in the Ottawa area. He started his own company, Geoff Scott Communications, in the 1970s and became the first journalist to report news from Ottawa and Parliament Hill tailoring it for local markets like Hamilton. It was an era before satellite transmission and ENG. The stories would be shot on film and flown to Mt. Hope Airport where the film would be sent by taxi to CHCH for processing.

Here is a portion of an interview Geoff conducted with the Late John Munro upon his appointment to the Trudeau Cabinet in 1968.

When Fr, Sean O’Sullivan abruptly resigned a promising Parliamentary career to become a priest, Geoff was recruited by the Conservatives and he won the seat of Hamilton-Wentworth in a 1988 by-election. He captured the seat a total of five times and was never seriously challenged.

Before Geoff was elected he had been the President of the Parliamentary Press Gallery—quite an honour at a time when the Gallery featured luminaries such as Charles Lynch, Alan Fotheringham, Geoff Stevens, Richard Gwyn and many others. It was also an atmosphere and a time where many journalists… and politicians fell prey to alcohol– and it became an issue for Geoff– although he was 28 years sober at the time of his passing.

During Geoff’s years in Ottawa, he remained active with the aforementioned Press Gallery and he particularly looked forward to the annual Press Gallery Dinner. He was a frequent presenter at “Beer and Skits” – a variety show put on annually by the Press Gallery in Ottawa. He was adept at playing the harmonica and a master of political impressions which he performed regularly.

This writer managed to get tickets to a few of those dinners as the director of an Ottawa-based TV News network, Independent Satellite News, and in retrospect, it must be confessed, there was no element of political correctness that was not transgressed at these gatherings. By the time dinner was served in the Parliamentary restaurant everyone had been boozing for more than an hour at a reception in the “Hall of Honour.” At dinner, more booze, and then the speeches to a, by then, seriously over-refreshed crowd.

The format had the politicians each paired off with a “date”—a member of the Press Gallery. After dinner it was time for the politicians to make funny speeches. The dinner then was off-the -record so politicians were encouraged to let their hair down, and they did. Geoff would have remembered a hilarious speech by the elegant Governor-General Jeanne Sauvé in which the punch line was a pun-ish take on the French word for the sea mammal, seal (phoque). One recalls Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, in his last such dinner being escorted by a glamorous  Barbara Amiel, the PM, somewhat surprisingly fooling with a cigar, perhaps unlit. There was also a tradition that if any of the speakers dared to be serious or boring, that they would be pelted with dinner rolls. This bit of rudeness, or in today’s lexicon, toxic masculinity, was usually tossed off with good humour, but on one occasion there was a bit of tension. Former Manitoba Premier Ed Schreyer was the Governor-General on that occasion and he was notorious for his narcolepsy-inducing speaking style. Things took an ominous turn before he even reached the podium when a voice called out to the waiters, “more buns please!” (possibly the late Charles Lynch—harmonica-playing Southam Scribe). Schreyer began, and predictably the bread started flying. After about five minutes of that, and with his speech more or less unheard, –the vice-regal gentlemen looked out at the culprits and warned. “If you throw another bun, I’m going to come down there and kick your ass!”

With the passing of Bill Davis on the weekend and now Geoff Scott, one is struck with the contrast between politics then and now, particularly conduct in the legislative chambers. Both Journalism and Politics in those days were largely male-dominated—although there were always stand-out females—like Sauvé, like Bette Stephenson in Ontario, like Amiel in journalism– who not only survived, but excelled. It was a time when politicians actually looked forward to opportunities like Press Gallery dinners to engage in camaraderie with political opponents. Debate was more spontaneous where members would actually take pride in engaging in extemporaneous wit in the chamber. Not stumbling to read talking points off a card written by some kid “in short pants” as today’s political aides are, not entirely unjustifiably, referred to. Some things have greatly improved in the conduct of public affairs today, there is greater opportunity for a much wider range of voices and perspectives to be heard. But social media and the increasing devaluation of the role of the ordinary member of parliament have diminished the overall public perception of the parliamentary role, and hence the calibre of office-seekers has diminished as well. Perhaps that is why more than two dozen of our current crop of MPs will not seek re-election, including locally, Bob Bratina and Scott Duvall–several of them leaving weeks before they would quality for the Parliamentary pension.

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