December 8, 2019

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Death of McCain prompts Manitoba memories

U.S. Senator John McCain is being remembered by Manitobans as a charming, unpretentious and personable man who was "a great friend of Canada."

MP James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman) met the American war hero and one-time presidential candidate in Washington, D.C. in 2016.

SUPPLIED</p><p>Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman MP James Bezan, left, met U.S. Senator John McCain in Washington, D.C. in 2016.</p>

SUPPLIED

Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman MP James Bezan, left, met U.S. Senator John McCain in Washington, D.C. in 2016.

Bezan was one of a half-dozen MPs — members of the Commons Standing Committee on National Defence — who met McCain in his U.S. Senate office. McCain chaired the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee.

"(McCain) liked the idea that both he and I had both been banned from Russia," Bezan recalled on Monday. "He said those were badges of honour in taking principled stands against (President Vladimir) Putin's invasion of Ukraine."

McCain, a one-time naval aviator who was tortured during five-and-a-half-years of captivity in Vietnam, died Saturday of brain cancer at his home in Arizona the age of 81. As the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, he lost to Barack Obama.

McCain was very personable, Bezan said. "He was very easy to sit down and chat with. He wasn't pretentious in any way, shape or form..."

The Canadian delegation was slotted for 30 minutes of McCain's time, but remained with the senator for an hour. Before they got down to the business of discussing issues related to Canada-U.S. defence, NATO and Russia's "imperialistic" ambitions, McCain proudly showed the Canadians some of the paintings in his office, "pictures he had from Arizona, including of the local Navaho people and celebrating the First Nations in his area of the world," Bezan said.

During the meeting, McCain pointedly thanked Canada and its armed forces for their contributions to the war in Afghanistan, while paying tribute to Canadians who had served and died around the world.

Bezan, who is currently vice-chair of the Commons defence committee and the Conservatives' shadow minister (critic) for national defence, said McCain will be missed by Canada.

"He said that Canada has always been the U.S.'s strongest ally," the Manitoba MP said. "He was a great friend of Canada."

Former Manitoba premier and Canadian ambassador to the U.S., Gary Doer, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew met John McCain about five years ago while working in the United States as a reporter for the English news service of Al Jazeera.

Kinew was working on a documentary about the U.S. border patrol. He and a camera operator "ambushed" McCain outside CNN's Washington building as the senator was arriving on a Sunday for an interview.

Although Kinew had not given him a heads up, McCain was unflappable and agreed to be questioned on the spot.

"We had some tough accountability questions. McCain pulled up in a black car, hopped out, saw us, smiled, shook my hand and he didn't think twice."

They spoke for five to 10 minutes. McCain largely dodged Kinew's questions while managing to leave a favourable impression on the future political leader.

"I respected the fact that he didn't run away from me, he didn't decline to comment," Kinew said. "Rather, he had the skills to walk into the interview and to handle himself with skill and to come out looking better for it."

Kinew recalled doing a lot of so-called "doorstep interviews" for Al Jazeera. "I had doors slammed in my face. I had Congress people run down hallways to get away — one hid in a stairwell. McCain did none of those things. He stopped, smiled and left me feeling like he wanted to be my friend."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

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