Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/6/2019 (356 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Everything about Al Roy's trip to France for the 75th anniversary of D-Day was perfect.
From the military flight from Ottawa, to the hotels and meals and transportation within France, to the constant adoration and respect from local government and military officials, the 95-year-old veteran from Winnipeg found it to be all "A-1 plus."
Well, that's not entirely true. There was one small, but extremely annoying, detail.
Roy, who served with a Canadian artillery unit that supported the Normandy invasion, never got to meet Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister during his visit to France for the anniversary events.
As first reported by the Free Press, Pallister skipped a wreath-laying ceremony June 5 at the Canadian War Cemetery at Bény-sur-Mer; for reasons not entirely clear, he laid a wreath in Vimy, where there is a memorial to soldiers who died in the First World War.
Pallister also missed the main commemorative event for Canadians June 6 at Juno Beach, which was attended by more than 5,000 veterans, their families and dignitaries from Canada and France. Instead, he took a meeting with agri-food giant Roquette at its headquarters in Lestrem, which is about 400 kilometres from Juno Beach.
Pallister did attend a wreath-laying ceremony June 7 at the Canadian War Cemetery at Bretteville-sur-Laize, but, according to Roy, he did not greet Canadian veterans, which included several from Manitoba. Nor did he stay for an on-site reception afterwards.
'I think that was very poor of him. I don't know what's the matter with Pallister. Who raised him like that?' ‐ Second World War veteran Albert Roy
"Everyone but Pallister came and shook our hands," Roy said in an interview upon his return to Canada. "He was (at the June 7 event) and laid a wreath just like the other VIPs. He walked up, laid his wreath and then turned around and went back to his seat. Afterwards, he just left without talking to any of us.
"I think that was very poor of him. I don't know what's the matter with Pallister. Who raised him like that?"
Dan Roy, Albert's son and companion for the D-Day trip, said he thought long and hard on the return flight about Pallister's behaviour in France. When he got back to Canada, he said the bad taste was still in his mouth.
The Friday morning of the Bretteville-sur-Laize ceremony was grey, wet and cold, Dan Roy said. Not as cold, however, as the treatment they suffered at the hands of Manitoba's first minister, he added.
"It really upset my father," he said. "It was the most unacceptable behaviour I've seen from a person. Not just a politician — any person.
"This was a really hard trip for these guys. They were braving the elements, it was really nasty that morning. However, they felt it was important to come to honour the people that fell before them and all their fellow veterans. After they went through all that to be there, wouldn't you want to go up and shake these guys' hands?"
What made Pallister's behaviour even more strange was, in contrast, all the other political leaders in France for the D-Day anniversary seemed to be bending over backwards to get as much time with the Canadian veterans as possible.
Albert Roy said he was greeted several times by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who saw the Canadian veterans off in Ottawa, and was present at Juno Beach.
"I apologized because in Ottawa, I had called him 'Justin,'" Roy said. "And when I saw him in France, he remembered my name and told me I could call him Justin anytime."
Roy also said Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman was a constant presence during his four-day tour, as was Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand. During their tour of France — the veterans attended events every day of the visit — they were constantly accompanied by various politicians and senior military officials.
'This was a really hard trip for these guys. They were braving the elements, it was really nasty that morning. However, they felt it was important to come to honour the people that fell before them and all their fellow veterans. After they went through all that to be there, wouldn't you want to go up and shake these guys' hands?' – Dan Roy, Albert's son
Pallister was travelling with a delegation of his own that included Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler, Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pedersen and St. Norbert MLA Jon Reyes, who served in the Royal Canadian Navy and acts as the military liaison with the Manitoba government.
Dan Roy said, to his recollection, neither he nor his father can recall meeting a single representative from Manitoba.
It all comes at a critical juncture for the Progressive Conservative government, which is full-steam ahead for an early election call this summer. It also creates some bizarre optics.
While Pallister has been trying to set a modern record for the total number of self-inflicted political wounds suffered on a 10-day road trip, his cabinet has been working at break-neck speed to get out dozens of high-profile announcements before a pre-election blackout takes effect this week.
The announcements, taken together, will no doubt be used to underpin some of the Tory re-election campaign platform.
D-Day certainly seemed like a reasonable excuse for being out of the country during such an important week for the Tory government. However, as the trip has evolved into vacation time, it suddenly seems out of step with events at home.
It is also hard to ignore the irony the three men who seemed to make the greatest impression on the veterans from Manitoba — Trudeau, Bowman and Chartrand — all hold prominent places on Pallister's list of sworn political enemies.
A request to speak directly to Pallister was sent Tuesday to the premier's press secretary. No response was forthcoming.
Perhaps Pallister thinks nobody back home (other than journalists) cares about his behaviour in France. Or, perhaps he's just hoping it will all go away before he returns to Winnipeg sometime near the end of this week — and that it will be forgotten by the time he calls an election.
However, it seems unlikely men like Albert Roy, who have spent a lifetime remembering the great carnage of the Normandy invasion, will be so quick to forget the snub.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.
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