THE YEAR THAT WAS
It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone and that 2013 will soon be behind us. It was the best year of my career though; the year I retired. My father-in-law, Jos à Denis, as wise a man as I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing, told me once that the work of the mind could be as hard as the labour of the fisherman, the farmer, or the tradesman. I took that to mean that he respected what I did. It meant a lot to me. I will miss the discipline of work, the companionship of colleagues, and the interesting people I met along the way.It’s one thing to contemplate retirement and quite another to experience it. Only months removed from a thirty-nine year career, I try to come to grips with what it really means. Having known only one routine, the eight-to-four variety, how will I fill my days? What will it be like to have no boss, no deadlines, no colleagues, no one reporting to me? How will I keep the grey matter sufficiently stimulated?
Retirement means being able to tell people what you really think of them instead of what you know they want to hear. I promise to be careful with family and friends but, with not necessarily with others. Of course, with a rule like this one, you have to be able to take it as well as dish it out!
The phone hasn’t rung often since I announced my retirement early in 2013. And when it has, it was often someone asking for my time or my money. These inquiries make you appreciate who your friends really are. Thus far, I’ve accepted only one request for my time. I was appointed recently as the Complaints Officer under the French language Services Act. As for the requests for money, Elva and I made a significant (for us) donation to the Confederation Centre of the Arts.
Travelling to Spain so soon after my last day on the job certainly made for a pleasant transition. Elva and I had been there before, but only for a rushed one-week hiking vacation near the Costa del Sol. My three wise children and their significant others gave me Rosetta Stone Spanish for my retirement gift. Although I can’t speak the language, I picked up a few words, and I can read well enough to get by. It may come in handy during our upcoming Central American foray.
This is the whitest Christmas I’ve seen in many years. It reminds me of my youth in Wellington, when it seemed that winter always arrived before December 25, and you were safe in giving or receiving skates or a sleigh. The pond was frozen, there were tunnels to be dug, and the hill beside the railway tracks was the ideal venue for a hair-raising toboggan run.
Elva and I were fortunate to have company over the Holidays: Clément and Julia from Edmonton, and Sylvie, Ghislain, Samuel and Natalie from Saint John. Every day, we’ve ‘Facetimed’ with Jacques, Isabelle and Lucie. Santa was very good to me this year, bringing all the clothes I asked for, and more. It’s also a clear and welcome sign that my kids are getting richer!
As I look back over the year that was, a few things stand out: most of them positive; a few not so. The Over the Hill Gang experienced a mixed year. It started out rather badly, with a major crash in June, and the sudden loss of a devoted member of the cycling fraternity, Don Harris, during the Montague Century Ride in July. But it finished on a high note with a hell of a ride in Niagara Falls, and a trip to the Mecca of cycling, Girona, Spain. We also welcomed a new member to the group, Kent Wood. We’re still not sure why he rides with us old guys, but we’re glad he does!
I had the pleasure of working with Horace Carver in an advisory capacity as he led a public review of the Lands Protection Act. It was the first time he and I had met, and we got along quite well considering our diverse backgrounds. This is the third major report I’ve worked on involving land use issues on Prince Edward Island: the Round Table on Resource Land Use and Stewardship; the Commission on Land Use and Local Governance; and the Commission on the Lands Protection Act. I remain as passionate about everything ‘Island’ as I always have.
During the three years I spent as a member of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, I had the privilege of meeting many men and women who serve their country as members of the Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I learned more from this experience than I could ever have imagined. Totally ignorant of the military and police cultures and of the rigours of service, I gained first-hand exposure to a reality that few Canadians understand. I came away convinced that we are not, as a society, meeting our obligation to these men and women who put their health and lives on the line. Something has to be done.
I finished the first draft of a historical novel I’m calling The Story of Green Valley. Green Valley is a fictional Island community which would remind many of the village where I grew up: Wellington. It is autobiographical. Because I knew only one of my grandparents, my maternal grandmother who died when I was five, and never knew my father, I’ve had to use my imagination to fill in many of the blanks. This is what made writing the story so interesting. Whether it will ever be published is an open question and something I’ll look into further in 2014.
With retirement comes the freedom to comment on current events. The past year has provided much fodder for journalists and pundits, on our Island and beyond. Like many, I wrote our Premier, arguing against the recently-completed upgrade of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway. His government chose to ignore public sentiment, and went ahead anyway. I still think the decision was the wrong one.
As for the changes to public sector pension plans, I applaud the Liberals for this brave and necessary move. I was a member of public sector pension fund investment committees in the early 1990s, and worked on a report on the funds’ unfunded liabilities with then-Deputy Provincial Treasurer, Phil MacDougall. The benefits enjoyed by current retirees, myself included, are far richer than the funds can afford to pay out. They always were. The decisions which led to these errors were made by union leaders and politicians, all of whom failed in their duty to members and the general public.
We’ve been witness over the past year to what is generally known as the ‘Senate Scandal’. I liked Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy as journalists, but I never imagined either in the role of Senator. No sooner had Duffy been appointed to the Red Chamber than he proceeded to insult our Premier, saying something to the effect that if Robert Ghiz were ever in bed with Danny Williams, there was little doubt who’d get screwed. I guess he thought this was funny. I didn’t. Bottom line, I refuse to acknowledge Mike Duffy as one of my representatives in the Senate. It has nothing to do with the way he’s spent our money. It’s because the man’s a joke!
As for our Parliament, I don’t judge the way we’re governed by the people who govern us. In other words, I don’t have to like the Prime Minister and his Cabinet to be able to assess their results. Watching the foolishness in Washington, and visiting ‘basket-case’ European countries like Spain, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus, makes one appreciate how good we have it here. Until I’m convinced the Liberals or the NDP can provide better government, I’m sticking with the program.
So, for 2014, my priorities will be learning, family, a healthy lifestyle, and as many interesting experiences as I can afford. As I get older, I’m less motivated by the material and more motivated by the experiential. If it were up to me, I’d ditch more ‘stuff’, and get down to the bare necessities of life. I think I’d be the happier for it. And when it comes to experiences, it's hard to top tubing at Brookvale!