Wednesday November 22, 2017

November 21, 2017 episode transcript

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The AIH Transcript for November 21, 2017

Hosts: Carol Off and Jeff Douglas

STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE

Prologue

[Music: Theme]

CAROL OFF: Hello, I'm Carol off.

JEFF DOUGLAS: Good evening, I'm Jeff Douglas. This is As It Happens.

[Music: Theme]

JD: Tonight

CO: Will his country move forward, and can he go back? After a 37 year reign, Robert Mugabe resigns as president of Zimbabwe. Tonight, a Zimbabwean in exile hopes he'll be able to return.

JD: Overdue interest. Two months ago, a retired Canada Post worker delivered a letter to the ethics commissioner, asking her to investigate conflict-of-interest allegations against the finance minister. So why did it go on answered for so long?

CO: Siding with Goliath. the U.S. Federal Communications Commission unveils a plan that would help telecom giants by rolling back net neutrality regulations. One FCC commissioner thinks that's a colossal error.

JD: It'll be hell to pay. Auditor General Michael Ferguson says Canadians are nowhere near the end of the federal government's Phoenix fiasco: fixing the system will take years, and costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

CO: Finch him; he must be dreaming. Everyone's crowing about the achievement of one Ontario birdwatcher, who set a new record for seeing the most bird species in one year — making him the Lord of the Wings.

JD: And… divining intervention. That method of finding water using a divining rod, which is… a stick is seemingly hogwash. So why, a British scientist wonders, are so many water companies in the UK still using it?

JD: As It Happens, the Tuesday edition. Radio that plunges you into a surprisingly sticky situation.

[Music: Theme]

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Part 1: Zimbabwe: Mugabe resigns, net neutrality, divining rods

Zimbabwe: Mugabe resigns

Guest: Wilf Mbanga

SOUNDCLIP

[Sound: Much cheering and rejoicing]

JD: Those are sounds from earlier today, when the streets of Zimbabwe erupted with sounds of jubilation. After 37 years as president, Robert Mugabe officially resigned. His resignation letter was read out by the speaker of the Parliament during an impeachment hearing which had just begun. In the letter, Mr. Mugabe said the decision was voluntary — despite the fact that the military effectively seized control of the country last week. Vimbaishe Musvaburi is a human rights activist. She rushed from a street celebration in the country's capital of Harare into this interview with the BBC.

SOUNDCLIP

VIMBAISHE MUSVABURI: We were tired of this man. We are so glad he's gone. We don't want him anymore. And yes, today it's victory. It's victory in our hearts. It’s victory for our children. I’m so sorry.

REPORTER: That's OK, we understand. Did you ever think you would live to see this day though? I mean it's been so long coming.

VM: No, I never thought I would. I'm an activist, and I’ve been fighting, and I’ve been speaking for the people. And I’ve been saying to the people if it's not for my generation, it’s for my children's generation. I’ve got two children, who are in school, and every day you wake up you don't know where to get food, you don't know whether you've got enough school fees. It has been the worst experience. People are scattered all over the world. The word “family” doesn't mean anything to us anymore because families are all over the world. In England and America; people want to come back home. And they only see each other on the internet. So for us, this is what we’ve always wanted. We don’t want him anymore.

JD: Human rights activist Vimbaishe Musvaburi on the BBC, reacting to the news that Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe had resigned. Wilf Mbanga fled Zimbabwe 15 years ago. He is the editor of the Zimbabwean online newspaper. We reached him in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he lives in exile.

CO: Wilf, what is going through your mind at this moment as you hear that Robert Mugabe has resigned?

WILF MBANGA: I can't tell you; you know my heart is pounding. I am absolutely delighted by the result. You know after this week that we have had, we thought he was going to resign, and then he didn't. And then they started the impeachment. Then, the people persuading him to resign, and he wouldn’t. So it's been a roller coaster for us. And now, it's happened, he's gone. I am delighted. I’ve not been home for 15 years.

CO: And why haven’t you been home? What is what does this mean to you personally that Mugabe is gone?

WM: Well, there is a warrant for my arrest — my sins. I started a newspaper called in Zimbabwe The Daily News, which was banned. I was arrested and put through a trial, which lasted six months. I was eventually found not guilty. And I was followed everywhere. I was harassed and I left the country. And while I was in New England, they issued a warrant for my arrest. As a result, I did not go home. I haven't been able to go back home. I did not even go back when my mother died, after some 10 years ago. And I would love to go back to place some flowers on her grave and to see my family, whom I have not seen for 15 years.

CO: Your story is not unusual for Zimbabweans, is it? Because journalists have been arrested, kidnapped, never seen again, disappeared, opposition activists beaten, tortured to death. This has been going on for years this suppression of any criticism of Mr. Mugabe.

WM: Quite. I'm one of the few lucky ones. I had a very high-profile. When I was arrested, the police were quite decent, but many other journalists were not so lucky. In fact, when we first launched the Zimbabwean, one of our reporters was arrested, and he disappeared for five days. We didn’t know where he was. And when they finally brought him to court, he couldn't walk. They had beaten him to a pulp. And if you're a journalist they’ve locked us up, harassed us, they bent one of my trucks. I mean it’s been hell under Robert Mugabe.

CO: I wonder now, of course, the next question is — the next chapter is — what happens after Mr. Mugabe? Because now we've been told by the party — ZANU-PF, Mugabe's party, — Emmerson Mnangagwa, is a former chief of the spy agency, a close associate of Mugabe. He is to become the head of your country. What does that mean for you?

WM: Well, will be very careful that you know not to celebrate too much because you know Emmerson, as you say, was the head of the intelligence for many years. During which, we had the massacres. He was Mugabe's task master. He has been very close to Mugabe and was beside Mugabe while he was oppressing the people. So has he changed? That remains to be seen.

CO: And one wonders if the party’s changed? Here's a few quotes from the past few days that the members of the ZANU-PF say that Mr. Mugabe’s departure is an “internal matter for the party”. It's nothing to do with across the rest of the country. This is Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who has said “why would there be a government of national unity? We are in power. We are the majority. We have an overwhelming majority”. Another minister says “we are in charge. ZANU-PF is in charge of the country. We're running the country”. So it doesn't indicate that they're talking about well now we're going to move towards some kind of democracy, does it?

WM: No, one commentator here said Zanu is like a snake: it has just shed its skin, but it is still a snake. The problem we have is that you know we've got people like Patrick Chinamasa, who is excitable and makes ridiculous statements from time to time. But he's been put down by the leader of the War Veterans Association, Chris Mutsvangwa, who said that he's speaking out of turn. Mutsvangwa is saying well, they should now move to have a government of national unity. So there is a very strong grouping within ZANU-PF, which would like to see some transitional authority which involves the opposition.

CO: But is it not the case that this whole movement of getting rid of Mr. Mugabe is to strengthen ZANU-PF? It’s not to strengthen democracy or to open up the government and leadership for other parties or for plurality. Isn't the point of this is to strengthen the party?

WM: True, but the genie is out of the bottle. You know people now feel they are free. They have been demonstrating. The people are dancing in the streets. You don't see policemen anywhere you know harassing people. They know people have tasted freedom. They think they can kill that? I doubt it. You know it’d take a while to control these people who now feel they are now free, they have now tasted freedom, they want to have other freedoms.

CO: And you want the freedom to go home, to visit your mother's grave, to live in your country. Do you think that's going to happen?

WM: I hope so. I'm looking for it. It's my country. In fact, you know I was living in England with you know the miserable weather of the UK. And I moved down to South Africa because I was missing Africa. I missed the warm sun. And I just want to go home and then kiss the soil, you know? Press a bouquet of flowers on my mom's grave and be among my people. I don't want to live like a refugee you know in a foreign country.

CO: Wilf, I hope that is what is in your future. And I appreciate speaking with you tonight. Thank you.

WM: You're welcome. Thank you. Bye bye.

JD: Wilf Mbanga is the editor of the Zimbabwean online paper. We reached him in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he lives in exile. For more on this story, go to our website: www.cbc.ca/aih.

[Music: Electronica]

Net Neutrality

Guest: Jessica Rosenworcel

JD: Imagine you're driving down a highway. And no matter what kind of vehicle they're using, everyone on the road has to follow the same rules. It doesn't matter if you’re an expensive sports car or if you’re in an old beater. The speed limit is the same for everyone. That's what it's like using the internet currently, because of net neutrality rules. Internet service providers like Bell and Rogers in Canada, or Comcast and Verizon in the U.S., must treat all web traffic equally. Now imagine a highway where different rules apply to different people. Maybe if you can afford to pay extra fees, you get your own special fast lane with no speed limit. Or maybe certain brands of cars are allowed to travel faster than others. Well that, according to critics, is what the internet could be like without net neutrality. And today, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, or the FCC, announced a new plan to repeal existing net neutrality regulations in the U.S. Jessica Rosenworcel is one of two Democratic members on the five-person commission. We reached her in Washington.

CO: Ms. Rosenworcel, what do you think of this plan to repeal existing net neutrality regulations?

JESSICA ROSENWORCEL: Well, I'm a fan of net neutrality, so I am not in favor of this newest proposal from the leadership at the FCC.

CO: OK. And why should people care why? Would people in their day-to-day use of the Internet… what does it matter to them?

JR: We have this dynamic engine of civic and commercial opportunity that we all tap into every day. And it is built on a foundation of openness. That openness is what net neutrality is all about. And if we decide to tear at that openness and change our policies, we're going to change the Internet as we know and experience it today.

CO: OK, just maybe for people who don't understand because it sounds complicated, but as you point out, it matters to people how they use the Internet. What will change if net neutrality regulations are changed in this way?

JR: Well right now, you can go where you want and do what you want online without your broadband provider telling you, yes, you can go to this site and, no, you can't go to this one. And that's important. It puts you in control. Your broadband provider doesn't get the right to choose which voices to amplify, which ones to censor online and which connections you can and cannot make. I think that that openness is essential. But if we change our network neutrality policies, we are giving broadband providers the green light to carve the Internet into slow and fast lanes, to choose which voices to feature and choose what content you can reach when you go online.

CO: OK, can you give us any concrete examples?

JR: Well right now, our policies prevent the blocking of sites online. In other words, your broadband provider can't decide to block some sites online because perhaps that company doesn't have a commercial relationship with them. And if these new policies go in place, our broadband providers will be able to block online activity and online sites.

CO: But to what end? Why would they want to do that?

JR: Well, I think that they would want to see if they can earn income, not just from you as a consumer when you pay for your broadband subscription, but I think they'd also like to set up the opportunity for revenue from sites and activities online. And see if they can get paid in both directions. And then they’’ll slow the service of those that don't choose to pay up.

CO: OK, if I understand correctly, what the danger of this — and it’s already starting to happen — is that there’s carriage and content, right? So that people who are delivering the broadband service to you would benefit if they could control what content went to us, and how fast it got to you? Well, I'm thinking of Verizon, which owns Yahoo. Would they be able to say well, let's not let Google get there faster than Yahoo because that's a benefit to our company?

JR: Right. Right now, what we have as a policy is you need to treat all traffic equally, no matter who created it or where it came from. But after net neutrality policies go away, they'll have the ability to favour their own content or favour those with whom they have business relationships. So it won't be up to you as the consumer to choose to go where you want and do what you want online.

CO: Why do you think the Federal Communications Commission wants to do this?

JR: Oh, you know I can't tell you what is in the head of my colleagues here. I think they just want to roll back a lot of rules that were put in place during the last administration. And I think that's foolhardy because outside of Washington D.C., there are a lot of people who are sitting around and clamoring for the agency to take away the internet openness that they experience today.

CO: Does it not flow from a general worldview — and this is a Republican worldview because the chairman of the FCC is Republican — that you shouldn't micromanage the Internet. That you should allow the free forces of commerce to be as open as possible. And that if you're going to have these regulations, then you're controlling information.

JR: Yeah, you know I don't think that's the right way of looking at it. I think for decades the agency has had policies in place that say your traffic needs to be treated in a neutral fashion. And network neutrality policies were first put on paper at the FCC back in 2006, which was during the Bush administration. So I think that those practices have been a part of this agency's work now for decades. And I can't understand the desire to take that away.

CO: Ajit Pai, who is the chair of the FCC, this is a statement from him. He said that the these “Obama-era rules imposed heavy-handed, utility-style regulations upon the Internet. That decision was a mistake. It's depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation.” So he's suggesting that customers are actually losing out because without the investment that they're not getting the service they could get if there was a better motivation to enter the industry.

JR: Well, first, I'm going to dispute some of his facts there. I think there are other studies that show that since those rules were put in place, we've seen increased investment. Not just in the infrastructure that's behind broadband, but also in the broader Internet economy because these rules are so fundamental for so many small businesses that use online action to reach out to customers, not just around the corner, but around the world.

CO: You're on the commission, but the Republicans have a majority on that commission. What do you think will happen when they vote December 14th?

JR: Well, I'm not ready yet to say that we should give up a fight. I think it's important in public service to be an optimist. And right now, when I look at my email inbox, and I look at the phone calls that are coming in, what I am seeing is that a lot of people are very angry that this little agency in Washington is going to muck with their internet experience. And so I hope that those calls keep coming. Those emails keep on showing up, and that the American public speaks up and gets noisy, and makes clear that they won't stand for this proposal. And that they want to see true network neutrality rules kept in place.

CO: All right. We'll leave it there. Ms. Rosenworcel, thank you.

JR: Thank you very much.

JD: Jessica Rosenworcel is one of five commissioners on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. We reached her in Washington.

[Music: Rock]

Divining rods

Guest: Sally Le Page

JD: When British biologist Sally Le Page heard that her parents' water company had sureched for a buried pipe using a divining rod, she was surprised. The practice, also known as "dowsing" or "witching", isn't supported by scientific evidence. And Ms. Le Page is, after all, a scientist. The incident made her curious: if an engineer from one company had used this technique, were the other companies doing it too? So she set out to find the answer. We reached Sally Le Page in Oxford, England.

CO: Sally, what did your parents actually see when this engineer came to check their pipes?

SALLY LE PAGE: As far as I'm aware, they were just walking out just to see if he was doing a good job, if he needed a cup of tea and they saw him holding two, what they described as, bent tent pegs, so two metal poles in an “L” shape. He was walking slowly back and forth across the road with these rods, waiting for them to cross over. My parents have seen and divining rods before, and so they kind of had to stop and think hang on a sec! Was that man from the water company actually using water divining rods?

CO: And what was he actually looking for?

SL: So he was looking to find the location of an existing water pipe that company owns and looks after.

CO: Now since then, what have you discovered about the use of divining rods by water companies in the United Kingdom?

SL: Yes, I thought this was just going to be a one-off. So I tweeted the company in question, Severn Trent. And they said no, this is something that our engineers use. And I thought that was very bizarre. And it just so happens that there are 12 water companies that do the vast majority of the water services in the United Kingdom. So I tweeted every single one of them, and all but two replied saying yes, their technicians do use water divining water — water dowsing — techniques in order to try and find pipes and leaks underground.

CO: And, in fact, one of the tweets responses — I guess is the one that your parents use Severn Trent — they said we have found that some of the older methods are just as effective as the new ones. But we do use drones as well and now satellites.

SL: Yes, there have been a few companies that are trying to tell me all of the exciting new technologies they use, alongside water dowsing and divination practices. But they do still use divination practices. And yet, none has been able to provide any evidence that it works.

CO: OK now, a lot of people believe that divining works — that these rods and dowsing is actually an effective way of finding water. There are, as you know, people who will swear by it. They say they wouldn't have a well in their yard if it wasn't for someone coming out with their divining rods. So what do you say to them?

SL: I've done it myself, and it feels so real. And the trouble is that it then depends OK, why are those rods moving? Are the rods moving together because there's some water underground? Or is it because there's something else going on? And it turns out that yes, there is something else going on. It's called the ideomotor effect. And what happens is that we subconsciously think OK, there's something going on here. So your hands make the tiniest little muscle movements, so small that you don't realize you are doing them yourself. But that movement is amplified by the rods, and causes them to swing wildly. And it's nothing to do with the fact that there's water underneath the ground or not.

CO: But now, it seems that these water companies who have engineers and are experts, they're trained and educated. They believe it works. So maybe they've had the results?

SL: So this is where the confirmation bias then comes in. Is that you can say OK, I used divination practices this one time. And that one time I found some pipes. And then the next time maybe use it and you don't find any pipes. But you forget about that one because yeah, there was just something wrong that day. And so you only remember the times that it worked. If we were to test this properly with scientific conditions, you'd get the exact same results if you're just doing it by chance with no rods at all.

CO: Now, if they're going out looking for it and they're using whatever tools they've got, and they whip out the divining rods and give it a try. It's harmless, isn't it?

SL: Well in the grand scheme of things, it probably is harmless. But you never know. Maybe they will use divination to determine that an area where they’re going to do some drilling doesn't have a pipe underneath it. So they bring the drills in and then bam, they hit a pipe, and that's the water supply cut-off to a town for a few days. And basically it's just ineffective, and anything that ineffective is going to take up people's time, take up people’s effort and time and effort cost money. So, ultimately, the people in the UK that pay for their water — that pay these water companies — are paying for a technique that simply doesn't work.

CO: Now, you've raised all of these arguments about science. And how are the water companies responding since you have been pointing out that this is something that is not proven?

SL: The most surprising thing is that when initially questioned, all of the companies are just like oh yeah, we use divination practices. As if that's not a problem. They don't realize that there is no evidence for it. I was expecting that to be quite defensive and to say oh yeah, we do, sorry there’s a problem with that. Like if you asked the water company do you still use crystal balls. They'd say oh hang on, we probably shouldn't be doing that anymore. Now it's 2017, let's change that. So within the UK at least there is a water authority that governs all of these companies, and hopefully, they will step in and start regulating the use or non-use of divination.

CO: And they haven't yet? There's no higher order of government that said what! What's going on here?

SL: At this stage, I sent a Freedom of Information request this morning, but it's been less than 24 hours. Government isn't known for being particularly fast. So I’ll give them a few more days.

CO: We are dealing with witchcrafts; you don't want to mess with that too quickly.

SL: Of course, yes. Now, we will get I know a lot of people responding to this, and disputing what you are saying. And arguing that they know for a fact it works, and that science has its limits. And there are things that we just can't explain. So what should we say to them?

SL: I think it's perfectly fine for individual people to use divination in their own time. I mean it's fun. It's a magic trick. Magic tricks are fun. Tricking your brain is fun. But for companies that are funded by the public to use techniques that have no evidence that they work, and when we have other techniques that do work — there’s so many different techniques that these water companies have available to them — I don't think it's fair that they are spending time, and therefore spending money, on techniques that don't have any evidence.

CO: We'll leave it there. Sally, thank you.

SL: That's all right. Thank you, Carol.

JD: Sally Le Page is a biologist at the University of Oxford. She also hosts the YouTube science series, Shed Science. We reached her in Oxford, England. And if you would like to see some divining rods at work, check out our website: www.cbc.ca/aih.

Back To Top »

Part 2: Morneau pensions, bird watcher

Morneau pensions

Guest: Peter Whitaker

JD: Well, Bill Morneau continues to face questions this week over conflict-of-interest allegations. But the Finance Minister wasn't in Question Period today, and so the task of answering fell to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Today, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer asked how much Minister Morneau's family's company stood to benefit from a federal pensions bill.

SOUNDCLIP

ANDER SCHEER: This legislation enables the exact product that his family company specializes in, and for which the finance minister himself lobbied for before he entered politics. Did the prime minister ever request assurances from the finance minister that he was working with the ethics commissioner before introducing the legislation?

SPEAKER: The right-honourable prime minister.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Mr. Speaker, our members in this House, including the finance minister, work with the ethics commissioner and listened to and followed her counsel.

JD: Well, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is investigating whether the Minister broke ethics laws when he tabled a bill that would rewrite federal pension law — a bill that could, possibly, benefit his family pension management business, Morneau Shepell. But long before Commissioner Dawson opened her investigation, a retired Canada Post deliverer was raising alarm bells. Peter Whitaker is an elected member of the Canada Post Pension Advisory Committee. And he hand-delivered a letter to Commissioner Dawson's office in September, which went unanswered for weeks. We reached Mr. Whitaker in Ottawa.

CO: Mr. Whittaker, the finance minister says he has sold his shares in the family company, and he's made a large donation — $5 million — that represents the profits he's made since he became minister. Does that not settle the issue?

PETER WHITIKER: Not at all. The bill that he introduced in October of 2016, his target benefit plan bill, it's tainted with the fact that he had shares in the company at the time that he had introduced the bill. That, on top of the fact that when he introduced the bill, there was no consultation with any retiree groups or the major unions, he just dumped the bill on us. And we see that that bill is tainted, and it has to be withdrawn.

CO: All right, we'll get to the issue of what is wrong with the bill in a moment. But Mr. Morneau argues that there was an ethics screen in place, and he also believes the Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson was satisfied at the time with how he had arranged his affairs. You dispute that?

PW: Actually, what he used was a loophole in the act itself. Putting it into a screen with your assistant in the finance department as the supervisor of the screen, it doesn't pass the smell test in our view

CO: You alerted Mary Dawson at the time. This is the new development here that we learned that you hand-delivered a letter to Mary Dawson’s office on behalf of retired Canada Post workers, alerting her to concerns you had. What was the gist of that letter?

PW: The gist of the letter was that we saw it as a conflict-of-interest him having shares in Morneau Shepell, and introducing the legislation. We also saw a conflict-of-interest in the fact that while he was the CEO of Morneau Shepell, he had purchased the pension administration from Mercer Canada Inc. And Mercer Canada Inc just happens to be the actuary for the Canada Post pension plan. It would give his company, Morneau Shepell, which he owned shares in, the inside track if our pension plan — our defined benefit pension plan — was converted into the target benefit plan that he was proposing to introduce in the legislation.

CO: How did you perceive the finance minister — Mr. Morneau — might benefit from the bill that he was sponsoring — bill C-27?

PW: Number one, he had shares in Morneau Shepell at the time he put the bill into play. Those shares increased by 1.9 million dollars in his pocket the day after the bill was introduced. Clearly, that is a conflict-of-interest because you're not supposed to profit from any legislation that you bring in. That's part of the Conflict-of-Interest Act itself, and the fact that his company, Morneau Shepell, clearly would profit from that bill coming in. That company is one of the four largest pension administration companies in Canada, and they would reap the benefits of any target benefit plans coming into play.

CO: Now, we can't say that necessarily the reason why the finance minister introduced that legislation is so that he could benefit from it. But what you're saying is that there is a conflict-of-interest here, whether he planned to or not. There's the appearance of conflict, and there is a conflict. Is that what you're saying?

PW: It doesn't pass the smell test. There is a conflict-of-interest here. And the fact that the bill is still sitting there causes us a grave concern because the bill itself is tainted.

CO: At the heart of this bill, and this is what was of concern to you, are these two different kinds of benefit plans. There's a defined benefit plan. He was offering this incentive for a target benefit or shared risk plan. Now, this is something that has been discussed for many years though in Canada, is it not? I mean the idea that there are these pensions — these defined benefit plans — that a very small group of pensioners have access to. Crown corporations, including the CBC have these pensions, and that many Canadians — if not most — don't benefit from this. So was this not something that the government said it was interested in addressing: this disparity between these kinds of pension plans for Canadians?

PW: What they're proposing to do is to change the rules. And change the rules in effect instead of the employers being responsible, like they promised and living up to their contracts, if there's a deficit in their plan, they would pay the deficit. What a target benefit plan does it takes away all of the responsibility of the employer, and puts it all onto the employees and the retirees to pay if there is a deficit in their pension plan through reduced benefits and reduced pensions. The issue here isn't — and shouldn't be — that you're going after people that have a pension plan like a defined benefit pension plan. The issue is we don't have proper pension plans in Canada altogether. You don't go and take away the people that have pension plans and reduce theirs because they won't give it to those that don't have pensions. The best way to deal with it is to provide proper pension plans for all, and not take away those pension plans of the people that currently have them.

CO: We know now that Mr. Morneau has sold those shares in Morneau Shepell. We know that the Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is investigating these conflicts-of-interest allegations. Are you satisfied?

PW: No, what we want to do is to have bill C-27 withdrawn and go back to the drawing board. That's the only way it can be resolved. We need proper pensions in this country, and we don't need to have Morneau and the Liberal government coming in and taking away pensions from employees that have paid into the pension plan. Or from pensioners that worked all their working lives, and have retired. Ethically, I don't know what he did with the shares and who he sold them to? I mean he could have sold it to a member of his family.

CO: But are the ethical concerns dealt with through those two actions?

PW: Well, we'll see what Commissioner Dawson thinks of the idea. She'll be the one that will be giving the word as to whether he was in a conflict-of-interest when he brought the bill in in October of 2016.

CO: We'll leave it there. Mr. Whitaker, thank you.

PW: Thank you very much. I appreciate it for giving me the opportunity to talk to your listeners.

JD: Peter Whitaker is a retired Canada Post deliverer, and an elected member of Canada Post's pension advisory group. We reached him in Ottawa.

[Music: Space-like ambient]

Semordnilap

JD: When it comes to obscure words, As It Happens listeners don't miss much. Last night, we told you about a Grade Two student in B.C. named Levi Budd, who is trying to get a word into the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Here again is his dad, Lucky Budd, explaining to CBC how that effort came about.

SOUNDCLIP

LUCKY BUDD: When he was five, he was driving with his mom ,and they pulled up to a stop sign, and he said Mum, “stop” spells “pots” backwards. That's not a palindrome. What is that? And she said I don't know, let's go look it up. And so she went home, and we looked it up, and there is no word in the dictionary for a word that spells another one backwards. And he said well, why don't we name it after me? Why don't we call it a Levidrome, instead of a palindrome? And we thought well hey, that's a really great idea, though I think you'd probably pronounce it more like levitate — Levi-drome.

HOST: Right.

LB: He was like yeah, that sounds great.

JD: So that's "Levidrome" — a word that spells another word when the letters are reversed, according to six-year-old Levi Budd in B.C. Except that, when CBCer John Bowman heard that last night, he Tweeted, quote, "I hate to be that guy . . ." You know where this is going. He points out that a word that spells another word backward is called a "semordnilap." According to Wikipedia, it was probably first used in 1961 by "recreational linguist" Dmitri Borgmann, who sounds fun. Some examples it gives are "desserts" and "stressed" and "diaper" and "repaid." "Semordnilap" is also listed in the MacMillan Dictionary. It says that some may not even coincidental — that the British term "yob" was reputedly coined as a semordnilap of "boy." So we're sorry if Levi Budd is disappointed by this news. But he might appreciate the fact that the word "semordnilap" is "palindromes" spelled backward, which makes it… I mean "semordnilap" a "Levidrome".

[Music: Pretty sure this is the Austin Powers theme]

Bird watcher

Guest: Jeremy Bensette

JD: It's been a big year for Jeremy Bensette. On January 1st, he set out to break the record for the most bird species sightings in Ontario by the end of this year. Yesterday — with more than a month left in 2017 — he did just that. We reached Jeremy Bensette in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

CO: Jeremy, congratulations.

JEREMY BENSETTE: Hi, thank you.

CO: How many bird sightings have you racked up then?

JB: Well, it's been 344 species since New Year's in Ontario.

CO: And the year's not over yet.

JB: No. Yeah, there's still a good chunk of time left. So I like to think I’ll at least get a few more.

CO: What was the bird you saw that broke the record?

JB: My most recent — the one that broke the record — was a Northern Gannet in Hamilton, and that's basically an Atlantic Ocean seabird.

CO: What does it look like?

JB: You might recognize them from videos. They're kind of the big, long tube-shaped birds that they fly around in a group and kind of dive down into the water like torpedoes all at once. They shoot right under the water and grab fish, and then come back up and start flying again.

CO: People have seen these over the ocean, but you saw this in Ontario?

JB: Yes. Yeah, it was actually just sitting on the water when I got to Hamilton — on Lake Ontario. I mean it's not the first time by any means that a Gannet has shown up in Ontario, but they are certainly not an expected one to just come across in a normal year for you know for any one of us.

CO: Now this what we call an “Ontario big year” or a “big year” that you're doing in Ontario. For people who are not birdwatchers or don't know the culture, what does that mean to have a big year?

JB: A big year is basically setting out to try to see as many species of — I mean in this case, it's birds — as many species of birds as possible in one normal calendar year, within a certain geographical area. So the Ontario bird watching community is a pretty active one, and Ontario is a good-sized province. So it's a pretty popular topic among Ontario birding.

CO: How what far and wide did you travel for this year?

JB: I mean I've been to nearly every reach of Ontario that's accessible by road. But I've driven a total of 90,000 kilometers or more since New Year's in the province.

CO: And did you work while you're doing this? Or was this just entirely a year looking for birds?

JB: Yes, I did work a good portion of the year. I do survey work for Bird Studies Canada. I do breeding bird counts and frog counts at wetlands across Southern Ontario. So it certainly is a good way to already kind of be out and about. And you know there were a few species that I picked up for my big year kind of while doing the traveling for work. Just some specialties that being in the right places for work kind of helped with.

CO: How many of the birds that you saw were by chance? You were just in the right place at the right time. Or someone told you I can't believe this is here and you got to come and see it?

JB: I would say there probably have been at least a couple dozen very unexpected rare birds that I've managed to see or identify this year that are by no means regular or expected in Ontario. There's a lot of rarities that even if they're expected to show up a few times total in the province in a year it doesn't necessarily mean that someone can catch up with them. But I guess anything that was a little bit more expected you know just from having a pretty thorough understanding of how bird ecology goes in our province, I kind of knew roughly at least where and when to look for them.

CO: But did you do it all on your own, or did people help you?

JB: Yeah, certainly by no means something that I did on my own, you know? There were hundreds or maybe even thousands of people who have been supportive of me in various ways. And anywhere from someone coming up and shaking my hand and wishing me good luck, to keep going, you know? People who I've never met before, to some of my closer friends like Tim Arthur has traveled around with me for probably 60,000 or 70,000 kilometers. My friend Josh Vandermeulen, who held the big year record for the province before me, he's been super supportive, he's been there for a few really key birds and he's helped me out with a flight to Thunder Bay and back to see a pretty awesome rare swallow.

CO: What kind of a swallow did you see there?

JB: It's called a Violet Green Swallow. It was attempting to nest with one of our common Tree Swallows actually, which is a rare thing in itself. I think that had only ever been documented once or twice before. So it didn't nest successfully, but it gave it a shot.

CO: And you flew all the way up there just to get a chance to see that bird?

JB: Yes.

CO: Were there times you heard about birds that you went and did a big trek and then you didn't get to see the bird?

JB: Absolutely, it happened a few times. There were some really noteworthy drives and missed opportunities of some rarities. But for the most part, any of those that happened, I ended up finding a way to catch up with them later on. There's always going to be some also that you know maybe one person sees in photographs, and we find out about it later. Or it was literally only there for the time that they photographed it, and then it was never seen again.

CO: What were some of the examples of ones you didn't get? You went a long distance and didn't get to see?

JB: There was a Tri-Coloured Heron in Thunder Bay that Tim, who I mentioned, and I drove up to see in what turned out to be a pretty bad ice storm in late April. It was pretty crazy weather up there, and we didn't end up seeing the bird. But we ended up catching up with one in Toronto later in the year.

CO: Now, what was your favourite? What was your best sighting you think?

JB: I think my favourite sighting was probably this Northern Gannet. You know it might not be the flashiest. It's pretty rare, but it might not be the rarest of the birds I saw either this year. But the fact that it was the record-breaking bird, and more importantly, the fact that I had you know three of my absolute closest friends with me to celebrate right at the moment that I saw it that was definitely a very special moment.

CO: Do you expect to see any more species? Do you have a thought about what you'd like to be able to see before this year ends?

JB: Yes, there's a couple of pretty what I would consider guarantied species. I mean it might take one more drive to Thunder Bay, but I have not seen a Purple Sandpiper or a Deer Falcon yet this year. So they're more-or-less guaranteed still for this time of year.

CO: Well, happy hunting.

JB: Thank you.

CO: Thank you, Jeremy. Bye bye.

JB: Bye.

JD: We reached Jeremy Bensette in Niagara Falls.

[Music: Violin]

Mugabe protest song

JD: At the top of the program tonight, we heard from an activist and a journalist, speaking about something that would have seemed impossible just a month ago: the end of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's decades-long reign. Mr. Mugabe came to power in 1980 as a freedom fighter, after the country's war of independence from white colonial rule. And it had long seemed that he was determined to remain in power until he died. But today, after a military takeover last week, the 93-year-old did resign. Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo became a star writing protest songs during the war for independence — before turning his attentions towards Mr. Mugabe in the decades that followed. In 2000, he came out with the track "Mamvemve" — or "Tatters" — about the country's collapse. The song was a hit, despite being banned from Zimbabwe's airwaves. The following year, Mr. Mapfumo fled with his family to the US, fearing retribution from Mr. Mugabe's government. He's lived there ever since.

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Part 3: Auditor General: Phoenix, free beer game

Charlie Rose

JD: In his apology this week, Charlie Rose said, quote, "I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken." Mr. Rose was fired from CBS and PBS today. Eight women came forward alleging Mr. Rose had made unwanted sexual advances. Recently, on his PBS talk show, Mr. Rose discussed the swirl of sexual misconduct allegations with his guest at the time, New York Times columnist David Brooks. Here's what Mr. Brooks said.

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DAVID BROOKS: It's this weird mixture of sexuality and power. And the men who do this tend to start young. And as we've learned over the last several weeks, they don't just do it once or twice. This is a lifetime pattern. That when it's a Louis C.K., Harvey Weinstein, whatever, there's lots of women coming out of the woodwork. Because it is that weird mixture of lust, combined with dominance, combined with an inability to see the person you are there with. What struck me about the apology is the first thing they say is, and I sort of believe them, I had no idea they were thinking — the women — were thinking this way. I think that it's just an inability to put your mind in the mind of the person you are pushing yourself all over. And it's sort of a moral blindness toward another human being’s experience.

CHARLIE ROSE: It's a significant societal change for sure.

JD: That was Charlie Rose, before that you heard New York Times columnist David Brooks, speaking with Charlie Rose on his PBS show earlier this month. Mr. Rose hosted "CBS This Morning," with Gayle King and Norah O'Donnell. On today's program, Mr. Rose's co-hosts addressed his absence directly. Here's CBS co-host Gayle King, speaking this morning alongside Ms. O'Donnell.

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GAYLE KING: I have to say, Nora. I really am still reeling. I got an-hour-and-42 minutes of sleep last night. Both my son and my daughter called me. Oprah called me and said are you OK? I am not OK after reading that article in The Post. It was deeply disturbing, troubling and painful for me to read. That said, I think we have to make this matter to women — the women that have spoken up, the women who have not spoken up because they're afraid — I'm hoping that now they will take the step to speak out too — that this becomes a moment of truth. You know I've enjoyed a friendship and a partnership with Charlie for the past five years, I've held him in such high regard and I'm really struggling because what do you say when someone that you deeply care about has done something that is so horrible? How do you wrap your brain around that? I'm really grappling with that. That said, Charlie does not get a pass here. He doesn't get a pass from anyone in this room. We are all deeply affected. We are all rocked by this. And I want to echo what Nora said. I really applaud the women that speak up. Despite the friendship, he doesn't get a pass because I can't stop thinking about the anguish of these women. What happened to their dignity, what happened to their bodies, what happened maybe to even their careers? I can't stop thinking about that, and the pain that they're going through. I also find that you can hold two ideas in your head at the same time. You can grapple with things. And to be very honest with you, I'm still trying to process all of this. I'm still trying to sort it out because this is not the man I know. But I'm also clearly on the side of the women who have been very damaged by this. I haven't spoken to him. Have you spoken to him? I haven't spoken to him. I intend to speak to him, certainly, later today. I'm very sorry and I'm very glad that they have spoken out.

JD: That was "CBS This Morning" host Gayle King, responding this morning to the sexual misconduct allegations from eight women against her co-host Charlie Rose. Again, today, both CBS and PBS announced they had fired Mr. Rose

[Music: Piano]

Auditor General: Phoenix

Guest: Michael Ferguson

JD: Well, public servants on the payroll system aren't going to be the only ones out-of-pocket because of the broken Phoenix pay system. The fancy federal program was supposed to improve efficiency. Instead, it's left more than 150,000 federal employees underpaid, overpaid, or unpaid. Now, Auditor General Michael Ferguson has dug through the mess and he's issued a warning: it will be years before the system is working as it should, and fixing it will cost a lot more than the government is leading us to believe. We reached the Auditor General in Ottawa.

CO: Mr. Ferguson, you have said that unacceptable just doesn't capture the seriousness of the issue with the Phoenix pay system. How serious is it?

MICHAEL FERGUSON: Well, what we identified was at the end of June 2017, there were 150,000 federal government employees who were waiting for one of their pay action requests. What they refer to as a pay action request you know a document to change something related to their to their pay file. 150,000 Employees were waiting for one of these to be processed. We found that 49,000 of those employees had been waiting for more than a year to have it processed. At the end of June 2017, $500,000,000 you know total of pay errors. So that's either money that the government owes to employees or that employees owe to the government. When you put those two things together, it was $500,000,000. So you know all of those are metrics going in the wrong direction. We found that the Miramichi pay centre was only able to process more of these requests than it received only in two months from the launch of Phoenix to the end of June 2017. So all of those metrics just indicate that this problem has been getting worse since the launch of Phoenix all the way through to the end of our audit period for sure, which was the end of June 2017.

CO: When you referred to a pay action request — that's kind of technical term — it doesn't quite take it all in, does it? Because we have spoken with people who had their lives turned upside down because of unreliable paychecks, and large numbers of them, and people we've spoken with say it's just been going on for months and months. So why can't they fix it?

MF: Well, you know I guess that's the thing that the department needs to demonstrate to people that they will be able to fix it. And I think the problem they've had is they started out right from the very beginning, in June of 2016, in saying look, we've got 82,000 people who have been affected by this. We're going to process all of their pay action requests or we're going to deal with a backlog by the end of October 2016. And then we will be into a normal world. Well that didn't happen. And the problem kept getting worse. So you know the department needs to be able to get a handle on all of these things and start to turn all of those indicators that I talked about start to turn them in the other direction. So that people can have some confidence that they will finally get this under control.

CO: This was supposed to save money for the for the Treasury. So how much is it going to cost?

MF: Well, we identified that between what departments had already either spent or said they were going to spend over a three year period. The departments themselves have indicated that it was going to cost $540,000,000. But we don't think that's going to be enough to get the Phoenix system to the point of being an efficient system. Yes it may be able to pay people the right amount on time, but it still needs to become an efficient system.

CO: And half-a-billion dollars and counting and this was supposed to save $70,000,000 a year. That was the point.

MF: That was the original point. And, again, regardless of whether there are savings I think at the end of the day, they need to get this system to the point that it processes pay, it processes the right amount, pays people on time, processes these changes to their pay files in a reasonable period of time and then they also need to make sure that they get to a system that is efficient. So it's not going to be enough just to get people paid the right amount, but then they need to build some of the efficiency into the system that it was originally intended to deliver.

CO: Do you see light at the end of the tunnel for this system and all these people?

MF: Well right now, what we're seeing you know, again, all of the metrics are indicating that these problems were continuing to grow. And I think really that the department needs to be able to start showing that they can turn some of these things around. Again, if the pain centre is taking in more requests for changes than they are able to process, then the problem is just going to keep getting worse. So that's one of the things that they need to pay attention to is whether they can get to a point of the pay centre being able to process more than are coming in the door. And that will be the start to actually starting to reduce the problems.

CO: What would be the value of just scrapping the system, starting over from scratch?

MF: Look, you know the department needs to look at all of its options. But remember that it took seven years to put this system in place. It's a system that deals with 80,000 different rules, 105 collective agreements, you know 34 different H.R. systems that feed into the system. OK, so that is a very complex environment. And payroll systems on their own tend to be quite complex pieces of software. So even if that project were to start today, that project would take years to put in place. And in the meantime, this system is still going to be paying people. So the department needs to get this system to the point where it is not compounding and adding to the errors, but it's getting those errors under control.

CO: The Liberals blame the Conservatives for creating the Phoenix pay system. The Conservatives blame the Liberals for rushing its implementation. Whose feet do you lay this at?

MF: So, actually, what we have is we have two different audits underway, right? And this one that we released today was about what has the department primarily of public services and procurement Canada, but sort of I guess globally what has the government been doing since the Phoenix system was implemented? What have they been doing to try and resolve the problems? We’re underway on another audit that we will report in the spring, which we'll look at how was that all managed and how was that decision made to actually put the system in place? But you know right now, I think that all of the attention needs to be placed on how do we fix the problems? And I think that is the more important concern right now, rather than trying to sort of look back into history right now and say you know what decision should not have been made? We will look at the process for getting to the decision to put the system in place. That wasn't the focus of this audit. That's to come. Right now, what's important is putting all of the attention on how do we fix the problems?

CO: We'll leave it there. Mr. Ferguson, thank you.

MF: Thank you very much.

Michael Ferguson is Canada's Auditor General. We reached him in Ottawa.

[Music: Country]

From Our Archives: Nigeria bobsled

JD: It's a country where the average yearly temperature is 25 degrees Celsius. So it came as a surprise — an impressive surprise — but a surprise none-the-less that Nigeria's women's bobsled team has managed to qualify for the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang — the first African team ever to qualify for the event. The team is made up mainly of Nigerians who live in, or grew up in, colder climates. The team's driver is Seun Adigun. We spoke with ms in December of last year when she was ramping up her training. Here is part of that interview, from our archives.

SOUNDCLIP

SA: I knew several people who had transitioned from track over to the winter sports and bobsled. So I just started looking into it and I looked and I said you know I think I can try this.

CO: Now you — unlike most Nigerians — you are very familiar with cold and snow because you were born in Chicago, is that right?

SA: That is correct. I was born in Chicago.

CO: And how have you come to be part of Nigerian sport?

SA: So both of my parents are born raised Nigerian. And because of that, I am also a dual citizen of Nigeria. So I went back and forth to Nigeria as a kid a couple of times, and basically grew up in Nigerian culture. And so, although born in America and representing what it means to be an American, I still am also in every bit of the word a Nigerian and representing that as well.

CO: Now as you know your team is compared has been compared to that wonderful Jamaican bobsled team that competed in Calgary. There's a movie “Cool Runnings” made about them. Were they an inspiration to you and the team?

SA: Loved the movie! Can still quote it to this day, and the comparison to be honest, we're seeing it as an honour. Because if we can still talk about something that they did so powerful 30 years ago and it really be just as relevant today as it was the day that it happened. That's what I, and the rest of the ladies, I mean we are considering as a legacy.

JD: From last December, that was the driver for Nigeria's women's Olympic bobsled team, Seun Adigun. Last week, the team qualified for the 2018 Winter games.

[Music: Synth pop]

Kijiiji ad

JD: "Divorce, man. September of last year. The leaves were starting to turn as we drove home from a friend's wedding in Cape Breton in relative silence. Almost nine years together — most of them good — but we both knew we were growing apart.” That sounds like the voiceover from a made-for-TV movie starring that dude from “Dawson’s Creek”. But actually, it’s the beginning of a Kijiji ad selling a limited-edition Gibson guitar. The seller, Adam Kierstead, and his girlfriend of nine years, broke up. He bought the axe to cheer him up. It didn't work. So one year later, Mr. Kierstead decided it was time to part with his guitar. He went on to write an 800-word ad detailing the pain of watching his ex thrive after the breakup, the embarrassment he felt while continuing to live in her storage room, and his general state of misery. The ad has racked up over 4,000 views since it was posted two days ago. Here’s what Adam Kierstead told CBC Saint John’s reporter Julia Wright yesterday.

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ADAM KERSTEAD: I don't want to say that I am embellished in the ad because I really didn’t. It was a very literal retelling in most ways. But I mean it was it was a totally mutual thing. Just you know grew apart sort of thing. We’re absolutely still friends. We talk regularly. So it's not like there's any bad blood. Obviously, she gave me her blessing to do all this.

JULIA WRIGHT: Excellent. So you describe buying this guitar as sort of like as you phrase it: an opportunity for in-character wanton recklessness. Because like I know you're not a drinker, you're not like a kind of guy who would do stupid things like that you know so tell me about that moment where you decided to buy this guitar?

AK: Well, I don't know. I mean whenever you have a big life change there's kind of an impulse to do something impulsive, right? So I guess I was kind of feeling that, and feeling a little adrift. So this seemed like something that I could do that was far enough outside of my norm, but still within the realm of OK, Adam has completely lost his mind — that I could do it and have a little bit of fun.

JW: Did you think for a moment you might embody the spirit of this guitar, and like you might become the Slayer guy with your anger and emotions you could be a new person that would have this guitar?

AK: Maybe there was a shred of hope there. But I mean I know who I am. I've never changed, and I never will.

JD: That was Adam Kierstead, speaking with CBC Saint John’s Julia Wright yesterday. Mr. Kierstead is currently selling his guitar for 900 dollars. But he`s willing to trade for something more practical: like a full-size, ventless dryer.

[Music: Piano]

Free beer game

Guest: Scott Bell

JD: The Green Bay Packers lost badly on Sunday. For the first time in eleven years, the team failed to score a single point in the entire game against the Baltimore Ravens. But for patrons watching the game at the Bavarian Bierhaus, there was an upside to the lopsided loss: free beer, and a lot of it. Scott Bell is the bar's general manager. We reached him in Glendale, Wisconsin.

CO: Scott, first of all, just explain how this promotion works when you're showing Green Bay Packers games?

SCOTT BELL: The Packers promotion began last season actually, and continued this season. And what happens is people come to the beer house to watch the Packer game. And at kickoff, we start serving free beer to anybody who would like it in a cup I would say; it's not a stein at this time. But they come in, they get in line, we serve the first initial free beers and historically, we've been done serving free beer by the middle of the first quarter. Sunday's game didn't work out that way.

CO: All right. So how long were you serving free beer at Sunday's game?

SB: From kickoff to the final whistle, so about three-hours-and-20 minutes or so.

CO: Yikes!

SB: It was fun.

CO: So that might have been your problem then.

SB: Well, the two games before this were fantastic. It was the middle of first quarter and things were scored. And, like I say, Sunday's game wasn't that terrible for us either. We really enjoyed the opportunity to bring the community together and have a fantastic time, even though the Packers did lose.

CO: Now, there's a Packers game on Sunday again. They're playing the Steelers, so what are you going to?

SB: We're going to have a whole lot of beer available just in case the same thing repeats itself. But I'm confident that we’ll have maybe addressed a couple of things, and put some points on the board this week. That's my goal. And maybe even a victory, who knows?

CO: And what's that confidence based on?

SB: Gut feeling. Maybe wishful thinking? All those things are potentially possible, aren’t they?

CO: But isn't it true though that the Pittsburgh Steelers actually have better defense than the Ravens do? So they played the Ravens last Sunday. They're up against a more formidable team, are they not?

SB: That could be the case, but I have also known the Packers or followed them long enough to know that as the Packers tend to rise to the occasion. Sometimes we don't play our best against the worst teams, and we play our best against the better teams. I'm hoping that should happen. But if it doesn't, we'll be ready to do what we promised.

CO: And so you have to at least in somewhere in your company plans see that you're going to be handing out cups of free beer for the whole game.

SB: That is what I'm preparing for, yes.

CO: All right. Scott, we'll be watching. Thank you.

SB: Thanks very much, Carol.

CO: Bye bye.

SB: Bye bye.

JD: Scott Bell manages the Bavarian Bierhaus in Glendale, Wisconsin. That's where we reached him. And if you'd like to see some pictures of patrons enjoying their free beer, or hear this story again, go to our website: www.cbc.ca/aih.

[Music: Ambient]

Mel Tillis obit

JD: Mel Tillis once wrote, quote, "Yes, I've made a lot of money talking this way," but I didn't ask to be called the singer who stutters...I like to think that I have some God-given talent, too." And he did. Starting in the mid-fifties, Mr. Tillis became a sought-after songwriter in Nashville. Around the same time, he played rhythm guitar in Minnie Pearl's band. As you might infer from those behind-the-scenes roles, he was reluctant to step into the spotlight himself — largely because of his stutter. But Ms. Pearl was firm with him. Mel Tillis told the story on the StutterTalk podcast, with hosts Peter Reitzes and Eric Jackson.

SOUNDCLIP

PETER REITZES: We've read that you got some encouragement and help from the great Minnie Pearl.

MEL TILLIS: When I went to Nashville, I had some songs. But also, I needed some income coming in. So I hired on. I heard that Minnie Pearl was hiring a guitar player and singer, so I applied for the job and got it. And she realized that me and Roger Miller was her band. Yeah and he played the fiddle. Anyway, he did my talking for me on stage. He’d introduce me and introduce my song. Minnie Pearl noticed that, and one night after a performance, she said Melvin, she called me Melvin, if you're going to be in our business, you need to introduce your song. Afterward, you can think them. I said Oh, Ms. Minnie, I can't do that. I said they’ll laugh at me. And she said no, they’ll not laugh at you; they'll laugh with you. And from that day on, I started talking onstage best I could, and telling little anecdotes and stories here and there. And the next thing I knew, I was on my way.

JD: Mel Tillis, speaking with Peter Reitzes and Eric Jackson on the podcast "StutterTalk". Mel Tillis died on Sunday. He was 85-years-old. As a songwriter, he didn't reinvent the wagon wheel. But he did have a gift for clever wordplay and melody. And despite his amusing performances, he also had a gift for breaking hearts: he co-wrote the lovelorn "So Wrong" for Patsy Cline, and the sad, yearning "Detroit City" for Bobby Bare. And best, or worst, of all, he wrote "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town" — a crushing song about a paralyzed veteran whose wife is at least seriously considering an affair. Once he got comfortable, his stutter became his trademark. He used it to comic effect in movies like "The Cannonball Run" and "Smokey and the Bandit II". He called his autobiography — and his tour bus —"Stutterin' Boy". And he did what he could to raise awareness of stuttering. Even if, as he said in an interview five years ago, quote: "On the stage, I don't stutter like I used to. I'm in charge; I'm the king up there." Unquote.

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