Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Marking 50 years on the legislature floor

George MacMinn photographed by Deddeda White.
With renewed attention being paid to the position of the clerk of the B.C. Legislature, here's a profile of George MacMinn, who spent a half-century in the post. 

By Tom Hawthorn
The Globe and Mail
June 4, 2008

George MacMinn's office contains one of only two working fireplaces in the capital's historic parliament building.
His desk has a plaque marking it as once having been used by the Queen.
Such perks are the reward for someone whose workday includes interminable hours at a table on the red-carpeted floor of the legislature.
He is the clerk of the British Columbia Legislature. For 50 years, Mr. MacMinn has been surrounded by politicians, his ears buffeted by the warm blast of rhetoric.
No table officer anywhere in the vast Commonwealth — from Antigua to Zambia — has enjoyed so long a tenure.
In the raucous chamber, in which sitting members square off like irate hockey players, the Speaker acts as referee, wearing a robe instead of a striped shirt. As clerk, Mr. MacMinn is the neutral and non-partisan keeper of the rule book. He is an expert in procedure, precedent and standing orders.
Some may think a half-century of listening to politicians to be cruel and unusual, but not Mr. MacMinn.
"It's a rather awesome experience sitting there in the middle of the action," he said. "Bullets flying back and forth. And none of them seem to hit me."
He's written what some parliamentarians describe as the bible. (No, not the Bible. He's not that old. He's only 78.) Mr. MacMinn is currently at work on the fourth revised edition of his Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia , which he hopes to get to the Queen's Printer later this year.
While not spellbinding reading, it does include a chapter with the promising title of "Offer of Money to Members; Bribery in Elections."
"Haven't had to consult that one," he said. "Yet."
He has served 15 Speakers, observed 10 premiers. His tenure has been such that he has seen sons follow fathers - the Gordon Gibsons, as well as Bill and W.A.C. Bennett - onto the floor.
He has had a front-row seat to some of the most dramatic events in the province's political history. He has felt the elder Mr. Bennett's dominating personality, heard Flyin' Phil Gaglardi in full rhetorical flight, witnessed a defiant Dave Barrett being carried out of the chamber.
He takes so seriously his role as a non-partisan officer that he has not cast a ballot in the 13 provincial elections since he joined the clerk's staff.
His hiring was an unexpected turn of events.
On a quiet day, the 27-year-old lawyer took a telephone call at his office. The voice on the other end wanted to know if he was available that day to meet the province's attorney-general.
"Just a minute, I'll check my calendar," Mr. MacMinn replied. The day's schedule was blank. He agreed to a 3 p.m. appointment.
Robert Bonner, a veteran who had been wounded during the war, was a powerful minister in the Bennett cabinet. The attorney-general had two questions.
"Are you closely aligned with any political party?" he asked.
"I must confess," Mr. MacMinn replied, "I haven't been too interested."
Mr. Bonner seemed pleased by the response.
His second question was succinct, though unexpected.
"Do you have a sense of humour?"
"I think so," Mr. MacMinn answered.
He was then dispatched to meet with a white-haired, craggy-looking fellow named Ned de Beck. The job interview with the clerk of the House was even briefer than the meeting with the attorney-general.
"Are you in any way related to Hope MacMinn?" he asked.
That was his mother.
"I play bridge with her," the clerk said. "You'll do fine."
His appointment was ratified by the House at its next sitting. His salary was a munificent $800. He has not left the table since.
He came to law only after realizing poor science marks did not herald a career in medicine.
He was born in 1930, on the cusp of the Depression, at New Glasgow, N.S., where his father was a bank manager. Earle George MacMinn had dreamed of being a doctor, passing on to his son both his name and his own thwarted ambition, if not necessarily his Conservative politics.
The family moved to Victoria when George was 13. Five years later, he was bird hunting with his father on a day when what seemed to be an inconsequential decision proved to be tragic.
The elder MacMinn slipped into a punt on a lake near Duncan to roust birds on the far shore. Unseen by his son, the boat tipped.
After spotting the overturned craft, as well as his father's hat, floating on the water, George ran for help. The RCMP were unable to find the body. On the following day, the lake froze over. His father's remains were recovered later.
He inherited from his father a love for tennis. Mr. MacMinn makes a biennial pilgrimage to Wimbledon. He has also transformed the expansive lawn between the sea and his Oak Bay house into what he calls Spoon Bay Centre Court. He thinks lawn tennis a subtle game and one easy on the knees of a septuagenarian whose backhand remains defiantly one-handed.
The province is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year, marking 150 years of modern history. The mighty MacMinn has sat dutifully in the legislature for one-third of all those years.

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