I like Don Cherry. In Kingston, where I work at Queen’s University, it puts me in the vast majority, for Cherry was born and raised here. On nearby Wolfe Island, where I live, he is even more popular, as his summer cottage is there.
I specify that because my National Post colleague Chris Selley told us on Tuesday’s front page that he doesn’t like Don Cherry. That was to give added credibility to his expert analysis on the fiasco of the Royal Military College (RMC) honorary degree for Don Cherry. Like millions of other Canadians, I am among those who make his six minutes on Saturday night the most watched thing on CBC.
As those who watch Coach’s Corner know, Cherry is the highest profile advocate of the Canadian Forces in the land. His patriotism is straightforward and his love of our fighting forces is sincere and sustained. Accordingly, the senate of RMC decided to award him an honorary doctorate this month. A French teacher in the RMC language centre objected, writing an open letter to our local paper to the effect that Cherry was an all-purpose bigot. Selley demolished those charges on Tuesday’s front page. More important, the RMC faculty board passed a motion expressing its “dissatisfaction” with the honorary degree. Not wanting to cause controversy at the convocation, Cherry declined to attend. RMC expressed its disappointment and reiterated the offer.
All of which is a great shame. More intensely than in other parts of Canada, Cherry’s appearances in Kingston are celebratory occasions, and Cherry at RMC – where his mother worked in his youth – would have been a particularly proud day for Kingston.
Cherry’s gentlemanly desire is to say nothing more about it, and RMC, too, wants to move on after fouling up the awarding of an honour. Yet one cannot just pass over the fact that the officertraining college for Canada’s Armed Forces treated shabbily their most ardent public supporter.
The principal of RMC, Dr. Joel Sokolsky, issued an anodyne statement of disappointment, but has said nothing publicly about one of his instructors, Catherine Lord, the French teacher who wrote that Cherry has “publicly expressed his contempt for many groups of the Canadian population, notably for the Frenchspeaking Canadians, for the LGBT community and for the immigrants.” When a member of the faculty publicly defames Canada’s most-watched television personality, it would behoove Dr. Sokolsky to correct the record and explain the consequences of reckless slander at an institution where character formation is central and which boasts the motto: “Truth, Duty, Valour.” The truth was not told, and Dr. Sokolsky’s hiding behind press releases is hardly valorous.
One teacher is not the principal villain here. The fault lies with RMC’s leadership for not rallying with a fighting spirit to defend its decision. One hopes that RMC has sufficient battlefield courage to see off the fabrications of a lowly French teacher. It was likely the motion of the faculty board, comprising all the professors and chaired by the principal, which cowed the administration. That poses a rather more disturbing question. Does the faculty board motion accurately express the professoriate at RMC? If so, our future officers are being trained by those significantly out of step with the Canadian people and the rank-and-file members of the armed forces.
It may be that the motion was passed by the perpetually disgruntled at a sleepy meeting that only a few professors attended. But RMC is being evasive about the whole matter, with its public-affairs office unwilling to say what the motion actually was, how many were present at the meeting, whether the principal was present or not, and what the actual vote was. No doubt Dr. Sokolsky is embarrassed by the faculty motion, but he needs to explain more fully what actually happened, if only to assure his own cadets that they are not being taught by people far outside the mainstream of Canadian society.
In a delightful new book by Paul Henderson and Jim Prime, How Hockey Explains Canada (foreword by Stephen Harper), the second chapter, after “How hockey explains confederation” is “How hockey explains Don Cherry.” They know his importance, but don’t ignore his critics. Howie Meeker, who was displaced from his commentary role at Hockey Night in Canada by Cherry, is quoted as referring to his successor as the “best clown act in the history of hockey.”
“I don’t want to hear his opinion on the military,” says Meeker. Fine for the man who lost his job to Grapes. Shameful for the professors at RMC.