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Mansbridge reflects on what it means to be Canadian

CBC new anchor has spent his career trying to answer that question

It wasn't until he opened the floor to questions after a speech at Canada Olympic House that Peter Mansbridge - anchor for The National on CBC - got to answer the question that was on everyone's mind: how was CTV doing as the host broadcaster of the Winter Games.

"I think they paid too much, but they got it and good for them," said Mansbridge, speaking at Canada-Whistler House last week during an event designed to showcase economic opportunities in Squamish and Pemberton. "I think they've done pretty well.

"It's been a challenge for us to find different ways to cover (the Games) which is why we're broadcasting from Whistler for the sixth night... and we've tried to tell stories from both (Vancouver and Whistler) because of the impact of The Games on the region."

That settled the question for the moment, but the issue came up once again when none other than senator and ski legend Nancy Greene Raine asked Mansbridge if he had an opinion on two applications for television stations currently being weighed by the CRTC. One is a station that would broadcast amateur sports, like World Cup ski racing, and another is a CBC sports channel. Greene wanted to know if CBC sports would commit to showing the same amateur sporting events.

While he acknowledged that the application was outside his jurisdiction, Mansbridge said the CBC has covered amateur sports in the past.

"I'll say this; one reason we were shocked and surprised we lost the rights to the Games is that we've paid back so much coverage... back into amateur sports. We thought the IOC would consider that in the process and not just how much money we slapped down.

"That said, you always have to have a mix, you have to get the revenues and if that means showing some pro sports then that's what it takes."

CTV paid roughly $90 million U.S. to the IOC for the television rights to broadcast the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, plus another $63 million U.S. to broadcast the 2012 Summer Games in London. CBC bid an estimated $95 million U.S. for both.

Mansbridge kicked off his speech with a story about a police officer who pulled him over for speeding and recognized him as a member of the same Scout pack in Ottawa, rather than as the host the CBC's national news show.

He followed up with another funny story about his experiences as the first international reporter to sit down one-on-one with newly elected U.S. President Barack Obama. While the interview was planned down to the last second (because the president was due in Phoenix within a few hours to sign the stimulus package), Obama came back into the room after the interview to introduce a Canadian member of his staff to Mansbridge.

Mansbridge used most of his time to discuss what it means to be a Canadian, something that eludes any kind of definition. And so he did what he does best, telling recent stories that he believes sum up the Canadian identity.

The first story took place in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami that killed over 200,000 people. Mansbridge was broadcasting outside of a village that had been destroyed when his camera crew was approached my local children. A girl saw the Canada flag pin on Mansbridge's vest and said "Canada good." Mansbridge wanted to know why she said that, and through an interpreter discovered that three Canadian nurses from Vancouver were inoculating villagers nearby. They were not in Sri Lanka with any of the aid organizations working there but had spent their own money and taken leave from work to travel to Sri Lanka to help out.

The next story involved the 60 th anniversary of the liberation of The Netherlands from the Nazi's in WWII, an operation that was led by Canadian troops.

"There were 250,000 people lining the streets of this town, 10 to 15 deep, cheering and waving Canadian flags for these veterans that were marching through the streets of Lapthorne," Mansbridge recalled. "We forget that Canadians were a force in liberating the Netherlands, but over there they don't forget, they never forget."

Mansbridge asked a woman with a little boy on her shoulders why they were their. She answered: "Because I want him to know what a Canadian is."

"All my professional career I've been trying to answer that question, what a Canadian is. All these constitutional crises, the Mulroney years with Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord, the Quebec referendum... and nobody had the answer. But this woman knew, and she wanted to teach her son.

"These young guys sacrificed, sometimes everything - you can walk through cemeteries there with thousands of our soldiers, and they don't forget."

The final story was about one of his trips to Afghanistan, where he met a woman who was born in Afghanistan but fled to Canada with her family. She grew up in Montreal and had a career in computer science. But she made the decision to travel back to Afghanistan to let the women know what their rights were under the new, post-Taliban regime - risking her life in the process.

"She's still there," said Mansbridge.

Mansbridge also counseled Vancouver and Whistler to be patient about their Olympic legacies, stopping by Calgary on the way to cover the 2010 Games to see how the Games impacted that city. "It takes a little while, but the payoff comes," he said. "The Games did it for Calgary, and you can bet that they will here."