Those who didn't vote for Tommy Douglas to win the CBC's two-month-long contest, The Greatest Canadian, can take heart. The idea for the semi-serious, flag-waving series wasn't even Canadian in the first place.
Based on the BBC's Great Britons, the CBC version nevertheless managed to attract enough media interest and relatively strong ratings to spark a debate that culminated last night in Mr. Douglas, popularly known as the father of medicare, being named the greatest figure in the country from among the 1.1-million votes cast by viewers.
Among the other top 10 finalists, Terry Fox came in second and Pierre Trudeau took third place. Rounding out the list were Sir Frederick Banting who discovered insulin; environmentalist David Suzuki; Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson; hockey commentator Don Cherry; Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister; Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; and hockey great Wayne Gretzky.
|The final standings in CBC-TV's The Greatest Canadian contest:|
|4||Sir Frederick Banting|
|8||Sir John A. Macdonald|
|9||Alexander Graham Bell|
Like any campaign, grassroots organization seemed to be key. For weeks, Internet forums and blogs were full of commentaries on the top 10 finalists or whether Canada really needed a contest like this at all. Even the two veteran CBC producers in charge of the series, Mark Starowicz and Susan Dando, weren't immediately sold on the idea when the CBC programming director first brought it to them.
But the producers came around, as did viewers - and even a few organizations that wound up endorsing certain candidates and possibly swaying the vote a little.
The David Suzuki Foundation, not surprisingly, had a modest link on its website to the CBC's site to get people to vote for the environmentalist. The Canadian Diabetes Association did the same for Banting.
But perhaps more visible was the federal New Democratic Party's backing of Tommy Douglas with a link to the CBC's Greatest Canadian voting site straight from the NDP's homepage.
And at the Canadian Auto Workers union, e-mail messages have also been circulating telling people to vote for Mr. Douglas. (Viewers could vote either on-line, by phone or by text message.) The CAW didn't officially endorse Mr. Douglas, although some individual members had been encouraging other members to vote for him.
"Certainly there have been a lot of members and staff people who have been spreading those e-mails around," said Jim Paré, the union's spokesman. "It's natural that they would. Of all of the folks there [among the top 10] Tommy Douglas was the person who brought in medicare, which is something cherished by all of us."
But the e-mails weren't "at the CAW's urging," Mr. Paré added.
The CBC, meanwhile, provided as many tools as it could to get viewers to campaign on their own. Posters and graphics for buttons for each contestant could be downloaded for free from the CBC website, and in the final weeks of the series, some of those posters could be seen on telephone poles near the CBC's downtown Toronto studios.
CBC publicist Kathleen Powderley insisted the CBC didn't hang the posters, but that it was part of the individual fervour that lead the mayor of Kingston, Ont., for instance, to vote for Macdonald or the city of London to support Banting.
Meanwhile, for those simply interested in having friends come over to watch an episode, the CBC even choose to include recipes on its Greatest Canadian site. Greatest Canadian Bacon Bite, anyone?
The public broadcaster would no doubt have been happy to see the contest go on much longer. Each episode averaged 500,000 to 700,000 viewers, which is relatively strong for the CBC. Charlotte Gray's hour-long pitch for an obvious pick, Macdonald, may have drawn in only around 438,000 viewers. But Mary Walsh's episode on Banting attracted 630,000 viewers, and George Stroumboulopoulos's show on Mr. Douglas brought in 698,000.
Ratings aside, what Mr. Douglas's designation as the greatest Canadian means now that the series is over is debatable. As Brett (the Hitman) Hart, the celebrity advocate for Mr. Cherry, argued on Sunday's broadcast, a vote for the hockey commentator would have meant a vote for even more debate - which was really the whole point of this exercise.