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tabatha southey

Is it too much to ask that Peter Mansbridge follow me around every day periodically saying, "This is what we know for certain right now …"?

Then, I'd like him to just go over the verified facts: "You have a bowl of that good Scottish oatmeal close to ready but your milk has gone off," he might say. "This has been confirmed by the yogurt-like film that's formed on the top of your cup of tea."

There'd be no agenda-ridden speculation about who might have failed by leaving the fridge open, thus causing the spoilage. Mr. Mansbridge would not opine on how that oversight, perhaps cast as malfeasance by a loud partisan pundit brought into my kitchen, might affect the culprit's chances in an upcoming election.

There'd be no alarming conjecture about the condition of the soft cheeses in my refrigerator. Not at least while the oatmeal was reaching its thick-bubble boil stage and we had a situation on our hands.

My ideal, after the terrible events of this past Wednesday, is that Mr. Mansbridge just come along with me through my week, reporting on events as they happen, saying through much of it that things are "tense and unclear" before listing off the knowns and then detailing how it is they came to be known.

Together, Mr. Mansbridge and I would, as he'd say from time to time, "await further developments."

Is that too much for me to ask?

That's pretty much the service Mr. Mansbridge performed on Wednesday during the terrible shooting in Ottawa. He performed it for the nation on CBC television, of course, but it was noticed around the world, where it was written up by several media outlets in a tone of wonder generally used only when describing a Canadian who has done something on figure skates.

Outsiders, mostly accustomed to U.S. television news, were impressed that no one at the CBC coined a catchy name for the presence of what turned out, after agonizing hours, to be a lone gunman on Parliament Hill. It was noted with surprise that no snazzy graphic rolled in and out of view as a part of an effort to brand the event.

The lack of a dramatic music score suggesting through its tone that – on top of everything else the country was going through – Jaws might be about to attack was gaped at internationally as if it were several straight hours of triple axels.

No Web or text-message polls were conducted on CBC television while our nation's capital was still under lockdown. It was as if the network assumed the nation's affairs were intrinsically of interest to the nation.

I was struck while following the story by how personally fond many Canadians clearly are of the Hill itself. Those buildings on that much-used lawn do feel a bit like a community centre – almost as if anyone could just go into the Library of Parliament and take out a book. I never imagined such a thought would cross my mind, but watching Wednesday's tragedy unfold and knowing what it could mean for the openness of that place, I'm sure I wasn't the only Canadian to think, without irony, "Oh, Ottawa, don't ever change."

As if to make that thought slightly less ridiculous, politicians of all parties behaved with grace in the immediate aftermath of the tragic death of a man who served his country, Corporal Nathan Cirillo.

Was the coverage flawless? Of course not. As is inevitable during such an event, some errors were made. Was it only the CBC that rose to the occasion? Not at all. Journalists from many news outlets, many of them stuck in lockdown themselves, reported the story as it unfolded, some at personal risk, mostly without hysteria or conjecture.

However, it was the CBC, our public broadcaster, that set and maintained the tone, and set it so well, that I think many other Canadians now also want Peter Mansbridge's voice narrating their crises, or at least as a ring tone. "This is what we know for certain right now …"

So when I think of things changing, about losing subtle aspects, unquantifiable perks of life in Canada that we may take for granted, like the Frisbees that fly on the lawn of our Parliament, I think a bit of the immeasurable benefits of a credible national broadcaster.

I hope it can be arranged that, in the words of Peter Mansbridge this past Wednesday, the CBC can always "continue to be on the lookout … until somebody blows the all-clear" – that they will indeed "continue to stay on top of it and watch as the events unfold."

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