ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – Move summary to top and throw away the report

Joe Clark back when he used to write reports. (Image: ucobserver)

A column by Kamloops News editor Mel Rothenburger published May 21, 1985.

I WAS ACCUSED in a letter to the editor the other day of writing an editorial based on ignorance.

A woman named Kathy Larue Frazer came into the office and asked me if I had a copy of the Catholic bishops’ report in which the bishops blasted the department store industry for exploiting its workers.

No, I hadn’t, I said. I had read wire service stories on it, I said. A couple of days later I got the letter from a fellow named John C. Frazer, saying I was writing editorials on things I hadn’t even read.

You want me to read reports? Okay, how about “Competitiveness and Security Directions for Canada’s International Relations, Presented by the Right Honourable Joe Clark, Secretary of State for External Affairs.”?

This report, although it has a gray cover, is called a “green” paper on directions for Canada’s international relations.

Lessee. The Foreword says that “this paper has been prepared as an aid to the public review which parliament is about to begin on the future directions of Canada’s international relations.”

That’s what Joe says.

Okay. Under “National Attributes” we learn what kind of a country we live in.

“We are a country of distinct regions,” it says. True. Who from Sahali doesn’t have trouble understanding why Barnhart Valians are as they are?

“We are at once North American and not American.” This might be argued.

“We are an Atlantic nation.” I knew that already.

“We are a Pacific national as well.” The hell you say.

Finally, we are an Arctic nation.” Any American can tell you that.

“No other country has our particular set of national attributes.” Mr. Rogers would love that one.

“We have been an extraordinarily fortunate people. For most of our history we have lived at a safe distance from a turbulent world. We have known prosperity and peace, while others have often lived in hunger or fear… Times have changed.”

Have they ever.

If we flip to page 29, that suspicion is confirmed. “The world is changed and so is Canada, it says.

The report is loaded with fascinating bits of information. For example, “Canada strongly supports a just and comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute based on Security Council resolution 242….”

And “From 1970 to 1982 total industrialized country exports to developing countries rose from (U.S.) $42 billion to (U.S.) $291.6 billion, while, over the same period, developing country exports to the industrialized world rose from (U.S.) $404 billion to (U.S.) $322.6 billion.

If that isn’t as incredibly exciting to you as it is to me  — and, probably, Kathy and John LaRue Fraser — you might try a tactic common to reporters and even to intelligent people.

In every report there is something called a “summary.” In that summary, usually a page or two long, dozens and even hundreds of pages of graphs, statistics and pollical phony-baloney are turned into English.

In other words, the write of the report finally gets down to the point. I’ve always thought that summaries should be put at the beginning of reports, and the rest of the reports deleted, but for some reason, nobody wants to do this.

So, Joe’s case the summary is on page 43 between the French and English versions. The summaries of all that stuff on the previous 42 pages is three paragraphs long.

In the main, it says, “the messages are clear. Our economic interests require us to be competitive: we must trade if we are to prosper. Our security interests demand that we play our part in western defense and in arms control and disarmament. Our values dictate that we help the poor, the hungry and the politically abused. At the same time, reality establishes the limits, including the financial limits, of our ability to act.”

If I were writing a news story about this “green” paper, it would have gone something like this: “Canada can no longer take its prosperity and international security for granted but must instead review foreign policy to improve its economic competitiveness and influence in world events, says a discussion paper released Tuesday by External Affairs Minister Joe Clark.”

By strict coincidence, that’s exactly what Canadian Press reporter Leslie Shepherd wrote in a story on page 2 of The News last week. Obviously, Leslie knows how to read a report — go right to the summary.

If I was going to write an opinion on Joe Clark’s green paper, I would say something about how it really should have been called a gray paper, because it doesn’t say much. Unfortunately, others have already done that. They read Leslie Shepherd’s story.

If you think you are more informed after reading this column, about “Competitiveness and Security,” good for you. You are welcome to make use of it during cocktails.

If somebody says to you whilst sipping his Gala Keg White from a plastic cup, “What do you think of Joe Clark’s green paper on international relations?” you can say, “Obviously, it raises more questions than it answers. All in all, though, I think the main point — that Canada as a nation of the’80s can no longer take its prosperity and international security for granted, but must instead become more economically competitive and influential in world affairs — is valid.”

If, however, you really want to get into the guts of the report so that you can feel absolutely confident in stating an opinion on it, you can have my copy.

About Mel Rothenburger (9358 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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