On a Wing and a Prayer
and Who Is Michelle Monette?
The following, which is based on actual events, is not meant to ridicule American management style. I am sure it is an aberration and not a reflection of the management practices of well-run American corporations.
There was once a very religious man who was president of Canada's national airline, Air Canada. You would never have known about his religious beliefs if you met him at his place of work. While he may have been a very Christian man, he was also a very competent manager. He didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve, nor did he let his faith interfere with his work.
Claude Taylor, your typical, quiet, competent Canadian professional, "made Air Canada into a world leader in air transportation."
One day, while crossing a street in Montréal, Claude was hit by a bus. Still recuperating from his injuries, he attended a Christian fundamentalist conference in one of the Carolinas where he met with the Chairman, President and CEO of Continental Airlines, Hollis Harris ("Holy Harry" to his friends and detractors), and persuaded him to take the helm of Air Canada.
A few weeks before Holy Harry officially took over, Air Canada and its partners invested $450 million in Continental, allowing the airline to emerge from its second bankruptcy.
Senior management meetings, under the new leadership took on a distinctively religious tone. In times of crisis, Holy Harry would lead his vice-presidents in prayer, asking the Almighty for guidance or His personal intervention. In the boardroom, on a large expanse of bare carpet reserved for such occasions, all would get down on their knees. Arms raised toward heaven and heads bowed, they prayed to God, asking for His help in running the airline.
The Almighty, even in the face of all this devotion, would not intervene. Perhaps more vice-presidents on their knees begging for His intervention would do the trick? Yet still, the Lord refused to take part in Air Canada’s business.
Perhaps God was not interested because he would have to deal with females, something that also made Holy Harry uncomfortable. Did the Bible not say that a woman’s place was in the home? Not taking any chances, Holy Harry told his Vice-President of Personnel that all women in senior positions at Air Canada must be banished forthwith, and there were thirteen of them.
Compassion was shown to those few who were close to retirement. These women could keep their job if they agreed not to engage their god-fearing leader and tried to stay out of sight. Others were given generous incentives to leave and admonished never to talk about their experience, lest they lose those magnanimous packages.
Still no God!
Maybe the Almighty's lack of interest in Air Canada’s affairs was because of the company’s past sins. It was whispered that a former chairman had accepted money from lobbyists for Airbus to favour their manufacturer's planes over Boeing. It’s possible the rumours were mere revenge on the part of disgruntled aircraft mechanics and aeronautical engineers who, unlike the decision-makers, did not see the inherent value of maintaining two fleets of airplanes from two separate companies on two different continents, and the cost and logistical nightmare of implementing such a decision.
To quash this ugly rumour, the help of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was sought. This once proud, competent police force, whose investigations—whether into bombings of aircrafts by Sikh terrorists, poisoning of the blood supply, corrupt politicians or war criminals—took so long that the perpetrators had as much chance of being judged by Saint Peter as by an earth-bound judge, was called into action.
After eight years the RCMP abandoned their investigation, leaving the question of identifying and punishing the sinners to a higher authority.
The airline eventually showed a profit. With no more women running Air Canada and a plethora of vice-presidents pleading on their knees, had God finally decided to surreptitiously join Holy Harry's management team, perhaps disguised as the Holy Spirit, and show them the way to profitability? Not really.
Perhaps tired of asking God to intervene and not knowing how to make a profit operating an airline without divine guidance—as attested by the bankruptcy of his previous company—Holy Harry, in the Enron tradition, turned to accounting. If you couldn’t show profits flying your planes, maybe selling them was the answer, in the short run anyway.
The short run was all that mattered if you were about to leave the running of the airline to another southern gentleman and wanted to claim that, when you left, under God and your leadership, Air Canada showed a substantial increase in revenue and the bankruptcy of that other airline was just an accident.
So it came to pass. Air Canada sold its planes and leased them back, exchanging short-term gain for long-term debt, and Holy Harry could return to southern climes with his head held high, handing over leadership to Robert Milton B.S., another Georgia Tech graduate.
Milton may not have feared God as much as he feared the competition, and while you can’t get rid of God, you can get rid of the competition. According to official media at the time, his predecessor was reportedly told by the government of the day to "eliminate Canadian Airlines," Air Canada's Canadian competitor.
No one from the government came forward to take credit for this extraordinary piece of advice; therefore, it may simply have been a self-serving excuse to proceed with the elimination of Canadian Airlines.
Robert Milton may not have understood that in Canada, this just wasn’t done. As a consequence of forcing Canadian Airlines out of business, Air Canada had to find jobs for its laid off employees, assume a large portion of the company’s debt and take over redundant assets.
This, in and of itself, should not have been fatal. In fact, it was a golden opportunity. Unfortunately, Robert Milton B.S. decided that the country was not big or mature enough to operate an international airline, something it had done quite well under the leadership of New Brunswick native Claude Taylor O.C., LL.D., F.C.M.A. Instead, Milton abandoned profitable international routes in favour of more flights to his native country, and he did this just before 9/11, when his compatriots developed a fear of flying.
Perhaps God was too busy saving airlines south of the border from going under to notice the now struggling airline in the land of the Northern Lights. The once proud company that flew Canada’s colours around the world went bankrupt. Nothing was left for the lowly shareholders, and little more for employees contemplating retirement. Loyal service to Air Canada got you ten cents on the dollar for your pension.
Bernard Payeur, May 2004.
Michelle Monette was the first woman put in charge of ground operations for an international carrier and member of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), in this instance Air Canada’s combined operations at Mirabel and Dorval.
Michelle had worked her way up the ranks at Air Canada and was well on her way to being named the airline’s first female president (it would again have been a Canadian and world first) when Harris and his gang took over and made sure that would never happen. It was from her that I learned about the takeover of Air Canada by American evangelicals.
We also talked about the Airbus affair. Who was bribed, you ask? It was not Mulroney. I find that easy to believe, having been an innocent party in a serious attempt to bribe the then Prime Minister—the guy with the briefcase full of cash was sent packing back to Greece that same day. She pointed out that when you want to sell planes to an airline, you bribe the boss. I know Michelle to be a straight shooter. Could she have been mistaken when she said to me that "everybody at Air Canada knows it was Yves Pratte except the RCMP."
Yves Pratte was chairman of Air Canada fifteen years before the airline took delivery of the first airbus. He left the airline under a cloud after being accused of "making side deals with travel agencies" (Pratte-à-porter, Canadian Lawyer, July 4, 2008). Could Michelle have mistaken that indiscretion with the greater indiscretion of accepting bribes from Airbus (unless Pratte was their inside man even after leaving Air Canada).
In an attempt to rehabilitate his reputation, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau made the disgraced former chairman a Supreme Court judge. It didn't last. As fate would have it, I appeared before Yves Pratte's brother, Louis Pratte, who was one of three Federal Court Judges who heard my appeal as a self-litigant of my dismissal from the then Department of Foreign Affairs on bogus accusations of insubordination.
An interesting tidbit Michelle revealed about her time at Air Canada was that, by prior arrangement, the airline flew Prince Philip incognito to visit with a mistress in Montréal. Those arrangements included ground transportation to a luxurious condo building on Sherbrooke Street where she lived.
That is my sadly missed wife Lucette on the left and Michelle on the right in a picture taken shortly after her leaving Air Canada. They met in kindergarten.
Michelle would move to Toulouse, France to consult for Airbus Industries. I had not heard from her in over fifteen years when I looked her up to share the news that her life-long friend had passed away, but could not find her whereabouts. She was a year older and a smoker, so maybe she is with Lucette right now.
While in Toulouse, Michelle met a Jewish gentleman. She broke off communications, which, like everything I did impacted my Lucette, who agreed with what I wrote on my website about the short-sightedness of the Canadian Jewish Congress in its stanch support of exceptions in law on religious grounds. Michelle was not of that opinion based on, I suppose, a newfound understanding of what it means to be Jewish.
Life is strange.
In the weeks leading to up my Lucette’s passing we talked about what I was going to do after she was gone. I said I would like to use part of her legacy to create audio books. She suggested I start with Shooting the Messenger. That surprised me. After we lost our home there didn’t seem much point in pursuing the matter.
Our home for more than 35 years:
Two months before she died, our nearly century-old house my wife hoped would be her shelter when she took her last breath was destroyed because a government would not return moneys unjustly withheld so many years ago.
There are some wounds and pains in life that you do not reveal and which gnaw in solitude at the soul and diminish it.
Sadegh Hedayat, The Blind Owl
But for her, it was not about the money that would have allowed to her to die among her things in the house she had made a home, it was about justice. It is as if my firing caused her more unforgivable grief than it did me.
Who is Michelle Monette? you may consider part of my continued pursuit of justice on my Lucette’s behalf; as will an audio version of Shooting the Messenger as soon as Love, Sex and Islam is complete, sometime this summer.
Bernard Payeur June 19, 2020