By Phil Vorvis
Major-General Lewis Mackenzie (retired) convocated on Thursday with an honourary Doctor of Laws from the University of Calgary. Mackenzie was a career officer with the Canadian Forces who is recognized internationally for leading peacekeeping missions in the Balkans. The following is an excerpt from his conversation with Gauntlet reporter Phil Vorvis while on foot to the ceremony.
Gauntlet: How do you feel about getting an honourary degree?
Mackenzie: This one [is] extra special. My other honourary degrees from St. Francis Xavier, St. Mary’s and Acadia are all in my home province of Nova Scotia. It’s nice to come to my second home. I was commissioned as an officer during my career here in Calgary in September of 1960 and came back in 1971. I commanded the military Battalion here in Calgary, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, from ’77-’79, so I have a very warm spot for Calgary.
G: What university did you go to?
M: I left half way through university because I was qualified as an officer and then went back a little later in my life and got my degree from the University of Manitoba. I started my university education at St. Francis Xavier.
G: What do you think the future is for the Canadian Forces in peacekeeping?
M: Well, it should be good, however, I wish I could be that optimistic. The problem is that successive governments have somewhat emasculated the military and paradoxically, now that we have more demand for our services than any other time in our history, we have less of an ability to respond to those requests–primarily because we’ve reduced the numbers to an unbelievably low level.
I’m an honourary chief of the Toronto police force and we have more police in the city of Toronto than we have infanteers in the Canadian army from private to general–just to give you an idea of the numbers.
G: As a conservative would you plan on running as an MP again?
M: I’m not a conservative. I’m non-partisan, but it’s only natural that you would use that term because I did run in the last campaign. But I ran for national unity, and that was my primary reason [for why] I spent 60 per cent of my time going from Victoria to Sydney for Mr. Charest, who I thought had done a good job in the last referendum.
I’m not cut out for politics. I really respect the fact that this country is probably the only country in the world where you can blind-fold voters on election day and you wouldn’t notice any difference in the team [elected].
G: Is there any single defining moment in your career that has gained you the respect you have internationally?
M: It’s the fluke of having the media around while we’re doing our work. All kinds of people do good work in uniform under pressure, including all our soldiers from private to general. Rarely does one have the occasion where you’re doing it while being filmed 24 hours a day by the international media. It was just a fluke that I happened to be there when the media was there and the war was on. If one of my soldiers had screwed up, I wouldn’t be here today receiving an honourary degree. My profile is directly proportional to what my soldiers did to make me look good, and that’s not being condescending.
G: What keeps you busy these days?
M: I’m on the lecture circuit–a lot in the United States–talking about international peace and security. I do a lot of leadership presentations in Canada; I have a couple of agents who keep me busy.
I have three major charities: The Canadian Federation of AIDS Research, Special Olympics and The Parkinson’s Society. I also race cars every second weekend.