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Insight Canada1 ties one on in Newfoundland

May 25th, 2009

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“The Mayor’s tie is missing.”

It was the last thing I expected to hear.

But the tone of Lisa’s voice over the two-way radio from the lower car deck of Marine Atlantic’s MV Atlantic Vision ferry spelled trouble.

I had only slept a few hours during the eight-hour overnight crossing between North Sydney, Nova Scotia and Port-aux-Basques on the southwestern tip of Newfoundland, so processing this information and its consequences overwhelmed me for a minute. The fact that Lisa and I had changed hotel rooms and cities almost every day for the previous month didn’t help.

“It has to be there, Lisa. I saw it a couple of days ago in Fredericton.”

I tried to determine why anyone would steal a necktie from the back seat of Insight Canada 1, the first Honda Insight hybrid to be registered in Canada. It had to be somewhere, but since Lisa is about the best ‘find-it’ person in the world, I suspected that the Mayor’s tie really was MIA.

The tie had been given to us 30 days earlier, on April 21, at the Mile Zero marker of the Trans Canada Highway in Victoria, British Columbia by Dean Fortin, the Mayor of Victoria. He asked us to hand-deliver it to the Mayor of St John’s in Newfoundland.

Of course Mayor Fortin could have mailed the blue tie emblazoned with the crest of Victoria, but he figured it would be a symbolic keepsake for the Mayor of St. John’s, Newfoundland after having travelled across the country in the car whose mission was to check the ‘environmental pulse of Canadians’.

Lisa and I had approached Honda Canada with a launch plan for their all-new 2010 Insight Hybrid a few months earlier. New cars are usually presented to the automotive press corps by inviting 25 or 30 of them to a central location where the scribes are given the scoop on the new ride: its design highlights, marketing strategies and engineering features. Then they get behind the wheel to gain driving impressions, all fodder for reviews that help the average person determine what a new car or truck is all about.

Our proposal hinged on a plan to take the Insight to the hometowns of journalists who would relay the car on various legs as it wound its way across the country. We developed an 11,500-kilometre route across Canada and broke it into 25 legs that would be driven by 25 different journalists over a one-month period.

To make the drive more meaningful we incorporated stops at environmental venues along the way. Since much of the media coverage related to the environment plays on our guilt by telling us what we are doing wrong we thought a trans-Canada tour, dubbed Insight into Canada, would celebrate some of the citizens, communities and companies that are making a difference in reducing carbon footprint.

Honda saw merit in our vision and on April 21, with the Mayor of Victoria’s gift necktie tucked into the map holder behind the driver’s seat of Insight Canada1, writers Alexandra Staub and Jeannie Owens-Wallace started the wheels turning on Insight into Canada.

Over the next month, 23 other journalists piloted the silver hybrid across the country sniffing out initiatives like the spunky socially-responsible 3rd-grade students who saved a marsh on Vancouver Island from destruction, Edmundston’s enthusiastic composting café owners, and an entire eco-village in Saskatchewan. Media also discovered a Manitoba company that makes paper you can plant, toured Canada’s ‘greenest’ zoo in Granby, Quebec, and visited a New Brunswick artist who makes beautiful art out of banished junk.

Meanwhile Lisa and I, driving an identical Honda Insight, leapfrogged ahead to make arrangements, rendezvous with the next drive team and administer the daily blog that the journo’s were writing in first person from Insight Canada1’s perspective.

The results, posted on a website, www.insightintocanada.ca, have been checked out by thousands of visitors who, like the people our drivers visited along the way, feel passionate about what Canadians are doing for the environment on a grassroots level.

After all the complexities and logistical challenges of the event, and the end in sight, we had seemingly failed on the simplest part of our mission, delivering a necktie to Mayor Dennis O’Keefe of St. John’s.

A few strategic phone calls later, we determined the tie was in the hands of Todd Gillis, the editor of this column and newspaper section, who had driven Insight Canada 1 from Halifax to Sydney. His wife, Roberta, had inadvertently packed it in her bag when they turned the car over to us before we boarded the ferry to Newfoundland.

The Mayor’s tie finally caught up to us in an Express Post package at the Comfort Inn in Gander and the next day, when we presented it to Mayor O’Keefe in his chambers in St John’s City Hall, I laughed to myself.

After all, Insight Canada 1 had seen the country through the eyes of 25 journalists with an average fuel consumption of 5.34 litres per 100 km. On the leg between Ottawa and Montreal, one feather-footed journalist had managed an astonishing 3.8 L / 100 km, that’s 74 miles to the gallon!

Along the way 55 Canadian environmental initiatives were checked out and pondered by our road-warrior journalists. Aside from a windshield broken in two places, Insight Canada 1 has come through its mission unscathed.

And Mayor Dennis O’Keefe has a City of Victoria necktie to wear to his next city council meeting in St John’s. No sweat!

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