It’s always good when someone’s got your back. Part-time reservist Afton Maisonneuve knew that her employer had hers after she was called up for active service to help with threatening floods this past spring.
The team at Kelly Santini LLP, where she works as a solicitor, took care of her workload while Maisonneuve, a corporal with the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, spent two weeks helping with sandbagging and other relief efforts to protect properties from the rising waters.
She says the law firm was "incredible" when she was deployed into the flood zones as a part of Operation Lentus. “To quote the managing partner, Kelly Sample: ‘I would never do what you’re doing but if you want to do it, you need the support’,” said Maisonneuve.
It's inconvenient to lose an employee due to military training or the call of duty but, she stressed, reservists compensate for their temporary absences with the skills and experience that they bring to a civilian workplace. They come trained as strong and resilient leaders who work well with others and complete challenging tasks, she said.
“As a reservist, you have a work ethic that is beyond reproach, you have an incredible amount of discipline and you have the ability to see things through, no matter how difficult they are,” said Maisonneuve, during an interview at the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (Duke of Edinburgh’s Own) change of command parade, held Saturday at the Cartier Square Drill Hall in downtown Ottawa.
Maisonneuve completed her training with the reserve infantry unit of the Canadian Armed Forces while she was also earning her law degree at the University of Ottawa. Incidentally, she’s currently training to fight in a white-collar boxing benefit for cancer next month.
For Maisonneuve, there was never any doubt she would serve her country. “It was always a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’,” added Maisonneuve, whose strong military ties include being the daughter of retired Lt.-Gen. Michel Maisonneuve.
The Cameron Highlanders, she said, is like a second family to her. “If you’re someone who wants to be there and tries hard and works hard and represents the unit well, they will love you and will do everything to support you,” she said. “This has become part of my network, which has branched off into a bunch of other networks and connections.”
The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa serves as the city’s official regiment. Its history goes back to 1861.
The majority of reservists serve one evening a week and one weekend a month. They’re only paid for the time they’re on duty, allowing many of them to work regular jobs and live as civilians. This allows Canada to have a large number of troops available for call-up if needed but for a fraction of the cost of maintaining a larger full-time army.
Part-time reservists are given the choice to sign up for domestic missions, such as fighting forest fires or sandbagging in floods, or they can volunteer for overseas missions, such as in Afghanistan or, more recently, in Latvia. While deployed, a reservist does have unpaid, job protected leave under the Employment Standards Act.
Saturday’s parade was full of pomp and ceremony as outgoing commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Christopher Jackson, was replaced by incoming commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Gordon Scharf. The event included a march past, speeches, and even the presentation of bottles of champagne by the colonels to their spouses, to thank them for being so supportive and understanding.
Scharf, national manager of the bank channel team at Export Development Canada, says he’s very fortunate to have an employer that understands and values community engagement, and is not just focused on the bottom line.
By hiring a reservist, he said, employers are getting a well-rounded individual who has already received training and proven him or herself responsible for performance management, budgeting, discipline, training and overall responsibility of up to 30 people or more. “Those are transferable skills that are highly valuable to employers,” said Scharf.
On hand for the parade was the commander, Col. Thomas MacKay of the 33 Canadian Brigade Group, joined by the Cameron Highlanders' Honorary Col. Daniel Mackay and new Honorary Lt.-Col. Barbara Farber, president of Leikin Group, which owns the College Square shopping plaza.
Farber was appointed in May after being nominated by another well-known Ottawa business leader, Paul Hindo, who is currently honorary colonel for the Canadian Army.
In her new role, Farber will help to build and develop community support for the reserve infantry unit.
“I want the Cameron Highlanders to be a household name,” said Farber. “I want everyone to know how lucky we are to have a unit like this.”
Farber is the second member of Ottawa’s Jewish community, after former mayor Jacquelin Holzman, to serve as honorary lieutenant-colonel of the Cameron Highlanders.
Patriotism runs deep in Farber’s family. Her late father, Stan Katz, served in the Second World War, along with four of his brothers. As well, her family celebrates every year the date that her maternal grandfather, Harry Leikin, emigrated from Russia to Canada to provide a better life for his young family. He arrived to Halifax on Dec. 4th, 1925.
“He always would say to us, as we were growing up, that there’s no better country in the entire world than Canada,” said Farber.