Early last Wednesday morning - just after 2 a.m. - my home phone rang. That's usually a reason for concern - the first thing that springs to mind is a family emergency somewhere. But this call was about another kind of emergency.
"Keith, it's Dave Hahn. Sorry about the early call, but I thought you should know. One of our vessels has just gone down north of Vancouver Island. I'm trying to get an update on the passengers. I'll keep you informed, but I thought you might want to get going on this."
It was a startling phone call, to say the least. Startling because the ferry had only sunk about an hour before, startling because of the potential magnitude of the ferry disaster, and startling because of the forthrightness of the man who runs BC Ferries.
Mr. Hahn and I talked several more times in the early hours of that morning. He would phone with updates - the most important of which was about the state of the passengers - and try to provide as much information as possible.
As the morning went on, he started appearing seemingly everywhere - one minute on CKNW, the next moment on CBC Radio, the next on Global TV. BC Ferries had hastily chartered a plane to fly Mr. Hahn and Premier Gordon Campbell to Prince Rupert to meet the Queen of the North's passengers. He invited me and a Global cameraman to accompany them.
As this potentially giant crisis was still developing, Mr. Hahn was front and centre with the public. Rather than hiding and adopting a bunker mentality when faced with a disaster for the company, he was out in front of the story, trying to provide information as quickly as possible.
In other words, he was behaving exactly the opposite of how most politicians act when faced with a crisis. The usual experience, from this reporter's perspective, is having to wait for hours outside a cabinet minister's office (or a premier's office) as nervous aides huddle, trying to figure out a damage control plan before saying anything publicly.
Not so with Mr. Hahn.
It's a refreshing approach from the head of a large company, and one that I suspect resonates well with the general public. I ran into Mr. Hahn at a Victoria gas station this past weekend, and attendants there were congratulating him for "being upfront" about everything. The radio phone-in shows have also reflected positive reviews - not scientific research, I admit, but my instincts tell me the approach is working.
All this injects yet another perspective into the ongoing debate over the privatization of BC Ferries. I have a very hard time believing information would have been forthcoming so quickly in the wake of this kind of disaster if BC Ferries were still run by the provincial government.
There are valid concerns about the need for public accountability when it comes to BC Ferries, since the company basically controls the transportation ability for thousands of people who rely on the ferry system for travel, commuting or the shipment of goods.
For example, the company is exempt from B.C.'s freedom of information law, which shields it from a significant level of scrutiny.
There are certainly parts of privatization that trouble many people. But in terms of accountability in the face of a disaster as large as the sinking of the Queen of the North, I'll take Mr. Hahn's approach over his predecessors - as in cabinet ministers - any day.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global B.C.
Second, the less obvious: Why, exactly, does Mr. Baldrey not recognize when he himself is, perhaps, being spun?
With respect to the latter question, could it be that Mr. Baldery likes it that way?