TODAY'S PAPER
National

Flat Mark has the next prime minister's ear

 

Grade 4 students asked Martin to show their doll what's involved in being PM

By JANE TABER
Wednesday, December 10, 2003 - Page A3

OTTAWA -- Flat Mark is a construction-paper doll about 14 inches tall, sporting Beatle bangs and a brown shirt and turquoise pants with an orange belt and buckle inscribed with his name.
And since mid-November this rather bizarre little character has had the kind of access to Paul Martin that reporters and lobbyists can only dream of.
Flat Mark has attended top-level transition meetings, met with Mr. Martin's chief of staff Tim Murphy and principal secretary Francis Fox, toured Rideau Hall and even sat in on last week's tête-à-tête between Mr. Martin and Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson. Not bad for a Grade 4 civics project.
On Friday, Flat Mark will be at Rideau Hall again, this time to watch his new buddy sworn in as the 21st prime minister. That's where Flat Mark's brush with political power ends.  After that he will be stuck in a manila envelope and mailed back to his home -- Room 205 at Fenside Public School in Toronto.
Included in the envelope, however, will be a very detailed account -- with pictures -- of Flat Mark's political adventures over the past month. It was put together by Mr. Martin's executive assistant, Jim Pimblett, who has grown close to the special doll.
Flat Mark is a civics and literacy project -- the creation of Karlo Cabrera's Grade 4 pupils at Fenside. The nine-year-old pupils cut out, pasted and coloured the doll, and named him Flat Mark.  Then they wrote to Mr. Martin, asking him to allow Flat Mark to visit, and to show him what is involved in being prime minister.  We are sending Flat Mark to the next prime minister of Canada," some of Mr. Cabrera's students wrote in their letter to Mr. Martin. "He will visit you and see the different things you do."
They told him that in addition to the 27 pupils in their classroom, there is "one fish and one really big snake puppet that we call Sammy the Snake."  In their letter they advised Mr. Martin to put a bandage on Flat Mark if he falls or gets ripped -- "because he is a piece of paper."  "If Flat Mark gets hungry, there is a sandwich with him along with a can of soda. Maybe, when it's time to go to sleep, you may want to make him comfortable by putting him on a bad [sic]. Please take care of him and please send him back in the envelope."
The project captured the imagination of Mr. Martin and his staff, who have taken Flat Mark through the transition process.  Flat Mark even went to the Liberal fundraising dinner in Toronto last night.
For Mr. Cabrera, 26, who is a political junkie and had followed the Liberal leadership, this is a dream come true -- so much more than he expected when he embarked on the project to teach his students about letter writing and about politics.
"That is fabulous," said Mr. Cabrera, when he heard the Martin team had adopted Flat Mark. "This is neat!"
He had hoped that Mr. Martin would pose with Flat Mark, and perhaps write a note to the pupils.  He wanted this to lead to a discussion about the duties of the prime minister and who he is.  And for Mr. Martin and his staff, the Flat Mark project has provided some levity amid the gruelling pace of the transition.  "For Flat Mark this isn't just a civics lesson," said Martin spokesman Scott Reid. "He has become very good friends with all the people around the incoming prime minister.
"He's become an intern. . . . He's up early and he's working late and he actually is more talented than a lot of the three-dimensional people that we work with."
Flat Mark was inspired by Flat Stanley, the protagonist of the children's book of the same name by U.S. author Jeff Brown.
Flat Stanley is a plucky boy who was flattened when a bulletin board fell on him while he was sleeping.
As a flat boy he can do things that other boys cannot, such as slide under doors or fly like a kite. To save on the expense of travel, Flat Stanley was put in an envelope and mailed to California.
But the Flat Stanley story became much more as teachers and school children mimicked the story by sending Flat Stanleys around the world as part of teaching exercises.  U.S. President George W. Bush has posed with a Flat Stanley, who had spent a day at the White House after receiving security clearance.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has been photographed with one; Flat Stanley has even been on an episode of the West Wing.  And on Friday, Mr. Cabrera's Grade 4 class will be watching on television as the new prime minister is sworn in at Rideau Hall, perhaps even catching a glimpse of Flat Mark.
 
 

Being with the Prime Minister can be risky!

 


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