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Writer packs a punch

David Climenhaga can take on the heavyweights in more ways than one

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 04, 2014 06:00 am

TAKEDOWN – David Climenhaga, a respected and well-known political commentator, former journalist and city council contender, is also a black belt in karate, despite his insistence that he's not very good at it.
TAKEDOWN – David Climenhaga, a respected and well-known political commentator, former journalist and city council contender, is also a black belt in karate, despite his insistence that he's not very good at it.
CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

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David Climenhaga, Q&A

Favourite book?
"I read a lot of good books, and my favourite tends to be the last one that really entertained or moved me. All-time most favourite? Or most influential, anyway ... Probably The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler, 1953. (The 1973 movie with Elliott Gould, who I once saw in person walking with his mom at Columbus Circle in New York City, was pathetic. I didn't tell him that, though.)"

Favourite movie?
"Chinatown, 1974. (Yes, there's a pattern here.) I once rode in an elevator at the Empress Hotel in Victoria with Faye Dunaway and the two sides of beef in blue suits who were accompanying her."

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"As noted, to be a journalist. Seemed like a good idea at the time."

What do you hope to see on your tombstone?
"A number higher than 2052."

Greatest accomplishment? "Raising two good kids to adulthood? Landing a job at the Globe and Mail? Earning my black belt?"

What did you have for breakfast this morning?
"This morning? A fried egg sandwich. Most mornings? A bagel and peanut butter."

"Many, I'm afraid, all completely irrational. I confess I sit on my suitcase like an old Russian before leaving on a trip."

If you could change anything, what would it be?
"I'd change the governments of Alberta and Canada."

Pet peeves?
"Radio news and traffic announcers who say "going westbound" and the like. You can go west. You can be westbound. But you can't go westbound. Got that? Like this, most of my pet peeves reflect the fact I earned my living as a copy editor for many years. (So don't say he died of heart failure. We all die of heart failure. If it was a heart attack, say so.) On a more serious note, I can't stand biblical literalists who pick and choose what to be literal about, which most of them do. (Also, most of them haven't really read the Bible.)"

Rolling Stones or Beatles?
"Rolling Stones."

There's a joke that underneath Chuck Norris' beard there is only another fist. Well, David Climenhaga's beard could probably take on Chuck Norris' beard any day of the week.

Climenhaga, the local political pundit whose popular AlbertaDiary blog recently won a Yeggie award, has a third degree black belt in karate.

“I'm living proof of the thesis that anything worth doing is worth doing badly!” Climenhaga says.

The self-described late bloomer insists he isn't naturally good at karate, which he started “for a little while” at 49, when he was trying to get pre-teen daughters started on self-defence training.

He simply never left.

“Every black belt used to be a white belt and just stayed. I find it interesting and engaging so I just kept on doing it,” he says.

Climenhaga was born in Victoria in 1952 to a respected astrophysicist and an avid knitter. His mother ran a Victoria wool store called Boutique De Laine that is still operating under the same name.

The keen observer never picked up the delicate craft himself but is savvy with the lingo, knowing enough to chat with the ladies in the St. Albert Public Library's knitting club on Wednesday nights. “I don't knit but I do know wool,” he says.

He can, however, spin a few yarns. He has always seen the might of the pen and has dedicated himself to becoming a master writer and communicator. He has taught courses such as introductory journalism and newspaper copy-editing and political science at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary and at King's University College in Edmonton.

In the news

Climenhaga first set off on the road towards becoming a journalist at the University of Victoria in the early 1970s. There, he became the first and only person to be the editor of the UVic student newspaper twice. Usually, the gig is only a one-year term.

That led to him getting his first real newspaper job at the Victoria Times-Colonist. His work on his masters degree started at Carleton University in Ottawa in 1981. Before he had completed the degree, he got a summer job at the Globe and Mail.

“Of course, you get your hooks into the Globe and Mail, you want to stay. So I ended up hanging around for six years and worked it into a full-time job … a beat reporter in the business section.”

He also dotted many i's and crossed a lot of t's as the copy editor there. After that, he went to the Calgary Herald where he slugged it out in the same capacities as well as political and labour reporting. It was also during this time that he wrote his book, A Poke in the Public Eye, which his Wikipedia page describes as “a light-hearted look at the often-uncomfortable relationships among politicians, journalists and public relations people.”

While at the Herald, Climenhaga experienced the ups and downs of labour strife first hand. The newspaper experienced a trying eight-month strike in 1999.

“I ended up being the vice-president of the union local. After we were on strike for eight months, they succeeded in busting the union. Legally, they were required to take us back but I didn't feel that it would be, obviously, a very happy working relationship. I was thoroughly disillusioned with them. I expected that I would work at something else for a couple of years and get back into the newspaper business.”

What happened instead was that he signed on as the communications director with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the largest union in the province.

“They hired me on the strength of what had happened during the strike. They knew my rep a bit because of that.”

He worked at the AUPE for 13 years and never looked back.

“It really turned out to be a rewarding job. As I went out the door, the newspaper business collapsed behind me. It wasn't a bad time to get out.”

The AUPE job led him to his current employment in communications with the United Nurses of Alberta, where he works with Dave Cournoyer, another well-known and respected political blogger.

Two Dave C's in one workplace might make for some confusing situations but it doesn't compare to the confusion that arises when Climenhaga is mistaken for another prominent local resident with the exact same name.

Despite his storied careers, he professes that he is not nor has he ever been an ophthalmologist. Even attentive members of the public might mistake him for the Dr. David Climenhaga who has an Edmonton clinic.

“He is not me,” the St. Albert Climenhaga noted drily, yet admitting that they are related as second cousins. Still, the confusion does offer him a new avenue to develop professionally.

“I don't do eyes but I do get his calls. I've developed an excellent bedside manner as a consequence. I said to a guy once, ‘I'm a newspaper reporter. I got a beer in my hand. I'll look at your eyes if you want me to!'”


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