By Mitchel Raphael - Friday, January 4, 2013 - 0 Comments
Sitting MPs include a cage fighter, a Karate sensei and a Canadian Forces nurse
As Parliament wound down for 2012 it literally almost came to blows between Government House leader Peter Van Loan (known as PVL on the Hill) and two Opposition members: NDP House leader Nathan Cullen and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. PVL was upset at Cullen because the NDP attempted to use procedure to delay the budget and force another vote on the bill. PVL came over and told Cullen to never try that again. This is far cry from when Cullen and Van Loan started working together as House leaders and PVL made him a cake to welcome him into his new position. (Van Loan is known to dabble in Martha Stewart recipes).
If tensions continue to boil over once Parliament resumes, and things get physical again, it’s opportune to consider the fighting strengths of all the official national parties. If it comes to a fight on the floor of the House of Commons, here then are the politicians to watch: Continue…
By Mitchel Raphael - Friday, August 10, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Canada’s longest serving CIDA minister tells Maclean’s what she saved as she cleaned out her office
The perils of door knocking
Quebec NDP MP Dany Morin has been spending his summer going door to door collecting signatures for a petition he plans to present when the House resumes in the fall. He wants the government to set up customs at the Bagotville airport in his riding of Chicoutimi-Le Fjord. Morin says this will allow for international trips and save people from travelling to Montreal or Quebec City. He says even constituents who support Stephen Harper want the airport upgraded to handle international flights. Morin has been door knocking with a 19-year-old summer intern. Morin himself is only 26. As they approached a group of men heading out for a fishing trip, Morin had to explain that despite his youthful appearance he was in fact their MP. The fishermen told Morin and his aide they thought the two were Jehovah’s Witnesses because they were both well-dressed young men. “We thought you were going to try to convert us,” they quipped. Once they realized what Morin’s true mission was, they happily signed the airport petition.
Why Oda is keeping the soccer ball
Bev Oda, the former minister for international co-operation and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), cleaned out her offices at the end of last month. She gave the Prime Minister her letter of resignation the day after the House rose in the spring, two months after the $16-orange-juice scandal exploded in the media. It was decided to make it public after Canada Day. The PM “was very gracious,” says Oda.
By Mitchel Raphael - Saturday, August 4, 2012 at 12:30 PM - 0 Comments
The Hill’s hikers…
For several years, Laureen Harper has been doing an annual summer
The Hill’s hikers
For several years, Laureen Harper has been doing an annual summer hike in different parts of Canada. The hikes are planned over an entire year. This summer she and her friends, including Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose, covered 55 km and two mountain passes in Banff, Alta. The group saw a porcupine, grizzly bear, gopher and pika (a small, rabbit-like mammal). Wildﬂowers were in bloom. Every year Harper makes all the food. “We always eat the same food, year after year. I am the cook. We have jambalaya, Chinese food, stroganoff, and I always bake bread at least once,” says the PM’s wife. Ambrose says Harper’s herb and garlic bread is a hike highlight. There were also some good snacks. Notes Ambrose: “Everyone is supposed to bring a treat to share with the group so I carted a bag of marshmallows all the way up there. We carved sticks and shoved mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups into the marshmallows and roasted them on an open fire.” The treat was a huge hit.
To prepare for the hike, Ambrose wore her backpack for two weeks with weights in it and did her grocery shopping with the backpack to prepare her muscles. She managed to limit her backpack on the trip to about 15 kilos. Most of the others came in with backpacks around 23 kilos. This year the group did a circuit up Mosquito Creek and over North Molar Pass, down the Pipestone Valley, and back up over Molar pass into the Mosquito Valley. “And yes,” Harper says, “there were lots of mosquitoes.” At one point the group could not cross a river and an alternate passage was needed. Ambrose says Harper is “very comfortable in the backcountry and she knows how to read a map.” Any bathing was in freezing cold water. They brought along special fast-drying towels, which dried with a few shakes.
On their last night of hiking the group met two couples from Edmonton. One of them said to the PM’s wife: “You look like Laureen Harper.” Then it clicked and the person said: “I saw you in Maclean’s. You’re a big hiker.” As the groups parted ways, she invited the couples for tea at 24 Sussex. This is how Harper summed up the trek: “The first two days we walked 29 km and were pretty tired. Everything was pretty wet and we had to slog through lots of mud. When we hit the Canmore McDonald’s after five days on the trail we were looking pretty grubby. I think people moved out of the way to get away from us.”
By Mitchel Raphael - Friday, May 18, 2012 at 1:25 AM - 0 Comments
‘Judge, referee and kindergarten teacher’
Former Speaker Peter Milliken… had his official portrait unveiled
‘Judge, referee and kindergarten teacher’
Former Speaker Peter Milliken had his official portrait unveiled last week. Milliken is the longest-serving Speaker in Canadian history, sitting in the chair from 2001 to 2011. At the unveiling, Government House leader Peter Van Loan referred to Milliken as a “judge, referee and kindergarten teacher all at once.” NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said the ultimate testament to his “fair-handedness” was the fact that Milliken, who ran as a Liberal, was still elected Speaker when the Conservatives took power. Liberal interim leader Bob Rae noted Milliken is likely the only Canadian whose biography says he “began reading Hansard in his teens. I had no idea he had such a deprived childhood. Many of us were accused of hiding other things under our mattresses.” The portrait was painted by Prescott, Ont.-based artist Paul Wyse, who has painted portraits of musicians such as Billy Joel and Jim Cuddy. Wyse is originally from Maine. He came to Canada 15 years ago to get his Ph.D. in music at the University of Montreal. He is now a permanent resident of Canada and says he will become a citizen at the end of the year. Wyse left music a while back to focus on his art. Milliken was the first portrait he has done of a politician. The painting shows the former Speaker with his hands on a desk. One hand is open and the other is a fist. Behind Milliken are books containing Hansards.
MP’s mom listened to Beatles in graveyard
Hundreds of people came to Parliament Hill to celebrate the 20th World Falun Dafa Day, in support of the spiritual practice also known as Falun Gong. Among the MPs and senators at the gathering was Conservative MP Rob Anders, a vocal critic of China’s politics. Anders keeps a Tibetan flag outside his office and recently added one for South Vietnam. In high school he went to see a concert by Tibetan monks and was horrified by what he read in pamphlets about the Chinese occupation of Tibet. His mother grew up in Communist Poland and was forced to make pro-May Day posters in art class at school. She and others would sneak to graveyards to listen to the Beatles on free radio because the police left graveyards alone. Anders’s great-grandmother was shot by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution and the family lost all their property. Anders says he has tried to visit the Chinese mainland, but his requests so far have been denied. He says his own government would not take him on a government mission “because I would probably cause a loss of face.”
By Mitchel Raphael - Friday, May 4, 2012 at 11:32 AM - 0 Comments
Of duelling ribbons
Columnist Richard Gwyn… took home the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for
Of duelling ribbons
Columnist Richard Gwyn took home the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for his book Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times; Volume Two: 1867—1891. The prize was awarded by the Writers’ Trust of Canada in the ballroom of the Fairmont Château Laurier. At the reception, Laureen Harper predicted Gwyn would win. In 2008 she sat near political scientist Janice Gross Stein and said she would be Stein’s good luck charm. Stein took home the prize that year. Medals were also given to authors and politicians in attendance. Prize nominees had theirs on a silver and red ribbon, politicians had yellow ribbons and other writers wore green. Former Liberal leader and author Michael Ignatieff wore a green ribbon. He quipped, “Writers can drink and do anything we bloody well please. And say anything we please.” Ignatieff recently caused a ruckus over comments about Quebec separatism to the BBC. Ignatieff and his wife, Zsuzsanna Zsohar, were among the last to leave the party.
Top ministers, including Jim Flaherty, John Baird and Peter MacKay, were on hand at the Canadian Museum of Nature honouring Barrick Gold Corp.’s $1-million donation, which will help refurbish a popular travelling exhibit. In return, the museum’s prime reception space was renamed the Barrick Salon. The ceremony included a $1-million gold coin valued at more than five times its face value. The coin is owned by Barrick and will be on loan to the museum for a year. Attendees were told that under no circumstances could they touch the coin. Then Barrick chairman Peter Munk put his hands all over it. He said, “I wanted to see if it would rub off.” The RCMP guards confessed that Munk was an exception and added that if former PM Brian Mulroney, also a guest, wanted to touch it they likely would not have stopped him.
By Mitchel Raphael - Friday, April 27, 2012 at 1:51 PM - 0 Comments
And why others are sitting in the back row of the House
The Hill’s version of ‘The Biggest Loser’
Conservative MP John Weston always cycles in Ottawa. Even when it’s the dead of winter—he simply uses snow tires. He is a fitness buff who runs marathons and has a black belt in tae kwon do. Weston has recently been sporting bow ties in homage to Earl Blumenauer, the Oregon congressman who is a strong supporter of cycling initiatives. The Conservative MP is currently pushing for a “National Health and Fitness Day.” He has put forward a motion that says: “Canada by nature offers abundant recreational and fitness opportunities through such things as our mountains, oceans, lakes, forests and parks; we as Canadians could therefore be the healthiest and fittest people on Earth.” The motion aims to combat the “growing concern over chronic disease.” Weston says MPs can set examples, especially when it comes to child obesity. He is working closely with NDP MP Peter Stoffer and Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan on health initiatives, including the Bike Day on the Hill on May 9. The three are also promoting weekly running and swimming sessions for MPs. On the swimming front, they got Conservative MP John Cummins to take his first-ever swimming lesson and Conservative MP Joy Smith went into the water for the first time in her life. (Smith had a swimming tragedy in her family.) Green party Leader Elizabeth May is also part of the group and says Smith told her, “If I can do it, so can you.” The group encourages each other regardless of skill, although it is acknowledged that Toronto NDP MP Olivia Chow is one of the more fit participants and one of the best swimmers.
By Mitchel Raphael - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 3:14 PM - 0 Comments
White and yellow gold pins, awarded for life, get MPs and their partners special access
A history of how MPs pin their lovers
Before they are sworn in, MPs fill out paperwork that includes a section about whether they have a spouse. The definition of spouse is up to the member. Some list a husband or wife, others a girlfriend or boyfriend or common-law partner. Anyone who lists a spouse gets a special spouse pin to give to their partner along with their own MP pin at their swearing-in ceremony. The pin allows spouses access all over the Hill, including the use of the special MP entrance in Centre Block. Laureen Harper doesn’t wear hers since all the security officials recognize her.
The MP pin and MP spouse pin first arrived on the Hill in 1979, as part of a security measure. The MP pin is made of white and yellow gold, and says “House of Commons/Chambre des communes” along the green enamelled border. The centre features a gold mace superimposed upon a silver maple leaf. Each pin has a special number engraved on the back. John Diefenbaker, whose pin number was one, refused to wear it because he considered it insulting to identify MPs that way. His pin was donated to the Diefenbaker Foundation after he died. The spouse pin features the centennial flame in front of a maple leaf. Both pins were designed by Henry Birks & Sons of Montreal.
Svend Robinson, Canada’s first openly gay MP, says he was the first person whose same-sex partner, Max Riveron, got an MP spouse pin in 1997. Robinson was first elected in 1979. Riveron became his partner in 1994, but Robinson waited until after the 1997 election to apply for the spouse pin. “It wasn’t an issue,” says Robinson, who currently works for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. “Max still wears it with pride.”
By Mitchel Raphael - Thursday, June 3, 2010 at 5:15 PM - 24 Comments
Text and photos by Mitchel Raphael
The fourth annual Parliamentarians of the Year awards saw Transport Minister John Baird take the top prize at a special reception in 200 West Block. The other winners were NDP MP Peter Stoffer for Most Collegial, Tory MP Ted Menzies for Hardest Working, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe for Most Knowledgeable, Bloc MP Robert Bouchard for Best Represents His Constituents, Tory MP Kelly Block for Rising Star and Liberal MP Bob Rae for Best Orator.
By Mitchel Raphael - Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 12:40 PM - 7 Comments
Mitchel Raphael on who’s bringing high heels to the mountain and prorogation cuts
NO SHOWERS FOR THE LABOUR MINISTER
Labour Minister Rona Ambrose is right now climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. She promised herself she would reach the peak the last time she was in Eastern Africa, which was in 2006 for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Back then, there was no snow on the peak; now, she’s been told, the snow is back. The Kilimanjaro climb takes six days and that means “no showers,” quips Ambrose, who packed and repacked her backpack, trying to be prepared for all sorts of weather conditions. One item she made sure to include was a Canadian flag: she plans to bring it with her to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games as a good luck symbol for when she watches gold medal skier Jennifer Heil compete. Heil is from Spruce Grove, Alta., which is in Ambrose’s riding. Heil won Canada’s first medal at the Turin Games and Ambrose arranged for Stephen Harper to give her a congratulatory call. Ambrose is also bringing a pair of high heels she’ll put on when she reaches the top for a fun personal photo op.
By Mitchel Raphael - Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 10:40 AM - 0 Comments
And why Nova Scotian Bill Casey is so popular
Good sport Maxime Bernier
At the suggestion of Capital Diary, this year’s Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner was a different kind of night. Traditionally, party leaders have given funny speeches, but this dinner became a mock awards ceremony with lots of MPs and journalists taking to the stage (in part because fewer and fewer leaders were offering to speak at the event). Rick Mercer talked about all the gay staffers who work for Tory ministers “except Lisa Raitt. How do I know? Just look at her hair.” Other highlights included former foreign affairs minister and very good sport Maxime Bernier comically looking for his notes on stage. He found them and did not have to call Julie Couillard. Also, Scott Brison had some great lines: “I’ve put a lot of work into my speech,” said the Nova Scotia Liberal MP. “In fact, I even got together with former colleague Rahim Jaffer to do a few lines.”
How to get elected in Nova Scotia without spending a dime
The recent announcement of a by-election in Nova Scotia has all eyes in that province on one man: Bill Casey. Casey was the Tory MP who voted against the Conservative budget over the Atlantic accord and then sat as an Independent. He resigned this year, triggering the by-election in his old riding. He is now a Nova Scotia hero: any candidate that received his blessing would sail to victory. According to NDP MP Megan Leslie, “You wouldn’t have to run a campaign if Bill endorsed you.” Casey now works for the Nova Scotia government representing the province’s interests in Ottawa, so he has to appear neutral, but politicians at all levels of government in the province are keen to score even a photo with him.
Happy Birthday from Justin
During question period Justin Trudeau can often be spotted signing all sorts of things. (Most MPs do this, including the PM, who has been spotted signing photos of himself.) One day Trudeau had a huge stack of cards on his desk. Every Liberal supporter in his Montreal riding, he explains, gets a personalized birthday card. Recently, Trudeau popped by the seventh annual Champions of Mental Health awards at the Fairmont Château Laurier ballroom. His mother, Margaret Trudeau, got an award for being open about having bipolar disorder. Also on the awards list was Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Gen. Walter Natynczyk, chief of defence staff, for their work launching the Canadian Forces mental health campaign, “Be the Difference.” MacKay noted that the number of health care officials hired under his watch has increased signiﬁcantly. Meanwhile, on the military mission front, Natynczyk told Capital Diary that he just wrapped up the mission in Bosnia a few weeks ago. He noted that when it comes to wars, politicians like to sprint, while the military run marathons.
His daughter and Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin’s memoir, Going Rogue: An American Life, will be out soon. So which NDP MP has a photo homage of Palin in his office? Peter Stoffer’s daughter, Amber Ocean Stoffer, once dressed up as the former Republican vice-presidential nominee, and the Nova Scotia MP keeps the snap in a prominent frame in his Hill ofﬁce. She is called Amber Ocean, says Stoffer, because she was conceived on a cruise ship and the sunsets were a stunning amber colour. Stoffer has another daughter named Jasmin Aurora Stoffer; she was born in the Yukon during an aurora borealis.
What the Senator wore
Sen. Nancy Ruth showed up to the weekly Conservative caucus meeting with a T-shirt under her blazer that read: “I may be wrong, but I doubt it.” She showed it to a few MPs, but made sure not to flash the Prime Minister.
By Mitchel Raphael - Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 12:40 PM - 11 Comments
And a political wife’s new hair
Coming soon? This is your pilot, Ruby Dhalla, speaking.
Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla was in riding lockdown this summer. She left only twice: for the Liberal caucus meeting in Sudbury, and for French lessons in France. This summer, to mark her fifth year as an elected official, she was raising money for the Ethno-Cultural Canadian Women’s Organization or ECCO (the final O is the symbol for woman). The group’s goal is combatting domestic violence in ethnic communities. Dhalla is also studying to be a pilot; so far, she has only been in simulators, though. Toronto’s Pearson International Airport is on the border of her riding. She often gives herself extra time when flying out of there because security people, many of whom are constituents, stop her to ask about things like immigration problems when she leaves for Ottawa on Mondays. But for the first Monday that the House returned, Dhalla had a downtown Toronto meeting and flew Porter Airlines from the Toronto island airport. Her reading for the first week back was Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. Over the summer she read Barack Obama’s books and The Tao of Detox: The Natural Way to Purify Your Body for Health and Longevity.
It’s the much-coveted spot
Conservative backbench MP Brad Trost seems to be out of the doghouse. Several Tory MPs were miffed at Trost after he told a website, “The tourism funding money that went to the gay pride parade in Toronto was not government policy, was not supported by—I think it’s safe to say—by a large majority of the MPs. This was a very isolated decision.” He also alluded to a demotion for Diane Ablonczy, the minister responsible for allocating the funding. But on the ﬁrst day Parliament resumed, Trost gave the last member’s statement before question period. This is a much-coveted spot since by that time most of the media and other MPs have reached their seats and may actually pay attention to it. NDP House leader Libby Davies says the Conservatives tend to use the last member’s statement simply to rattle Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. The personal attacks, she says, result in the Liberal caucus rising and extending their applause for their leader. Davies feels that the applause is going on so long it is cutting into question period and lowering the NDP’s chances of getting in an extra question at the end. She has complained to Speaker Peter Milliken. Continue…