My friend Glenn J. Nashen and I each wear a few hats. I work at the English Montreal School Board as the communications and marketing specialist, serve on Côte Saint-Luc city council and write for a number of newspapers, including The Suburban, The Jewish Tribune, The Montrealer, The Jewish Standard and the Montreal Jewish Magazine. Glenn is the director of public affairs and communications for the Jewish General Hospital and a city councillor as well in Côte Saint-Luc. He was first elected 20 years ago while I came aboard in 2005, having covered the city for the local newspaper and then handled public relations assignments for more than two decades.
Glenn and I are naturally very much enamored with the political process – locally, provincially, federally and globally. During the 11 years I worked for the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), I frequently went to Ottawa. It was this body’s role to represent the Jewish community before government.
Last week we spent an enlightening day in Ottawa, starting a round of meetings at 10 a.m. and continuing through nightfall.
Glenn and I began our day with a trip to the Ottawa National Advocacy Office of CJC. When I worked for the organization, the head office was in Montreal. Now, the major operation emanates out of Toronto. Eric Vernon, Joshua Rotblatt and Susan Marcus hold the fort in Ottawa, sharing space with the Canada-Israel Committee. (Pictured at the right are Glenn, Joshua, Eric and myself). Joshua is director of operations and Eric, director of government relations. Only a few days after I started working at CJC my boss, Jack Silverstone, informed me that we were headed to Ottawa for a meeting with the federal minister of justice. He told me to let him out of the car at Parliament Hill, park the car at the Chateau Laurier Hotel and go find Eric in the lobby. That marked the beginning of a wonderful friendship between Eric and I, which continues today. I may have left CJC 12 years ago, yet sitting down with Joshua and Eric felt so natural. I am glad we have kept in touch and they perform important duties for the community.
Our first meeting on Parliament Hill was with Justin Trudeau, the Liberal MP for Papineau. Justin, of course, is the son of our late, great prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. I first met him about six years ago when I invited him to come speak at a school board function. Talk about a man who can keep his audience spellbound.
Justin (pictured at the right with Glenn) remains a regular at local schools and not only those in his riding. There is a great demand for his presence across the country. He seemed appropriately comfortable in his Confederation Building office.
“I am abashed to admit how good this feels,” he told us. “Every aspect of this job is so incredibly satisfying.”
How would his father feel if he could see him now? “About a year before my dad died I realized that politics would be a possible path for me one day,” he recalled. “I knew that I needed to talk to him about this or I would regret it. Well, it turned out to be 10 minutes of the most awkward conversation I’d ever had. You see, he had basically already answered this question in the way he raised my brothers and I. ‘Know your values and principles,’ he would always say. He certainly did say that we should not do anything because we thought it was our appropriate path and with that in mind I know that he was extremely proud that I became a teacher.”
I personally believe that within the next decade Justin will be the leader of the Federal Liberal Party and ultimately our prime minister.
We were delighted when the Federal Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq (below) , agreed to see us.
Ms. Aglukkaq was first elected to work for the Nunavummiut in the House of Commons in October 2008 and became the first Inuk to be sworn into the federal cabinet. Prior to entering federal politics she served in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly as the MLA for the district of NATTILIK (communities of Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak). During her time as an MLA, she was elected by her peers to be part of the Executive Council and first given the responsibility of finance minister and house leader, before becoming the minister of health and social services and the minister for the status of Women. She was absolutely charming. We spoke about the H1N1 crisis and the medical isotope shortage. The Minister may be making a trip to Montreal in the not too distant to visit some of our local cancer centers.
Did you know that Stockwell Day (right with Glenn and I), the president of the Federal Treasury Board, once lived in Montreal? Long before he became the Albert finance minister, leader of the Canadian Alliance and a trusted federal minister for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Day resided in St. Lambert, N.D.G. and Westmount. He attended Westmount High School and looks forward to making a return visit there soon. The prime minister initially appointed him the public safety minister, moving him to international trade and now the treasury, where he has been handed the crucial task of getting our country’s finances back on track.
Every step of the way these last four years he has been supported by Neil Drabkin, a lawyer and long time Côte Saint-Luc resident, as his chief of staff. Neil has a significant background in the political process, going back to the era of Brian Mulroney as prime minister. At that time Neil (right, with Glenn and I), was a senior policy advisor and deputy chief of staff to the minister of citizenship. He has also been a Tory candidate on a few occasions.
Via the English Montreal School Board I edit a special needs newspaper called Inspirations (www.emsb.qc.ca/inspirations). With this in mind I was particulary anxious to meet two cabinet ministers: Steven Fletcher and Diane Finley.
Fletcher (right, with Glenn and I), was a young mining engineer in Manitoba in 1996 when an automobile collision with a moose left him a quadriplegic. He is paralyzed from the neck down. Despite the odds, he returned to university for his MBA and has been elected to Parliament in the last three elections, now serving as the minister of democratic reform. He’s been travelling near Montreal recently to take French classes. He and his father David presented us with a copy of the book The Steven Fletcher Story: What Do You Do If You Don’t Die? “Have your hankerchief ready,” one of his executive assistants warned us. Fletcher has such a great disposition. What an inspiration he is! His office is a beehive of activity, with meetings occurring non-stop.
Finley (right, with Glenn and I), is the minister of human resources and skills development. The MP for Haldimand-Norfolk in Simcoe, Ontario told us that a number of years ago she spent a summer working at the Lachine plant of Rolls Royce Canada. Her boss was a gentleman by the name of Doug Finley. The two would eventually become man and wife. Doug is now a Conservative Senator and the party’s national campaign director. Diane Finely shared with us her battle with Graves Disease, an autoimmune condition which causes over activity of the thyroid. For some time she had to wear sunglasses in the House of Commons due to a hypersensitivity to light. “I had five surgeries and I am fortunate that the last one was successful,” said the minister, who is also responsible for the Federal Office for Disability Issues.
Finley told us that when she was in opposition that the headquarters for the Office for Disability Issues was ironically not accessible for the handicapped. “There were actually two offices at the time,” she said. “Now we have one office across the river in Gatineau . Not only is it accessible, it is in fact a showcase for accessibility.”
Later in the day, at the posh Rideau Club, we met CTV national reporter Roger Smith (riight). I have always been a big fan of the way he delivers breaking news from the nation’s capital. He was interesting to speak to.
I must say that I came home from these meetings very impressed with the Parliamentarians and their senior staff whom we interacted with. They have all been invited to come visit some of our schools on future visits to Montreal.For Glenn's take click here to view his website entry