It is a pleasure to have many distinguished residents in District 2. Among them is Howard Liebman, the dedicated chief of staff to Mount Royal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler. On the occasion of his 40th birthday, he wrote this excellent piece in The Montreal Gazette.
The Leap From Corporate Law to Public Service
BY HOWARD LIEBMAN, SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE JULY 28, 2013
MONTREAL - On Sunday I turned 40 surrounded by my wife, children and family. It is a milestone that coincided with another important marker in my life - the eve of my 10th year of public service as chief of staff to Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler. As I celebrate the two events, I find myself reflecting on how rewarding and fulfilling public service is.
I was recruited from my downtown law practice by Mr. Cotler, then the federal justice minister, for what was slated to be a leave of absence of a year, or maybe two. Entering the public sector from the world of corporate law was more than a small adjustment, and not without frustrations at the pace at which government moves. But I dove in.
Unlike many senior staff members for MPs, I am based not in the bubble of Ottawa but in the heart of Mount-Royal, a riding that I have called home since birth. One of my roles is as an ombudsman: I act daily as an advocate for individuals and groups in the riding who are petitioning government for redress of grievance. The areas are diverse: from immigration to industry, taxation to transport, and much more in between. No two days are alike. It is a privilege to be called upon by one's own neighbours and community to touch a life, to try make it better. Yet there are times I am left scratching my head - such as when someone's pressing inquiry is not responded to in a timely fashion.
Just this month, for example, a visitor to Canada was able to attend a family wedding in Montreal not thanks to the entry visa he had dutifully applied for five months ago, but at the discretion of a border agent - on the eve of the wedding. It was a happy ending, but was preceded by months of angst. (And the day after the wedding, an email arrived at my office saying it would take about 18 months for the visa.) Thanks to the work that Mr. Cotler does in the areas of justice and human rights, I have been engaged in public diplomacy both locally and in all four corners of the world. (Though heaven forbid that I should come home from a wintertime trip to the Southern Hemisphere with a bit of colour; my family would never let me hear the end of it. It is hard enough to convince them that travels to faraway places like Singapore or Argentina, sometimes for only two days at a time, meeting heads of government and the like, is "work.")
Especially memorable have been two visits to South Africa, where I took part in meetings with the South African parliament's justice committee, that country's human-rights commissioner, and cabinet ministers on issues of common cause to our two countries. I have also taken part in work on the continuing search for Middle East peace, meeting leaders, opinion-makers and stakeholders in the region. But how humbling an experience it was to land back in Canada after one of those trips and be sent - along with the federal justice minister - for secondary customs inspection! (Yes, it really happened.) Ditto for extra security checks at the airport. No red carpet here.
As I turn 40, anchored by a supportive family, and reflect on my chosen path of public service over the more lucrative private sector, I consider myself incredibly fortunate for all that I have been able to learn and to contribute. It gives me renewed energy and dedication for continuing to strive - in Mount-Royal and far beyond - for a better and more just tomorrow.
Howard Liebman is a Montreal lawyer, husband and father of three boys. He is chief of staff to Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler.