Back from Ottawa

I just got back from Ottawa a couple of hours ago and I must say that it was quite an enjoyable and successful trip.

I had a meeting booked with Monte Solberg at 9am which meant that I was up earlier than a grad student ought to be at 6am to make enough time to get to Ottawa from Kingston. I took a wrong turn off of the 401 on the way and ended up taking the “goat trail” up from Kingston through Smith’s Falls instead of the taking the 416. Having lived in Ottawa before, one comes to understand that the Queensway is not accurately billed as an expressway, especially during the daily morning commute. So, I cut up north and took the parkway to Wellington. This is my best Ottawa traffic tip, so take note!

After passing through security and running about 15 minutes late at this point, I arrive at Monte’s office and meet the members of his staff who are just as pleasant and as courteous as their boss.

Monte comes out of his office with a big smile and a handshake, and motions me in and offers the couches and coffee table for the interview.

We chat frankly for about twenty-five minutes about politics, the Supreme Court ruling of the day, blogging etc and then I turn on the recorder. I’ll post the hour-long interview (which may be spliced for time, brevity and to goad the moonbat conspirazoids) sometime early next week. After the interview wrapped up, we chatted some more about the politics of politics.

Next, we head on over to Centre Block and I get the tour of tours. We head on in through the Members entrance past the atrium where television interviews are conducted and past the stairs which lead up to the cabinet offices. We pass the exterior of the House of Commons and walk into the MPs east-side lounge which flanks the House and exists behind those Golden curtains. Here, Members are reviewing notes, pages are working the phones and Belinda Stronach is on the House television feed giving a speech which just seems to add to the background noise of the busy room. Monte takes a call and so I take a seat just to observe the room. “I’m charged and I’m ready to take on the world” exclaims NDP finance critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis as she charges down the length of the lounge. I give her an inquisitive look and she smiles and explains “I just got some coffee, and now I’m ready for anything”. I joke to myself that that it’s coffee that is the source of the admirable yet delusional optimism of the NDP. I regret that I didn’t manage to check to see if it was Fair Trade(tm). Before that day, I was under the impression that Dippers just drank Liberal Kool Aid. I found it heartening to see that they embrace a diverse selection of beverages.

Monte’s finished his call and we head on over to the finance committee and I take a seat behind the witnesses. The committee meeting was to be all about the witnesses, or rather the lack of the ones called by the Conservatives. It was about to get ugly and it quickly turned into an unfortunate, yet necessary display of procedural positioning and filibustering in order to get the committee to give consideration to the Conservatives. It proved successful in the end for Monte as the committee will hear witnesses from the government and perhaps the CTF.

On an issue of government spending to the tune of $4.6 billion, why will the committee not hear the Minister of Finance defend C-48? Why won’t we hear from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation? Some of these witnesses have offices that are a stone’s throw away from the very room where the committee was taking place. Why did they receive either no notice to appear, or a vague one at best? Good questions…

I skipped out of the meeting at the point when the successive Points of Order were raised by Monte and Brian Pallister. A clearly caffeinated Judy Wasylycia-Leis raised a point of order to complain about the delaying. Monte asked, “Are you filibustering now Judy?”. A bit of levity to lighten the acrimonious meeting… well at least I thought it was funny.

I received an email on Wednesday from Romeo St. Martin of Politics Watch to do an interview about the Blogging Tories. I knew that he’d probably be up on the third floor among the members of the press gallery. I made my way up to where the cabinet meeting was about to let out. A scrum of journalists was camping out, ready to grill Martin and Dosanjh on the Supreme Court healthcare ruling that day. Before the ministers met the press, I met up with Romeo to do the interview (look for it soon on Politics Watch. The interview went well and we cut it short because we saw the scrum tighten up around the microphone. We rushed over and started recording. I didn’t dare yell out a question to Mr. Martin; I was already treading quite ambiguously around the cabinet offices as a (security approved) guest of Romeo St. Martin.

After the press scrum let out we went back down to the security desk to sign me back in (I lost my pass in the scrum) and we met up with Peter MacKay and chatted for a while as he was waiting for the elevator. Peter would be taking the lead in QP today as Stephen Harper was in Alberta surveying flood damage.

I made it back to the finance committee which had just finished. Monte was answering questions from reporters and thanking some witnesses for their understanding. The committee meeting had Monte looking like a man who’d been forced, under the circumstances, to put himself in a less-than-favourable light in order to defend the political positioning and interests of the CPC (and its constituents) on C-48. The politics of politics will surely leave you bruised, and yet firm, on your principles.

We went back to Monte’s office and had some lunch and I got my member’s gallery pass for QP. We headed back over to Centre Block where Monte gave a last-minute press conference on the finance committee proceedings and I headed up to get a good seat in the Member’s House gallery. Question Period is a political junkie’s coliseum. The (common)ers take their seats above the action while their representatives below fight it out. It’s interesting to see the exchanges between MPs that are not televised, such as Gilles Duceppe mocking Martin by jeering “Remember Nixon” as Jack Layton is asking a question. Political taunts also are more audible when QP is seen in person. Politics is a blood sport and some of the exchanges make for good theatre, however, I felt embarrassed for my country when I looked over to the diplomatic gallery to see a delegation of African diplomats taking in the scene. Sometimes, as Canadians, we take our democracy for granted to the point where QP has become theatrical entertainment, while other countries struggle to establish this very system. Blogging Tory Brent Colbert was also in the gallery, however, I wasn’t aware of this until he called me later on to invite me to D’arcy McGees.

I left QP early to rush over to make my scheduled appointment with another Blogging Tory: Andrew Scheer. Andrew’s office confers to visitors a feeling of an impending rush to plan for any contingency. Constituency maps line the walls, colour coded with the Conservative return for each poll. Andrew’s staff is just as youthful as their boss and you can sense that this team works hard yet has a lot of laughs at the same time. I meet Andrew for the interview and we chat for a while as well before I start recording. That day, I discovered that conversational interviews are easier for the interviewer and for the interviewee than the reading of printed contrived questions. Our recorded interview lasted about 30 minutes until the memory on my recorder had elapsed. Andrew had to rush over to the Commons at that time and I thanked him for the interview. I decided to head back to Centre Block as well, just to wander around and give myself a tour.

Speaking personally with Monte and Andrew that day gave me the unambiguous impression that these men honestly felt humbled by their roles in government and for the opportunity to serve the peoples of Medicine Hat and Regina Qu’Appelle. Their constituents are well represented.

My long day of emulating the ultimate political tourist had come to an end and it was time to meet up with some friends downtown. Carrie, a longtime friend of mine from those days back in high school had just moved to Ottawa and, of course, it was my duty to show her what the city had to offer. We drove downtown to the Byward Market to go to a party organised by fellow Blogging Tory Amy Lee Leindecker and Tory OLO intern Veronica. Another Blogging Tory, Shameer Ravji was in attendance. If you ever want to meet the Ken Jennings of Canadian Politics, talk to Shameer, the guy is an encyclopedia of trivia! Andrew Scheer’s political crew was also present for the festivities.

As the party started to fizzle (around 11!), my friend Carrie and I wanted to keep the fun going and we were successful in recruiting the Master of the interns, Jamie Tronnes to our cause. Jamie works in the OLO and has an incredible sense of the political world in which she inhabits and has a sharp wit to match. We headed down to the Honest Lawyer for drinks, laughs and some surprisingly good live music. We rounded out our evening at about 1:30am and cabbed it back (leaving my car in its secret free downtown parking place).

I always have a great time when I visit Ottawa.

UPDATE: Contrary to Monte’s own views that Thursday’s events had a negative impact on his abilities as a host, I’d like to publically thank him for being an exceptionally great host and for taking the time during an exceptionally busy day to accomodate this blogging hobby of mine.

Keep on blogging my friend.