Capital Diary: Mitchel Raphael on the story behind Chrétien’s official portrait

‘I recognize that expression’, Dan Aykroyd and the troops, and MP’s suitcase just got lighter

‘I recognize that expression’
Speaker Peter Milliken hosted the hanging of Jean Chrétien’s official prime ministerial portrait. In his speech, Milliken referred to a 1967 CBC interview with  Chrétien, who was then still a young MP. “His sense of humour,” Milliken noted, “was already evident. Speaking to a crowd of supporters one day, he said, ‘My initials are J.C., like Jesus Christ . . . my mother’s name is Mary. I live on Boulevard Pius XII. At 30 I was at the beginning of my public life. I hope I will not be crucified at 33.’ ” Milliken went on to note that Chrétien was the 18th of 19 children and “being the baby of the family, or close to it, it’s not easy to make your mark. I think we can agree he found his niche.” The portrait, painted by New Brunswick artist Christan Nicholson, took a year and a half to complete. There were five versions of it before the one with the “Chinese yellow” background was finally selected. The yellow version was championed by the former PM’s daughter, France Chrétien Desmarais. The Chrétien family was inspired by the painting Nicholson did of Robertson Davies holding his glasses, so Chrétien is shown with specs in hand. When former deputy PM John Manley looked at the portrait, he said, “I recognize that expression. That’s the look you got when you came into cabinet five minutes late.” VIPs attending the event included Ed Broadbent and current NDP Leader Jack Layton, who agreed it would be a good idea to have a bust of Broadbent made, like the one he has of NDP icon Tommy Douglas in his office. Chrétien’s portrait was installed at the beginning of the hall of prime ministerial portraits in Centre Block. With some rearranging, there is room for about 11 more portraits, though some may need to be a little smaller. When Chrétien entered the room, there were shouts of “four more years.” Stephen Harper’s spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, joked the chants were for his boss, who entered the room with Chrétien.

Dan Aykroyd and the troops
The Canadian Vintners Association was on the Hill to allow MPs to sample wine from across the country, including Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia. Bloc MP Christiane Gagnon said her favourite wine was the Pinot Gris from Nova Scotia. But was it better than the Quebec wines? “Oui!” Working one of the tables was Liam Doody, who sells the Dan Aykroyd series of wines. He says their best seller is the Cabernet Merlot. Aykroyd has to sample all the wines before they are shipped, which Doody says can delay products for up to five weeks—the busy star has to make it to the vineyards in southern Ontario. Aykroyd, a big supporter of Canadian troops, recently had 56 cases of his wine shipped to Afghanistan for the men and women serving there.

MP’s suitcase just got lighter
Minister of State for Sports Gary Lunn has been limping around with a cast after having surgery on his foot. The downside is that it’s been hard to escape the media in the foyer, like when CTV’s Bob Fife cornered him to ask about MPs’ expenses and the auditor general. “You can’t run,” quipped Fife. The plus side, Lunn says, is a lighter suitcase: “I only need three shoes.” Lunn now travels with one running shoe, one dress shoe and one casual shoe.

He’ll never be a Starbucks MP
Before the mood changed on MPs opening their books to auditor general Sheila Fraser, Toronto Liberal MP Rob Oliphant said in a press release that he was voluntarily going to let the AG see what she needed. Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert noted that the fear on the Hill was that the AG’s report would highlight who were the Starbucks MPs versus the Tim Hortons MPs. Oliphant declares himself strictly a Tim Hortons MP: he can’t actually drink Starbucks coffee, he says, because of “acid reflux.”

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