Mitchel Raphael on John Baird’s mom, his Grade 7 teacher, her sister . . .

Kelly Block and the Bloc, Jason Kenney couldn’t stop laughing, The MP and the pilots

Kelly Block and the Bloc
MPs from all parties took home prizes at Maclean’s fourth annual Parliamentarians of the Year awards ceremony held in the West Block. For the fourth time in a row, Nova Scotia NDP MP Peter Stoffer won for Most Collegial. (Stoffer said he voted for Liberal whip Rodger Cuzner, a fellow Nova Scotian, who came in second.) Ted Menzies got the prize for Hardest Working MP. It was the first year the Bloc won awards: Gilles Duceppe for Most Knowledgeable and Robert Bouchard for Best Represents Constituents. There was even a joke that the party was on a roll when it was announced that Saskatchewan Conservative Kelly Block had won for Rising Star. Toronto Liberal MP Bob Rae won for Best Orator, which was not surprising since he seems to be one of the few MPs who can ask a question in the House without reading from a piece of paper and can even do a follow-up question that takes into account the answer he just got from the government. The big winner of the night, though, was Transport Minister John Baird, who was named Parliamentarian of the Year.

Attending the awards ceremony was Baird’s mother, Marianne Anderson. Anderson told Capital Diary she tapes question period every day and watches it in the evening. Besides her son, her favourite people to watch in QP are Liberal MP Hedy Fry and NDP Leader Jack Layton. Also there to honour Baird was his Grade 7 teacher Kay Stanley, who happens to be Tory Senate leader Marjory LeBreton’s sister. “John was a very curious student,” said Stanley, who is credited with getting Baird into politics. Stanley used to have a phone in her classroom because she was head of the local teachers’ federation. But she was also heavily involved with the Progressive Conservative party and once received a call during class from then-PC leader Joe Clark. That really impressed Baird. “I never thought my sister and John would end up in cabinet together,” says Stanley. LeBreton said Baird always calls her “Marg, like in The Simpsons. So I call him Homer.” Laureen Harper, who often has Baird as her date at Ottawa social functions, was also at the party. When Stephen Harper famously surprised guests at the National Arts Centre by playing the piano, Mrs. Harper said Baird got a text from a friend saying: “It’s a real drag when your date’s husband shows up.” The night of the awards, Baird had a fundraiser scheduled in his riding so he sent Defence Minister Peter MacKay there in his place. Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, who was at the Maclean’s awards ceremony, said she learned that Baird has two stories he tells every time at fundraisers. She said that when she heard one of them the first time, “I thought it was the funniest joke I ever heard and I believed it as a true story.” Baird describes going to a rickety old house no one ever hits while campaigning in the dead of winter. The person opens the door and says, “Who are you and why are you bothering me? I hate everything to do with the government.” Baird’s punchline? “I’m Dalton McGuinty and I’m here to get your vote for the Liberal party.” Baird’s award wasn’t without controversy. According to Toronto Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, “Anyone who has such great disdain for Parliament and parliamentary procedure makes it an embarrassing evening for Maclean’s. It makes a mockery of the contest.” Though Newfoundland Liberal MP Scott Simms noted that, “given the fact Parliament is immature, maybe it’s a good choice. Despite the bravado, Baird is an approachable guy. But I once called him a blowfish in the House.”

The MP and the pilots
Tory MP Patrick Brown hosted a special reception in the West Block for Air Canada’s pilots union. There are more than 200 Air Canada pilots who live in Barrie, Ont., the city Brown represents. That’s because pilots, Brown explained, must live close to the airport they work out of and Barrie is near Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. The Barrie pilots have a monthly pub night and a hockey league. Brown says Barrie is nicknamed “Terminal 4,” a reference to when Pearson had three terminals.

Jason Kenney couldn’t stop laughing
During a scrum on his immigration bill, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was told that Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, an outspoken MP who at times rubs people the wrong way, was complaining that had the bill in its current form been around when he immigrated to Canada from Greece, he would not have been allowed into the country. A cheeky journalist immediately asked, “Will the bill be retroactive?” Kenney started to crack up and couldn’t continue.

One ballroom, two very different days
The Council of Arab League Ambassadors in Ottawa held a celebration to showcase their countries in the Fairmont Château Laurier ballroom. Tables were set up highlighting a variety of Middle Eastern cultures, though Palestinian representatives kept their table empty as a sign of mourning for the aid flotilla that attempted to reach Gaza. The honoured guest was Senate Speaker Noël Kinsella. Treasury Board President Stockwell Day’s aide noted that the previous day the room had been made kosher by rabbis because Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was supposed to have had an event there but had to return to Israel early to deal with the flotilla crisis.

The Maclean’s Parliamentarians of the Year party was sponsored by TD Bank Financial Group, Pfizer Canada, the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC), the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association and Wayne Gretzky Estates winery and was hosted in association with the Historica-Dominion Institute and L’actualité.

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