Mitchel Raphael on summer MPs: flipping burgers, pushing kale

The calories on the bus go . . ., Aren’t you a bit young?, Honour killings and Rona Ambrose

The calories on the bus go . . .
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is in the midst of his Liberal Express bus tour across the country. The bus has a supply of granola bars, a fridge stocked with Red Bull and “whatever food we picked up at the last farmers’ market we visited,” notes Ignatieff’s press secretary Michael O’Shaughnessy. After the Barrie, Ont., farmers’ market, for instance, there were “fresh cherries and some cinnamon buns.” There’s a water cooler on the bus and everybody writes their name on a hard plastic water bottle to minimize waste. There are also lots of flowers: Iggy’s wife, Zsuzsanna Zsohar, receives a bouquet or two daily at stops. At Tim Hortons breaks, Ignatieff, who drinks black coffee before 11 in the morning and steeped tea in the afternoon, will often pick up a 40-pack of Timbits for everyone. The bus recently stopped at the hamburger joint Webers, a famous pit stop in Ontario cottage county. While he was there, Iggy met Mike McParland, a.k.a. “Key Man,” who has been flipping burgers at Webers since July 1963 and carries signature clanking jail keys. Key Man took Ignatieff behind the grill to try him out and “was impressed with the leader’s flip of the wrist.”

Aren’t you a bit young?
Halifax MP Megan Leslie says some of her NDP colleagues send their constituents seed packages with their MP information printed on them. The seeds are usually for flowers, but Leslie decided to send out kale seeds because she believes in promoting sustainable food. “Kale is a nutritious, cheap food that grows in Nova Scotia but people don’t know what to do with it,” she says. On her packages, she has included a recipe for kale chips, and a local nutritionist who has planted the “Megan Leslie kale” plans to come to the MP’s meet-and-greet harvest fair with a new recipe and do cooking demonstrations. Now that Leslie is back in Halifax more, she is working out again at her home gym, which happens to be part of a seniors’ retirement home that offers community memberships. Leslie, who is 36, says she is the youngest person in the gym. But then she’s used to that because it’s the same in the other gym she uses—the one for MPs on Parliament Hill when she is in Ottawa.

As the NDP’s new health critic, Leslie has been meeting with a lot of health policy analysts. She says she’s getting a lot of comments about her age, everyone saying “you are very young.” Leslie is hoping to go to Quebec soon for more French lessons: “They get you to talk about things you know.” Last summer her critic portfolio meant she had to learn the words for “housing” and “homelessness.” Now she will have to learn how to say “heart attack” and “obesity.”

Honour killings and Rona Ambrose
When Rona Ambrose, minister for status of women, held press conferences in Montreal and Mississauga, Ont., condemning “honour killings,” she never expected such a huge media turnout. They were the largest of her political career. Ambrose says the government is reaching out to communities to start a dialogue on so-called honour-based violence in order to develop strategies to deal with it. At the press conferences, Ambrose cited a report by social worker Aruna Papp for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy that outlines strategies the government could undertake to combat this kind of violence. Papp heard from Ambrose out of the blue after the minister read her report. The social worker was at the Mississauga press conference and is “still in shock” over the sympathetic response she got from the ethnic media who attended. She says she could never have dreamed of her report getting better publicity. When the two met, Papp says the minister “knew the issue even before I presented it to her. For the first time in 30 years I put my trust in a politician.”

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