Most Collegial: Peter Stoffer

On tipping the question, and other niceties

Peter Stoffer had a question. Specifically, he had a question about the great basking shark, which, to his knowledge, was nearing eradication off Canada’s West Coast, but was not listed under the Species at Risk Act.

But before rising to hector the government on this matter during question period, Stoffer did a decent thing. He sought out Randy Kamp—the Conservative MP who serves as parliamentary secretary to the minister of fisheries—and he told Kamp the question. “Otherwise, he’d get up and say, ‘Well, the member brings up an issue and I’ll get back to him.’ But I wanted him to really have an answer on this issue,” Stoffer says. “I just thought that I would give him the question so he can give me a decent response and he did and I appreciate it. And that’s how Parliament should work, in my view.”

The practice of tipping the question is not new or unique to Stoffer. But it is indicative of an MP who remains a uniter amid often vicious division. “He’s the kind of guy,” says Kamp, “who even his enemies like him.”

Born in Holland in 1956, he was raised in Vancouver, grew up in the Yukon, and settled in Nova Scotia, where in 1997 he won his first election by a few dozen votes. When he arrived in Ottawa, he was dismayed to learn that, among other things, partisan allegiance had divided Ottawa into separate Christmas parties. “I said, ‘Frig that.’ I went out and got a bunch of refreshments and food and set up the third-floor rotunda of the Confederation Building and put up a note on everyone’s door. Over 500 people showed up.”

When he won his fifth election last fall, the runner-up was 16,000 votes behind. And when he threw his party this year—now dubbed the All-Party Party, attracting MPs and all levels of Hill staff—the resulting crowd raised $10,500 for leukemia research.

He attributes his sociability to growing up around the group home his parents ran for troubled kids. He attributes his humility to having been turned down for a date in Grade 12 because he was too short. He recalls sitting down with a Conservative not long ago and chatting for a good 25 minutes. “You may disagree with him, what he says. But so what? They disagree with what I say,” he says. “On a personal side, he’s a family man, he cares about his community, he cares about his province, he cares about his country.”

Talking fast in an eastern twang, he has not shied from haranguing opponents on such matters as the care of military veterans. But he claims no ill will toward Veteran Affairs Minister Greg Thompson, a frequent target of his attacks. And word from Thompson’s office indicates the respect is mutual.

“My goal, whether I’m on committee, or I’m in the House, or I’m in caucus, is basically to say to everyone, ‘Look, there isn’t one member of Parliament or senator that I’ve met in my 12 years that I would not want as my neighbour,’” he says. “The reality is they’re decent people and they represent their constituents in the best way they think and let’s all try to get along. If we can’t get along in this House of Commons, then my God, there’s no hope for the rest of the country.”

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