This week I spent one unique and exciting day on Parliament Hill visiting high-ranking political figures together with my good friend and fellow City Councillor Mike Cohen. Mike serves as the English Montreal School Board communications and marketing specialist and writes for a number of newspapers, including The Suburban, The Jewish Tribune, The Montrealer, The Jewish Standard and Montreal Jewish Magazine.
I serve as the director of Public Affairs and Communications for the Jewish General Hospital.
Mike and I are very enamored with the political process – local, provincial and national. In our professional capacities we teamed up to deliver important messages to leading policy-makers. Mike ably represented the school board while I promoted one of Quebec and Canada’s leading healthcare and medical research institutions.
Mike and I began our day with a trip to the Ottawa National Advocacy Office of Canadian Jewish Congress. Mike worked for the organization when the head office was in Montreal. I served as chairman of the CJC Quebec Region Jews in Arab Lands committee together with Martin Penn as well as the Syrian Jewry Task Force under Judy Feld Carr and also the Cuban Jewry Task Force. We dropped by to say hello to Director of Government Relations, Eric Vernon, and Director of Operations, Joshua Rotblatt.
L-R: Glenn J. Nashen, Joshua Rotblatt, Eric Vernon, Mike Cohen
Our first meeting on Parliament Hill was with Justin Trudeau, the Liberal MP for Papineau. Justin, of course, is the son of our late, great prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He seemed appropriately comfortable in his Confederation Building office. “I am abashed to admit how good this feels,” he says. “Every aspect of this job is so incredibly satisfying.”
How would his father feel if he could see him now? “About a year before my dad died I realized that politics would be a possible path for me one day,” he recalled. “I knew that I needed to talk to him about this or I would regret it. Well, it turned out to be 10 minutes of the most awkward conversation I’d ever had. You see, he had basically already answered this question in the way he raised my brothers. ‘Know your values and principles,’ he would always say. He certainly did say that we should not do anything because we thought it was our appropriate path and with that in mind I know that he was extremely proud that I became a teacher.”
Mike and I both believe that in the coming years Justin will be the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and ultimately our Prime Minister.
Meeting with Justin Trudeau, M.P.
We were delighted when the Federal Minister of Health, Leona Aglukkaq , agreed to see us. Ms. Aglukkaq was first elected to work for the Nunavummiut in the House of Commons in October 2008 and became the first Inuk to be sworn into the federal cabinet. Prior to entering federal politics she served in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly as the MLA for the district of NATTILIK (communities of Gjoa Haven and Taloyoak). During her time as an MLA, she was elected by her peers to be part of the Executive Council and first given the responsibility of finance minister and house leader, before becoming the Minister of Health and Social Services and the Minister for the Status of Women.
She was absolutely charming and welcomed us so warmly. We spoke about last year’s H1N1 pandemic and the medical isotope shortage. The Minister may be making a trip to Montreal in the not too distant and I encouraged her to visit the JGH and the premier cancer centre in the province of Quebec, the Segal Cancer Centre.
Glenn J. Nashen and Mike Cohen drop in for a meet and greet with Canada's Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq
Stockwell Day, President of the Treasury Board of Canada, spent several years as a young student in Montreal. Long before he became the Alberta finance minister, leader of the Canadian Alliance and a trusted federal minister for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Day resided in St. Lambert, N.D.G. and Westmount. The Prime Minister initially appointed him as Public Safety minister, moving him to International Trade and now the Treasury, where he has been handed the crucial task of getting our country’s finances back on track.
While he was Minister for Public Safety he planned to visit my fledgling group known as the Cote Saint-Luc volunteer Citizens on Patrol. A last-minute emergency scuttled that visit but I had the opportunity to meet him last year at a local synagogue speech to the community and once again this week.
The Minister is warm, friendly and charming and spent several minutes chatting with us (the day before the speech from the throne and two days before the budget) about growing up in Montreal, about our respective institutions at the JGH and EMSB and much more.
A visit with the President of the Treasury Board of Canada, Stockwell Day
Every step of the way these last four years Stockwell Day has been supported by Neil Drabkin, a lawyer and long time Côte Saint-Luc resident, as his Chief of Staff. Neil has a significant background in the political process, going back to the era of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. At that time Neil was a senior policy advisor and deputy chief of staff to the Minister of Citizenship, Gerry Weiner. He has also been a Tory candidate on a few occasions. I’m proud to call Neil a good friend.
Cohen and Nashen with Treasury Board Chief of Staff Neil Drabkin
I was very much looking forward to meeting an extraordinary cabinet minister, Steven Fletcher. Fletcher was a young mining engineer in Manitoba in 1996 when an automobile collision with a moose left him a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down. Despite the odds, he returned to university for his MBA and has been elected to Parliament in the last three elections, now serving as the Minister of Democratic Reform. He’s been travelling near Montreal recently to take French classes.
He and his father, David, presented us with a copy of the book The Steven Fletcher Story: What Do You Do If You Don’t Die? “Have your handkerchief ready,” his executive assistant warned us. Fletcher has such a great disposition. What an inspiration he is! His office is a beehive of activity, with meetings occurring non-stop. His father told us that he has reached the highest level of elected office of any quadriplegic in the world. Truly amazing. I invited him to come speak to an audience at the JGH this Spring.
Meeting with an extraordinary Cabinet Minister, Steven Fletcher
Diane Finley is the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and also gave us a very warm welcome into her offices. The MP for Haldimand-Norfolk in Simcoe, Ontario told us that a number of years ago she spent a summer working at the Lachine plant of Rolls Royce Canada. Her boss was a gentleman by the name of Doug Finley who eventually became her husband. Doug is now a Conservative Senator and the party’s national campaign director. Diane Finely shared with us her battle with Graves Disease, an autoimmune condition which causes over activity of the thyroid. For some time she had to wear sunglasses in the House of Commons due to a hypersensitivity to light. “I had five surgeries and I am fortunate that the last one was successful,” said the minister, who is also responsible for the Federal Office for Disability Issues.
Finley told us that when she was in opposition that office was not accessible to the handicapped. “There were actually two offices at the time,” she said. “Now we have one office across the river in Gatineau. Not only is it accessible; it is a showpiece for accessibility.
We had a superb lunch in the famous Parliamentary Dining Room amid Members of Parliament and their exclusive guests. Later in the day, at a cocktail reception by the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute at the posh Rideau Club, we met the former Consul General in Los Angeles, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, Laurie Hawn, as well as CTV national reporter Roger Smith.
CTV's Roger Smith and Mike Cohen
I was very impressed with the Parliamentarians and their senior staff whom we interacted with. We received privileged access to these leading politicians. We were welcomed very cordially by all and we invited each to come visit some of Mike’s schools and my hospital CEO and president on future visits to Montreal.
Our day began at 6:00 a.m. and we returned home near midnight. It was an exhausting day spent traversing Parliament Hill and downtown Ottawa, passing through airport-like security no less than 10 times. A unique day in the life of two communications directors. Exciting, fulfilling and professionally and personally rewarding.