Family Lessons in Ottawa Politics

By Pam Dillon

At my place this week, we got a true-life glimpse of politics and political journalism in action. Surprise!  The doorbell rang 10 minutes early.

Even though I was still then fussing about how I looked, we opened the door to three kids in suits who had come from Toronto with Tim Hudak.

Minutes later there was another commotion at the front door. Braced this time, I hid in the downstairs bathroom and eavesdropped. That’s when I heard my son Ben usher in his former high school co-op teacher, Mrs. O’Sullivan.  He was so excited and proud to be having a press conference in our home that he called her early Tuesday morning and invited her to attend it.

And she came.

There are a lot of kind people in Ottawa.

And she stayed.

Me? I was hiding in the bathroom muttering to my friend Helen on the phone. “OhmygodHelenohmygod. Ben’s high school teacher just showed up. Who’s next?”

Helen, you should know, works for Nepean Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod.

My son Ben, you should know, works for MPP Lisa MacLeod.  A part-time second-year political science student, he works about 15 hours a week at the constituency office close to home.

Ben credits Mrs. O’Sullivan with getting him that treasured co-op placement at a politician’s office. He has loved politics since he was a little boy. And when later that boss employed him? It was the stuff of birthday-candle wishes.

You should know he was hired for this, his first part-time job ever, before I became editor of Ottawa Family Living Magazine.

You should also know last summer I often accompanied Ben to work in the local constituency office.  At the same time he worked, I volunteered. And I learned, by answering the phone there, about some of the people who struggle and face challenges in this community.

There were many calls for help.

The calls were answered.

Although the MPP wasn’t often in the constituency office, when she was there her presence was felt. After she found out my youngest would be playing road hockey in the fall – and not much else – if he couldn’t earn half the cost of hockey fees, she offered him work.

I repeat: My youngest son worked several weeks for Lisa MacLeod too. And despite all his eye-rolling cynicism about politics and everything else, he was grateful for the experience and the hand up.

I too am grateful to Lisa MacLeod.  Whatever skepticism I have about the machinations of politics and politicians, the decency and support she has shown my children and my family cannot be denied.

You should know if Lisa MacLeod decided to join Kathleen Wynne, Andrea Horwath, Elizabeth May and Tom Mulcair to form the Square Dance Party of East Manotick, I’d wear the T-shirt and volunteer to hand out suckers in a parade.

I’m political like that.

One of Ben’s favourite websites is called The Political Compass. He loves for people to take the test and find out where they stand politically. Try it. I score left of Ghandi.

When MPP Lisa MacLeod called our house Monday afternoon and asked if I would talk to Tim Hudak and reporters about (I’m paraphrasing) what a vanished billion dollars means for families, I said yes.

Was I nervous?

Yes.

Was I thinking ‘OhmygodIdon’twantstrangersinmyhouseitlookslikeClarkGriswoldsChristmasturkey.’

Yes.

But the request made sense to me.

I care about family welfare and I care passionately about advocacy for those who need help but have no voice.

I don’t care whether it’s Liberals or Conservatives or the NDP making public money disappear. If it’s Greens or Rhinoceroses wasting money on overpriced orange juice, I get mad. Because there are people here with us right now with little hope and nothing to eat.

When Tim Hudak and Lisa MacLeod and Randall Denley sat around the table at my home, we talked about family struggles and social needs. We talked about why it matters when politicians blow taxpayers’ money.

Thankfully, I was able to mention a local cause about which I am passionate. I told Tim Hudak about WAVE (Work and Volunteer Experience). It’s an Ottawa program for adults with autism and its stated mission is “to raise awareness and realize the potential of adults with autism in the workplace.” Check it out at www.waveottawa.ca.

When programs such as WAVE and others are supported with taxpayer money, I told him, the benefits are felt community-wide. When structure is provided to allow people to succeed and work and be contributing members of society, I told him, it matters for life.

For my family, what happened at our home this past Tuesday morning was a real-life education in politics and the media and public responsibility. My kids saw, from the varied coverage of the event – and more importantly, public response to that coverage – that what you read and see in the news isn’t always the full truth.

I am proud my son Ben saw me talk honestly, without a script or preparation.

I am confident my family has learned some lessons.

 

Stand up and speak up for what you believe.

Don’t judge people based on their appearance.

Despite what you see or read or think you know, maybe you’re wrong.

Question the obvious. Question your own motives.

Don’t get sucked into internet flaming.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself.

Misogyny and bullying are serious, pervasive issues. What you say and how you comment on the internet matter. Be mindful.

Be kind.

Every person and every family faces untold struggles.

Don’t ever forget that.

 

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