When I recently learned that Centre Block on Parliament Hill was closing for ten years of renovation, I knew I had to take a nostalgia tour. Ten years could mean fifteen, or even twenty. If it took that long, I’d be in my nineties and might not be around for the outcome. I wanted to discover what was the same and what had changed since I worked on the Hill in the 1970s.
Because I’d been press secretary for the Leader of the Opposition, I first wanted to look at Room 409-S. So I wrote to the current occupant, the Honourable Andrew Scheer, and received a speedy and positive response from one of his staffers, Kelsey Regnier. She made the necessary arrangements and last Friday we were able to see that my former office has been added to an expanded meeting room with “Fear God” and “Honour the King” still carved above the doors. Scheer was in Montreal but we enjoyed a special tour of Centre Block given by John Brassard, the member for Barrie-Innisfil, and deputy opposition whip. A former firefighter, he is an ebullient man who cares deeply for his country.
Some surprises: There’s airport-style security at the main door and additional security if you want to sit in the visitors’ gallery. You can’t even wear your watch; it could become a projectile! John Diefenbaker’s office is now occupied by opposition staffers drumming up questions for Question Period. Between the official portraits of Paul Martin and Jean Chretien stands a pillar, as if commemorating the rivalry between the two former Liberal prime ministers. My favourite room in all the world, the Parliamentary Library, is as magnificent as ever.
The most enjoyable aspect was meeting so many MPs, who when they heard I’d worked for Robert Stanfield, cited the fabled comment by Richard Gwyn of the Toronto Star who called Stanfield, “The best prime minister we never had.” Stanfield would rather have become PM, but losing didn’t make him either bitter or morose. Still, it was a pleasure to hear such praise forty years after he walked those halls. Few men make that kind of mark in this world.