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Scenes from an historic day on The Hill

This Magazine Staff

I finished my meetings in Ottawa a bit earlier than expected yesterday, so in the short time before my train I wandered up to the Hill to catch a little will the government stand or fall? atmosphere.

There was what looked to be a good two-hour long line-up to get into the public galleries for question period, though a guard nearby had a theory that the line was actually for the budget vote and that once those folks got into the gallery they weren’t coming out until history had been made—which would mean a good three hours at least of pretty dry parliamentary debate before the action. Nice, hell thrilling, to see such interest in the process.

Two young guys stood on the west lawn holding a huge banner that read Enjoy Your Retirement, Paul.

Two young women stood on the east lawn with a banner reading Belinda—You the Man.

When Paul Martin arrived on the Hill, everyone wanted a piece of him. He really was, and I don’t like saying this all that much, like a prize fighter heading for the ring, with the crowd all leaning out into the aisle to touch him as he goes by.

I did not stand in line to watch the vote—early train—but I did sit in on a stirring speech by Senator Viola Léger, a Chretien appointee who, sensing it might be her last speech for awhile (or perhaps ever as she is approaching retirement), made a beautiful and impassioned plea for public support for culture—asking in fact that arts and culture be removed from the omnibus Department of Canadian Heritage and given the respect it deserves with its own focused Ministry.

She received a standing ovation from a nearly full Senate chamber.

Maybe everyone knows this, but I just noticed for the first time yesterday that Senators tend to refer to the House of Commons as “the other place”—sort of like how polite Christians favour the term “the hot place” over hell.

Say what you want about Senate reform. Yesterday I witnessed the red chamber fully engaged with Canada. They may be older, and they may be political appointees, but everyone who stood up yesterday said something smart. How often do we see that in the other place?

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