The next several parts of Uprising deals with Douglas Bland’s views on politicians and how they think/operate. As a lifelong resident of Ottawa, I’m naturally adverse to hearing criticism of the company that keeps my town afloat. This is a government town. Take your fancy high-paying, white collar, non-unionised jobs back to Montreal or Toronto if you don’t like it!
It might seem weird to hear me say this, but despite having lived my entire life in Ottawa I haven’t had a lot of contact with politicians. I’ve had all kinds of experience with the public service and government workers (plus soldiers are the original public servants). But in Ottawa, politicians are actually kind of a…specialized breed with something of a limited range of travel. If you’re in the public service you’ll probably hear from your particular Minister on a regular basis (I’ve seen most of our Defence Ministers for the last eighteen years, at least from a distance), but actually meeting one of them is pretty rare.
Still, there’s some local events that brings them out of the woodwork. Despite not actively trying, I’ve managed to shake hands with two different Prime Ministers (Jean Chrétien and Justin Trudeau) as well as a handful of MPs. Most of the time I’ll be in uniform and it’s one of those formal receiving lines where the dignitary in question goes from one end to the other, shaking everyone’s hand in turn while smiling for the cameras. There was one time, however, when it was just me and another guy, plus an MP. No ceremonies, no cameras, the MP in question was on his way to give a speech, but stopped by to say hello as he passed.
This is Royal Galipeau (yup, his parents named him Royal), the Conservative Party Member for the riding of Ottawa-Orleans from 2006-2015.
In terms prominence, Mr Galipeau is what’s called a back-bencher. He held his seat in Parliament, cast his vote and introduced some legislation, but he didn’t hold a cabinet portfolio or one of the formal positions (like Party whip). Generally speaking, back-benchers don’t get a lot of respect, even though they’re often doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes leg work to get major legislation passed. In this case, Royal Galipeau was a life long politician who’d spent years in municipal politics and working for the previous Liberal MP before crossing over to the Conservative Party. He was first elected in 2006 and defended his seat in two more elections before finally being defeated in the Liberal wave that swept our current government into power. He passed away in January of 2018.
So the occasion in question was Veterans’ Appreciation Day. An event put on by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) about a week before 11 November outside their offices by the Billings Bridge Shopping Mall. Essentially it’s a whole series of historical displays, some guest speakers from the Royal Canadian Legion, as well as other prominent figures. In the parking lot, the local Reserve units set up a display of vehicles, weapons and equipment. The main audience for this event are kids from the locals schools, who get bussed in for the occasion as part of learning about Canadian military history.
This would have been back in 2012. Me and a friend (we were both Sergeants) were hanging out by our display, waiting for the school groups to arrive, when this older, balding gentleman walks up and asks us if we’re the ones in charge of the display. We answered that we were in charge of part of it, at which point he introduced himself and thanked us for having come out on such a cold day for the event.
I don’t follow politics closely enough that I can recognize more than a handful of politicians on sight, but I knew the name (Royal is pretty memorable) so right away I mentioned that I was from his riding.
Right away the guy lit with enthusiasm and shook my hand, proudly declaring “Ah! Then I work for you!” When my buddy mentioned – with a kind of jokingly apologetic tone – that he was from a different part of the city, Galipeau named his MP without missing a beat and declared “He’s also a good guy! He works hard for all of you!” He followed this up with a few questions about the equipment we were going to be showing off, asking if either of us had been deployed (I had, my buddy hadn’t), and commented on the weather (it was chilly, but there was no wind and the sun was out). He then apologized for not being able to stay longer, but he was scheduled to speak in a few minutes. He shook hands again, thanking us for our time, then hustled off.
So overall, no big deal. He came over, introduced himself, shook hands, chatted briefly, then moved on. A slightly more drawn out version of the classic ‘Grip & Grin.’ Here’s the thing, though: For that 2-3 minutes that we were all talking, we had his complete attention. He spoke a bit and listened some more but most of all he made it clear that he was glad to be there meeting us. Every aspect of his speech and body language was enthusiastic and friendly.
Now I got no illusions. I know that, for a politician, meeting people is supposed to be as natural as breathing. If you can’t grip & grin, you ain’t getting elected. I’m sure he could have shown that same level of enthusiasm for anyone. Except that he didn’t need to come over and talk to us. He was in a hurry to get to the ceremony and it would have in no way been an insult to us for him to walk on by and meet his timings. Instead he diverted over to where we were standing so he could say ‘Hi.’
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I think it’s worth considering. Any knuckle-head can run for office and under the right circumstances they can even win. But if you plan to stick around for a while, you need to have that instinct. Reach out to people, engage and listen. Most of all, it may only be a five minute chance meeting on the street, and there may be nothing that you can actually do for that person, but make sure that person feels like they got your entire attention.
Even if they’re not one of your constituents, they’re still someone’s constituents.
For what its worth, this one meeting is something that came back to me a bunch of times as I was re-reading the next part of Uprising. Royal Galipeau was a back-bencher. One of the hundreds of MPs who fill seats and do their work while seldom getting noticed. But he knew how to notice others, and he knew how to engage with others. He had that awareness and he had that empathy.
In the next deconstruction post, we’re going to meet Douglas Bland’s vision of a career politician. Royal Galipeau is a good man to keep in mind as a contrast.
 After doing some quick research, I found out I was wrong, and he held the post of Deputy Speaker of the House during his first term. In Canadian Parliament the Speaker is sort of the referee who keeps things running in an orderly manner in the House of Commons.
 I worked this event (as well as several others in the run up to Remembrance Day) pretty regularly after coming home from Kandahar. Even after the Afghan War came to an end we still got some pretty big crowds coming out to see us. It wasn’t until the 2014 shooting at the War Memorial that attendance dropped off noticeably. I’m guessing parents became concerned for their kids’ safety. I was promoted to Sergeant in 2012, and moved out of Orleans a year later, so this meeting would have happened in the fall of 2012.
 Unless they’re a party leader or someone with a really distinct appearance, I usually only remember the assholes.
 My buddy moved around a lot in those days so I can’t remember which riding he was in back then, but Ottawa’s pretty multi-faceted city so it’s entirely possible this was a Liberal MP whom Royal was praising.
 As recent events have shown.
One thought on “Grip & Grin”
I met M. Galipeau about the same time – he took the time to give a personal tour of the House to my son’s Cub Scout troop one evening. He took the time to talk to each of the Cubs and let them know that this was “their house”. As politicians go he was definitely one of the better ones.