I was able to meet the Prime Minister of Canada yesterday - I had a meeting with him. He fit me into his time! It's been a dream of mine for many years now, this meeting and eventually, the stars aligned, and I received an email last week from the office of my MP - Julie Dabrusin (link to website), that it was going to happen - and a not even a week later my wife and I drove off to Ottawa, mostly expecting that the entire thing would be canceled because of something way more important than me.
I had run into Julie and an event just before Christmas - that we both volunteer at, which a friend of mine helped establish - called Riverdale Basket Brigade Canada (link to FB page & link to donate) which is a grassroots community charity based in the Riverdale area of Toronto - they are committed to feeding between 50 and 100 families in need in Toronto at Christmas time.
Anyway, I take pictures for the event and at the end of putting together the Baskets - before they go out to be delivered to the families, I was able to speak with Julie and told her what I was trying to do and asked for her help...
A few years back now - 2017 - I was asked to film a video for Gord Downie for the Juno's.
I asked through channels if it would be ok to bring some copies of "The Hug" image for Gord to sign and so I printed out some copies of the image I had taken of Gord and Justin Trudeau - Prime Minister of Canada - hugging before what turned out to be The Tragically Hip's final concert on August 20, 2016 and brought them over.
After the filming was complete, which was at Gord's house, I brought out the images - 7 in all - and Gord signed six of them. I told him who each was for - The Prime Minister, The Canadian Archives (if they will accept it), The Band, my self, some members of his team and the last one was for him - which I would give back - once I had gotten the Prime Minister to sign them. I didn't exactly know how or when that I could make it happen, I just knew that it would. Time, patience, luck and determination. Also,I wanted to have it done right. Properly. Official like.
I told Julie this story. That I had these images sitting, sealed in a box for several years now, that I had this idea years ago, that I had an image specifically for the Prime Minister signed by Gord, heck, I even saved the pen that Gord used - and then I asked if there would there be any way, any hope, to get a meeting.... and she looked at me and said Yes. She was going to make it happen for me. Then we both went on our way.
Just to be clear - I did spend years working for my local riding association. I was an executive - Communications Director for a time even - and I worked on a few elections. I donate to the Liberals and I vote Liberal. But that is not what this is about. I don't have anything to hide in how this all happened - those that know me know this. Moving on...
Anyway - I had seeded this request with barely a hope - but definitely a dream and then last week I got the email from Julie's office, my MP - with a proposed date and a time that Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, was able to meet with me!!
Many might not know, or remember, or care, that Canada's House of Commons is undergoing a decade long renovation, and as a result, they have had to build a temporary House of Commons for our Parliament to sit in. This is in the West block - which is where my wife and I went on Wednesday - to first go to Question Period - something I had never done in Ottawa - and then to meet with the Prime Minister of Canada!
My meeting - that's what I've been calling it - I can only wonder what it is marked as in the PM's calendar - was slotted right after Question Period.
Tickets to Question Period are free by the way - anybody can go - it's really very interesting to experience and I highly recommend it - you can contact your local MP's office and they can help you - or you can go and line up - all tickets are on a first come first serve basis. You go early and line up, then you go through a very thorough security check - you can't bring anything at all into the House of Commons with you - so after security - you have a mandatory coat/item/phone check.
We were instructed to leave early so we would be ready for when the Prime Minister was finished with Question Period - which is an approximate time - so the idea is to be there when he walks in and is ready - obviously. There was another - full security procedure that Megan - my wife and I - had to go through - before getting to meet with the PM. My package of photographs was opened - for example. X-ray machines, Body scanners etc. Then an ID check. We had been sent an escort from Julie's office - Holden was his name and he was awesome. Everybody was - from the Security Police on Parliament Hill - to the PMO's aide and my MP's office. Holden - not after The Catcher in the Rye - Megan asked (It's one of, if not, her favourite books) expressed to me how cool this was - what was being done - and later we found out that Holden had worn a suit for the occasion of taking us to the Prime MInister's Office - which Megan and I thought was pretty adorable.
It's kind of fun - getting to tell security that you are there to have a meeting with the Prime Minister. Things are checked and double checked. They call the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) to verify - all this takes time - and happens repeatedly.
As it turns out, the PMO has an office for meetings in the West Block to save time - his main office is in a different building which is a bit of a distance - so my meeting was in this secondary office - I guess you could say - and it was Holden's job to navigate all the security checkpoints etc. and get us there - you can't walk in the building without an escort for security reasons. So Holden got us there and I think he had fun - it was his first time going to the PMO's office too - and it was fun to see him at the check points - we're going to meet with the Prime Minister, do you know where this room number is? He'd ask. Yes, they have an appointment - and he would provide a room number again and out names - and then somebody would verify everything again, and he would show ID - and of course Megan and I had to wear special passes by now which we'd gotten at the second security checkpoint - and then the next door wood open and we'd be pointed in the right direction.
Finally, we get to a door. There is Security outside. Must be the place. And they let us in... after checking. Of course.
Behind the door is a pretty wide hallway with a number of chairs. There are a lot of doors leading off of either side of the hallway. We get greeted by somebody from the PMO's office - who is also excited for me and the PM I think. We wait for a time as Question Period goes late. The hallway starts to fill up with government employee's, aides, staffer's - not really sure - some of them have bags with locks - they disappear into rooms eventually or mill about, talking to one another. Important things are going on. You can image me.
I have my good jeans on - the dark ones that are sort of stretchy - Megan hide's them so I won't wreck them - she'd also pulled out a clean white collared shirt for me - I'd purchased it at Winner's a while back- wore it once or twice, loved it - then totally forgot about it because Megan disappeared it - for just such an occasion. I have my wedding tie on too - it's my good luck tie and the tie I wear most often. The tie that my dad bought for me to get married in twenty years ago - I have a grey cashmere v-neck sweater on - it has a hole on the sleeve and Megan had said I couldn't take off my Jean Jacket - which I am also wearing - because of it. Not my new one, but my old one, the one that Izzy Camilleri was so kind in helping me create into my wardrobe for the performance I did last year - Through My Lens - it's got a Canadian Flag on it and I proudly wore my The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Pin and a Moosehide Campaign Pin - I looked maybe, a bit out of place in that hallway waiting - I loved it. I didn't feel out of place. Just a little nervous. Also, if you know the jacket I am talking about - YES. I did. I had to... so obviously - but that hole in my sweater....
The Finance Minister - Bill Morneau walks in and starts talking to some of the people milling about - and then, The Prime Minister of Canada walks in with a small entourage, his security detail, my MP - Julie Dabrusin is with him. She comes over to greet us, smiles and hugs, we're all excited. The PM peels off and goes into his office. Security guarding the door.
A few minutes later, we get called in. We walk through two rooms and enter his office. Big smile. We'd spent a day together years ago - before he was Prime Minister - on the Hustings - a word Gord taught me. Gord had used the word in an email he had written me one time - during an election I was working on - Good Luck on the Hustings - he had wrote - I had to look up its meaning.
David! - the Prime Minister, who is alone when we walk into his office - enthusiastically greets me and then my wife by name - he walks over - arms outstretched and gives me an incredible hug. I am humbled really. By his generosity of time and warmth. I am pleased that I had asked if I could bring Megan to share this with me. She knew Gord and the Downies and the guys in the Hip a lot longer than me.
One of the PM's photographer's - Alex Tetreault (instagram) - has slipped into the room silently. It's just the five of us and I really cannot believe this moment is happening. (I received these images from the PMO's office and I put the Watermark on - they do great work and I really appreciate the documentation of it!)
I had brought two packages with me. One containing the prints of the image of the hug, and one containing some images that I had selected from my archives to give to the Prime Minister.
I knew time was short. The first image that I handed the Prime Minister, was the image that Gord had written to him. It read:
Dearest Sir. I love you!
The Prime Minister took some time taking in the photo and the memory.
We silently reflected for a few moments. I think we were both thinking the same thing - about The Tragically Hip and what they meant to us and to Canadians; about Gord Downie and the words that he had directed to the Prime Minister that night in August, in Kingston.
I told the Prime Minister that he was incredibly generous for making time for this and then I kind of had to decide if I was going to do it - I felt I was channeling Gord on this journey - which is why I had to wear my jean jacket; a Hip tune had come on the radio just as we had been driving by Kingston to get to Ottawa - like Magic - you have to love K-Rock 105.7 - and I thought that it might be appreciated and this was NEVER, ever going to happen to me again - so I reversed my jacket! Just for a picture.
Before the PM started signing the "Hug" images, I opened the smaller package.
It contained six images that I had pulled from my archives as a gift, a small token of appreciation. I wanted, I felt that I had an opportunity to reiterate Gord's message in the one way that I could - which is through the imagery I had captured of him.
I took out each of the images and explained to the Prime Minister and my MP what they were from.
An image of Gord Downie and Pearl Wenjack Holding hands after The Secret Path show in Ottawa.
An image of Gord holding an Eagle Feather and Tobacco in Ceremony, before The Secret Path Show in Ottawa.
Gord's audio Pack - The Secret Path Rehearsals.
An image of Gord, smiling on stage - thanking the audience in Toronto.
Gord's empty shoes.
I think he said, "Wow."
Then JT - that's what we call him at home - signed the remaining images for me.
And I am very happy. I feel like I have represented well today and accomplished something important to me.
We pose for a group photo.
That's my wife, the PM, me and Julie Dabrusin, Liberal MP for Toronto-Danforth. She made this happen for me and I am grateful!! Afterwards, she was kind enough to give us a short tour of the Members Area just outside the doors of the House of Commons, which enabled us to see the portraits of past Prime Ministers. And then we left. We drove to Kingston, had a great visit with some friends and now I am home.
I really wanted to share this story - really, I wanted to share it with Hip fans in particular. I feel like they would appreciate it. I wanted to let them know also, that they are in my heart, that like so many, I think of Gord often, and the band and the music and the friendships.
And that I was able to do this thing and I was thinking of you.