The series of round tables by Liberals on the Hill last week included a day dedicated to women’s issues, organized by Winnipeg MP Anita Neville. At lunch (where cupcakes decorated with pink roses were made by a Liberal staffer to keep costs down), the keynote speaker was former Progressive Conservative foreign minister Flora MacDonald.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff called her one of his “personal heroines.” MacDonald made sure to tell the Liberal audience she was having dinner that night with former NDP leader Alexa McDonough, thereby covering all her political bases. She talked of her work in Afghanistan, particularly in the province of Bamyan where the Taliban
famously defaced the giant Buddhas. Her accomplishments have included bringing solar panels to small villages, starting tree planting programs, establishing schools, and participating in local customs: “I have never seen anyone drink as much tea as the people of
Afghanistan.” Also at the lunch was Montreal MP Irwin Cotler, who has a special connection to MacDonald. In 1979, Cotler, a law professor at the time, was expelled from the Soviet Union for his work with Soviet Jewry, particularly his ties with refusenik Natan Sharansky. Cotler was ordered to board a Japanese airliner without a boarding pass.
Fortunately it was flying to London. MacDonald arranged a press conference when Cotler’s plane landed there and met him personally when he got to Ottawa. He also notes that she suspended a bilateral agreement with the Soviets. Notes Cotler: “She was a foreign affairs minister who acted on principle. I never forgot that.”
The story of the seven keys
When former foreign minister Flora MacDonald spoke to Liberals about her trip to Afghanistan she told everyone in the room they had to go see the special exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Civilization called Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures. The day before, Heritage Minister James Moore had taken Afghanistan’s ambassador, Jawed Ludin, and two Afghan MPs on a special tour of the exhibit, which was saved by workers at the Kabul museum in 1979 during the Soviet invasion. The treasures were hidden in a vault in the presidential palace. Seven keys were needed to open the vaults and were kept by seven different workers, who hid the relics for fear of looting and later concern they would be destroyed by the Taliban. Ludin was working in the presidential palace when the vaults were opened in 2003. It was believed the treasures would be safe with President Hamid Karzai in power. Ludin told Capital Diary they were lucky they got all seven keys because one of the holders had died in Pakistan and his children, who had had no idea what the key was for, managed to get it to the palace.
Milliken to the rescue
Prorogation has meant Speaker Peter Milliken has been able to catch up on his correspondence: he finally finished doing letters from six months ago that required a handwritten response. He also recently took on another duty. During the Liberals’ round-table discussion on women’s issues, one female attendee went up to him in the Hall of Honour and said the Hill must normally not see this many women because all the women’s washrooms in the area had run out of both paper towels and toilet paper. The Speaker said he would get right on it.
Stoffer eyes neighbour’s space
NDP MP Peter Stoffer’s enormous hat and pin collection has now almost filled his office. With little room left on the walls, he says he is eyeing the space of his neighbour, Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh. But Dosanjh quips he won’t be moving for the sake of a pin and hat expansion unless Stoffer can find him a bigger office with a better view on the second floor of the Confederation Building. That said, the Vancouver MP says he still always likes being on a low floor.