Intern love story
Each year several interns from Ukraine arrive on Parliament Hill to help out MPs and learn how the Canadian government works. This year, NDP MP Peter Stoffer was begged by the new arrivals to retell the story of a previous intern, about whom Stoffer wrote a poem entitled The Corruption of Yuriy. Stoffer, three-time winner of Maclean’s Most Congenial Parliamentarian of the Year award, is one of the most likeable MPs on the Hill. The famous intern, Yuriy Obriza, would arrive in the office at 7 every morning, stiffly do his work and leave at 4 p.m. Stoffer could never get him to loosen up or go to any social functions until the interns’ final night when he took the group out for a goodbye party. He could see Obriza was interested in another intern, Oleksandra Khaybullina, but wasn’t doing anything about it. When Stoffer asked why, Obriza said he liked the girl, but that she lived on the other side of Ukraine and he was afraid to talk to her. “Yuriy, if you don’t go over there now and kiss her,” Stoffer said, “I will.” Obriza froze. So Stoffer went over and asked permission to kiss her. She agreed and he proceeded with a passionate Gone With the Wind style embrace. “That’s how it’s done,” the MP told Obriza. The young intern finally got up the courage to approach Khaybullina. Within minutes they were having a great time. The next day Obriza rolled into the office late (at noon!) for his last day. Today, Stoffer has a photograph of Obriza and Khaybullina in his office. It’s from their wedding.
Cotler’s South African fan
When Montreal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler was in South Africa, he was a keynote speaker at an event with President Jacob Zuma. Before they spoke, Cotler pressed the South African president to join Canada in condemning Iran. Each year at the UN, says Cotler, Canada condemns human rights violations in Iran and the resolution passes by a slim margin (by only one vote last year, the MP noted). South Africa has traditionally voted against the resolution. According to Cotler, “[Zuma] got up and said, ‘I want to say that professor Cotler made some very powerful persuasive arguments to me before we came out here to speak. So I am going to stay and hear his speech as well.’ ” Zuma had planned to leave right after he spoke. Cotler was in South Africa for speaking engagements, a trip that turned into a reunion of those who worked on Nelson Mandela’s legal defence, including Cotler. He also pressed Winnie Mandela, as “one heroine to another,” to take on the case of Burmese democracy crusader Aung San Suu Kyi. Cotler told Mandela her support could help free Suu Kyi from detention. (Suu Kyi was made an honorary Canadian citizen last year.) Cotler was recently joined on the Hill by his wife, Ariela Cotler, and his grandchildren, who got to see question period for the first time. “Is it always this noisy?” they asked him. “I didn’t want to tell them that was a quiet day,” Cotler told Capital Diary.
The hill’s best-kept secret
There was a party on the Hill for Montreal Liberal MP Marc Garneau in honour of his 25th anniversary as Canada’s first astronaut in space. Everyone—even MPs from other parties—were able to keep the event a secret. The Liberal whip’s office told Garneau he was needed in the House until 6:30 that night. Then Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff told him he had to go to a 6:30 reception for university presidents, which seemed plausible—Garneau knew he had meetings with the group the next day. The former astronaut says he has never been so surprised in his life.
Harper for dinner
Liberal Mark Eyking was a serious farmer before becoming an MP. Now the Cape Bretoner maintains a hobby farm where, for the first time, he raised a few turkeys. They have names like “Cuzner” after Liberal whip Rodger Cuzner and “Deepak” after Calgary Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai. On Thanksgiving, Eyking ate “Harper.”