Garnett Genuis is no ordinary Parliamentarian of the Year.
Of the 10 recipients of the prize since its inception, he is, by more than a decade, the youngest. He has the least parliamentary experience—like nearly 200 other MPs, he was elected for the first time in the bumper rookie crop of 2015. He has the lowest rank in his party’s hierarchy: where previous recipients were cabinet ministers, senior critics and even leaders of their parties, Genuis, a 30-year-old Conservative from the Edmonton-area riding of Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, is his party’s deputy critic for foreign affairs.
Yet Genuis is his colleagues’ choice for this year’s top honour, their pick for Parliamentarian of the Year. And it’s not just his Conservative colleagues: he also won a plurality among MPs who voted outside their party, which means he’s the consensus pick of Liberals and New Democrats for the top post.
How’d that happen?
“We’ve had great debates in the House and he’s a really good guy,” said Raj Grewal, the Liberal MP for Brampton East. “He’s one of the smartest MPs in the House. If he puts forward an argument, you’d better be well prepared to debate with facts.” And, only two years into his Commons career, Genuis is a fixture in debate. “I’ve never given a speech in the House when Garnett hasn’t asked me a question,” Grewal said. “And I speak a lot.”
But not as much as Genuis speaks. This year’s Parliamentarian of the Year takes his role as a parliamentarian seriously: only one other MP, Kevin Lamoureux (Liberal, Winnipeg North) has spoken more words than Genuis in this Parliament. He’s spoken almost three times as much on the Commons floor as Justin Trudeau.
“I love the work I do,” Genuis said in an interview, “and I think that by and large the tools are there for you to make a difference. Sometimes the tools are underutilized. But if we have a too-powerful executive, it’s often just a question of ‘Are the tools that exist for members being used or not?’ ”
What kind of dusty old tool is a speech in the Commons? Ah, but Genuis makes modern use of his. He offered a comparison with Ken Epp, a former Canadian Alliance MP who last served in Parliament in 2004, when Genuis was in high school. Epp was a legendary talker during Commons debates, “but people in the riding didn’t necessarily see that unless they were watching CPAC at that moment,” Genuis said.
By contrast, Genuis and his staff are constantly editing video of his interventions, posting them to YouTube or Facebook. A speech Genuis gave on carbon taxes (he’s against) was viewed more than 100,000 times on Facebook.
So it’s this level of engagement, old-fashioned work ethic and modern approach that’s made Genuis one of the most prominent members of this Parliament. Add his ability to get along with colleagues and seek common ground (“I nicknamed him ‘Part-Time NDP,’ ” the NDP’s foreign-affairs critic Hélène Laverdière said; Genuis winced when I passed the compliment along) and you have a parliamentarian who’ll make a difference for years to come.
Monique Bégin shares a laugh with Maclean’s Editor-in-Chief, Alison Uncles, and Ottawa Bureau Chief, John Geddes, during the Parliamentarian of the Year awards banquet at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Photograph by Blair Gable