La place to be, apparently

I’ve been away and haven’t kept pace with Ottawa’s rhythms. (It seemed reasonable to assume Ottawa doesn’t have any rhythms.) On Wednesday night I attended Jean Charest’s speech to a Public Policy Forum dinner on Canada-EU free trade. I was invited to speak to the conference on the same issue the next day, so I had a right to a meal, but I showed up late and didn’t feel like elbowing my way into one of the guest tables, so after Charest’s impressive speech I split.

Where to eat, where to eat. I went to Metropolitain Brasserie, figuring it had to be quieter than a lot of other downtown Ottawa restaurants on a Wednesday night. Big mistake. There was some kind of fuss in the room to the right of the entrance. A large crowd listening to a speaker. And a plainclothes RCMP officer, with telltale lapel pin, stationed at the door. Ahh. Indeed, there was Stephen Harper regaling the happy crowd. I asked the restaurant’s smiling greeters what the occasion was and one of them said, “A birthday party for the Quebec minister.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her there are five Quebec ministers (four? Six? Many). I found a quiet corner and curled up with a warm beef salad and a copy of Neil Turok’s book about the universe. It wasn’t until yesterday that I learned the hubbub at Metropolitain had been a 50th-birthday party for Charest.

I did get up from my table long enough to say hi to two acquaintances. One is a former chief of staff to a Tory minister. He gave me his card and told me to call anytime, which is how I know he’s no longer a chief of staff to a Tory minister. The other was Bob Rae, who was dining with several interesting people including Madame Justice Rosalie Abella and Mr. Justice Michel Bastarache. Two days later the two Supremes would turn out to be on opposite sides of the reverse-onus ruling on the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Abella wrote for the gooey soft-liberal majority; Bastarache joined Rothstein and two others in steely law-and-order dissent. On this issue, at least, the best the Harper government can hope to do is to replace the retiring Bastarache with somebody like Bastarache — and if a case like this comes up again, to still have its heart with the dissenting minority.

This morning’s papers, incidentally, carry a couple of hints that Bob Rae has managed to make himself more popular than Michael Ignatieff in the press gallery. One hint is subtle, the other less so. My own hunch is that if Dion falls the next leader will be neither of the ex-roommates, and my strong conviction is that Dion should be allowed to lead the party into the next election (allowed? Heck, urged to hurry). But there’s this: If he falls, it will now be over this carbon-pricing thing. Not that I share the opinion of Jim Travers and others that the idea is necessarily suicidal for the Grits. But if it is… whose policy was it, before it was Dion’s?

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