Date of lunch:
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Olivia Chow is the New Democrat MP for Trinity-Spadina, which makes her my MP. Olivia has a diverse and fascinating career in public service. Beginning as an advocate for Vietnamese Boat People seeking asylum in Canada, Olivia worked with many others to successfully push the Canadian government to help these people. In the end, Canada took in 200,000 refugees. She then worked as the constituency assistant in the office of Dan Heap, who held the position Olivia holds now. This taste of seeing how she could make a difference led her to run. Olivia became a school trustee in 1985, a Toronto Metro city councilor in 1991 and continuing to be a councilor in the amalgamated city hall in 1997 and finally a federal MP in 2006. I never have had the opportunity to talk with one of my representatives so I emailed Olivia and asked her to lunch. She wrote me back (which was exciting for me and my blog) and the rest (of the lunch) is history.
We ate at Supermarket in Kensington Market, right near Olivia’s constituency office and smack in the middle of her riding. I have hung out at the Supermarket at night but had never enjoyed food on the patio in the sunshine. I had Thai Green Curry Chicken and Olivia had mango salad with grilled shrimp and we both shared edamame. We both drank water (it was 30 degrees out!!!). The food was great but the food came out at all different times, including getting my rice five minutes before my curry. Total bill was $27 with tax which we split, which she insisted.
The lunch lesson:
Olivia told me about a big lesson she had learned at the beginning of her career which she shared with me. Working in Dan Heap’s office, constituents would often come into the office looking for help for a number of things. She noticed quickly that you can help people one at a time, but if you can change laws and policy, you can help a lot more people. This is what encouraged her to get into politics and something that has got me thinking…
Secretly, but I guess not so secretly now that I am writing this online, I have often thought that one day I want to be on city council. I thought it would be great to hear from Olivia about her experience on city council and beyond.
For anyone who dreams (or thinks or ponders) of political office one day, no matter your leanings, hanging out with Olivia Chow will inspire you to get involved. She is so passionate about what she does and the people she helps. It seems what drives her is being able to change things for the better.
Olivia asked me what organizations or causes I feel strongly about. I told her how I have always supported international aid organizations but most recently, I have focused my attention on the issues facing women in many of these countries. We talked at length about this, as well as Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma and Canada’s pledge in international aid.
I think this was the point when I fully realized that Olivia is actually in a position to make a difference. I watch the news about women being stoned for protesting the “rape law” in Afghanistan and I want to do SOMETHING but I don’t know what. I started to imagine myself in a position when I can truly enact change. I do realize that you don’t have to be in office to make a difference, of course, but the idea that Olivia can give a cause (for many local and national issues as well) a voice on a national stage is pretty amazing.
I really enjoyed spending my lunch hour with Olivia. I was REALLY nervous about this lunch. Once Olivia showed up on her bicycle, adorned with flowers, I felt a little bit better and by the end the nerves were gone. Olivia is wonderful company and ensures a fascinating conversation. She may have just pushed me a little closer to running one day…