By ten o’clock this morning, my day had completely derailed—not an unusual situation. Twice my assistant Beth quietly suggested that we change our estimated arrival time at the City Farm Camp. There’s a press conference at five thirty, after the kids have left for the day. I only need to be there for an hour beforehand to get a tour and have a photo op with some of the children.
But I’m only three months into my first term as PM. I’m not interested in doing the bare minimum. I’ve heard amazing things about this program, and we’ve got a plan to greatly expand the tax credits and subsidies for ones just like it across the country.
I’m not going to talk about that without actually spending some real time with the kids and the counsellors.
Plus, horses and sheep and chickens. What’s not to love about that? It’s certainly more fun than a bullshit environmental report that completely misses the mark—
I cut myself off. I’m not going to get worked up about it. The delightful Ellie Montague is going to tear into that report and tell me all the ways we can render it null and void, and justify spending the money on a new one.
I need to have Substantive Fucking Policy tattooed on all deputy ministers’ foreheads, clearly.
I’ve just finished the most intellectually stimulating conversation I’ve had in weeks in Stew’s office, with Ellie…Ellie, who I can’t get off my mind.
Dangerous territory, I tell myself. I don’t listen. There’s something about her that fires me up in a long-dormant way.
“It’s two o’clock,” Beth says as she strides into my office. She’s going to try again to rearrange my day.
“You haven’t had a chance to return these four calls yet,” she says smoothly, sliding a call sheet on top of the report I was just about to open. Reading time is over—her message is clear.
I give her a side-eye and she just smiles sweetly at me.
Beth. She’s like the sister I already have. Between her and Pia, my actual sister, I don’t get cut any slack. So Beth is like the baby sister I never had, and when she’s not riding my ass about the damn itinerary, I like her a lot. Even the bossy parts.
She’s adjusted amazingly well to the new role. I hired her on my first day in the city as an MP two years ago, and everyone said she was too young and inexperienced to be the executive assistant to a national leader. Everyone was wrong. She’s my secret weapon for keeping a tight schedule—every day except today.
Today, I’m going to camp whether she likes it or not.
I grab the call sheet and wave it at her. “You sure you don’t want to come with me?”
She gives me a look of great alarm. “To muck out barns?”
“No. Make those calls or I’m coming to find you later! Remember I can see who you call on your cell phone.”
Yeah. That’s why I have two phones. The official phone of the Prime Minister of Canada, and the burner phone I use to call my best friend, Max, when this all gets to be a little too surreal.
As I hop in the back of my armoured town car, I think this should be one of the times I call him. But I’ve got four phone calls to make in a thirty minute drive to the Agriculture Museum, and I have a certain doctoral candidate to do a little more research on, too.
I try to tell myself that my interest is purely professional. She’s smart and capable and she’s only on loan to us for three months from the University of Ottawa. If she’s impressing Stew on her first day of the job, we need to be amping up her responsibilities while she’s here.
But first, phone calls.
Camp is in fact more fun than reading reports or even fighting with Stew.
I find myself wondering if Ellie likes animals, and shove that thought away as fast as it pops into my head.
The most amazing discovery about the camp I make this afternoon is what a difference the experience makes for kids who are struggling in school. So, after I spend nearly three hours being taught by children how to care for the animals and manage the other farm chores, I get a little pissed off when the first question I get from the press is about how much my shirt cost—because it’s now smeared with mud.
“I’m going to be lucky if that’s mud. Pretty sure I got that when we were mucking out the horse stalls,” I tell Rick Stupes, a reporter with CAN News who is always out to make me look like Richie Rich. I don’t respond to the rest of his question because it’s stupid.
He tries again. “When your staff set up this photo op up, did they advise you to wear anything different?”
Seriously, what is this guy’s problem? I’m only slightly more GQ than the last guy.
Okay, no, I’m a thousand times more GQ than the last guy.
I kick my foot out from behind the podium. “I’ve been wearing these boots since I left the house at half past five this morning, because I’m not a toddler, and I know how to dress myself appropriately. As a side note, they’re the boots I hiked Golden Ears in after we won the most recent election.” Take that, Rick. “Nobody had to remind me to put them on. Coming to City Farm Camp has been the highlight of a difficult week, something I’ve really been looking forward to, and if I didn’t have a full day of work tomorrow, I’d be back in a heartbeat.”
The next question is similarly off-topic. Inside my head, I’m calling the press corps all sorts of names, but we’ve practised this over and over again. My natural propensity to snap at stupid people is well and truly beaten out of me now. Or at least well internalized.
I smile and give a short answer. Rinse and repeat, until the fifth question gets to the heart of the announcement I’ve just made, about funding for such activities needing to be a two-fisted approach, because not all parents can wait for a tax credit to justify the upfront expense.
And sometimes, those are the kids who need the alternative learning experience the most.
I smoothly reiterate what the camp director has already said, about how the hands-on care of animals instills empathy and compassion that translates well back to human interaction.
I know as soon as I finish the spiel, with an extra charming smile for the reporter who asked the right question, that’s the clip that’ll run on the news.
We don’t always nail it this well, but when we do, it makes the rest of it worthwhile.