Our Time in O-Town

the peace tower

Every time we try and open our window, a wave of sound blasts in. It’s defining. I didn’t think that was possible, but apparently this is my rude awakening to the woes of city dwelling. There’s been construction at the major intersection stories below us, which somehow filters up to us. Just across the street is the canal, and there always seems to be lots of activity in the city. Traffic in the morning, traffic through til the evening, and then it’s very still, sleeping. All work and no play makes a capital. This is a government town. This is O-Town – Ottawa! not to be confused with ‘Our Town’, the play :P.

outside the historic building where we met Senators and MP’s
a flag? on a government building? wow…how unusual 😉

We’ve been in Ottawa almost two weeks. I’m exhausted. Remember all those other times (well basically every post!) where I said I was tired, that I had had a rough and busy week…okay, well I have a new definition of exhausted, let me leave it there.  It’s hot here, exacerbated by all the cement, and limited greens space. We’ve been spending most of our time in air conditioned offices on the ‘hill’. Apparently, what we were doing was called “lobbying”, but as a semi-American, ‘lobbying’ is a dirty word, so we prefer ‘advocating’ or really I like to think of it as meeting people and sharing stories. We wanted to share with as many MP’s and Senators as possible (and their amazing office staff) my Lyme disease adventure and the difficulty with testing, diagnosis, and treatment for patients across the country. We were hoping to explain why we needed Elizabeth May’s amazing National Lyme Disease Strategy Bill, and to ask for their assistance in passing it.

bright day to roll down the hill!

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Canada’s capital, let me paint you a picture. My vantage point is a good 2 feet lower than most peoples, and let me tell you, from down here in my wheelchair, the hills are steeper, the people move faster, and the buildings are taller ;). I had this fantasy that ‘parliament hill’ was sort of a dramatic term for a gentle slope of ground and that this perception of it being a ‘hill’ came from it’s importance in the eyes of the Canadian people *cynical chuckling*. The most challenging part of our week has been this ‘hil’, and transportation. I have no idea how we could have managed getting down the hill and then to another office (“off campus” as I like to think of it lol) without my Auntie Nancy. She’s just amazing :D. She drove us from our condo to the hill, and to all the offices!!! My Aunt is a vehicular wizard.

reflection of the parliament office building
looking up to the
offices we were in

Most days we had 3-4 meetings scheduled with a Member of Parliament, or Senator. That usually translated to being out from 9:30 am to around 4-5 in the afternoon. Monday to Friday. From 15 minutes to over and hour, everyone was very generous with the little time they had. The number of meetings could suddenly mushroom into 6 meetings, or drop down to 1, depending on how things went in the House of Commons. This is “silly season” on the hill, which means that the government is trying to push through as many of their bills as possible before the parliament session ends for summer break. So most nights the MP’s were in the house til past midnight, and up bright and early the next morning. Votes were called many times in a day, so the MP’s had to skedaddle to the house to ‘yea ‘n nay’ ;).

walking from meeting to meeting
our nations crest…
looks like the perfect
tick habitat!

I was surprised and overwhelmed by the genuine kindness and compassion of all the Member’s of Parliament and their staff. I had no idea what to expect when I walked into their offices. Most of my previous focus on the Members of Parliament had previous been negative: what I didn’t like them doing, what bills I was against, which issues I felt they were ignoring, that sort of thing. I watch question period like it is a Soap Opera, which it kind of is. I’d rarely seen MP’s interacting outside of the House of Commons, a place which I’ve come to see as an inflammatory, negative room, in need of a major change.

my amazing mother pushed me all over the place!

Most of the MP’s & Senators were surprised to hear how much trouble Lyme disease patients had been having getting diagnosed and treated. Some had met constituents with Lyme disease, which clearly had a huge impact on their approach to this issue. For those of you who have met your MP, know that your story impacted them greatly, and they were upset, and that they still wanted to change things. A few had even had family members or close friends affected by the disease, which made them even more eager to help.

Overwhelmingly, the message we heard from every MP and Senator was that they felt sure this bill could pass. That it would receive huge support in the house. I know what you’re thinking: “Politicians will tell you anything to get you out the door…”, right? I’d like to think my mum and I’s B.S.-otomer is pretty well tuned and frequently used, and what struck us both, after each and every meeting, was the genuine desire to help. The energy in every office was amazing, from the passionate interns and enthusiastic staff and members who do SO much work.

hopefully Elizabeth May’s bill will come up for debate in the Fall!

Victory dances in the elevator. High Fives. Excitedly recounting our newest meeting stories to Nancy. Each meeting left us more and more enthusiastic and excited to be on the hill.  More sure that this bill would be the beginning, that that changes could follow. It was exhilarating! It could also be the sleep deprivation which makes everything so exciting, but still…what a fortnight! I’m really optimistic that this bill could be passed with full support in the House of Commons, and be on it’s way to the Senate before we know it! Have you met with your MP?  I’m going to be sharing what we spoke to our MP’s about soon enough, so stay tuned :).

stained glass window of the war memorial,
a very peaceful and reverent place
gold leaved ceiling

We did get to do some fun things on the weekend, and in between meetings! We toured many parts of the parliament buildings, but the Peace Tower, and war memorial were two of the most amazing. The history there is tangible…it’s in the walls, and the carvings, the placards and documents. The staff were so kind and helpful…accessibility in such old buildings is a nightmare! Whenever a meeting was cancelled, and we had another meeting afterwards, I’d try to wrangle and quick look at some amazing part of the building. Although the Parliament building we were in was rebuilt after a serious fire in the early 20th century, the architecture is majestic and the walls cool to the touch. Even the rickety elevators are carved and elegant. It must be pretty inspiring to come to work every day here!

We also got to spend time with my cousin Amy, who I’ve always wanted to visit in O-Town. My aunt, mum, Amy , her boyfriend Nick and I got out of the city to visit a picturesque town called ‘Wakefield’. It was so peaceful, and quiet after being in the city for so long. We had such an amazing afternoon, on a beautiful overcast day. I had to do so much thinking and talking in on the hill, which was so draining for me, so it was such a relief to have a fun day, where we could be silly and goof off and relax!

covered bridge in Wakefield with my cousin

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