This interesting interview develops the scenario where a Northern Ontario veterinary practitioner of 11 years embraces a new career involving some 25 years as an elected member of the federal parliament and another 12 serving government in various other capacities. Dr. Foster tells some amusing anecdotes concerning his reasons for taking up veterinary medicine, his career as a veterinarian, and how his interest in politics resulted in his new career, how that developed, making reference from time to time to situations wherein his training and experience as a veterinarian proved, not just useful, but invaluable. His first-hand accounts of the workings of government may help explain the arcane activities on Parliament Hill. A good example is his use of net-working within government circles in order to obtain sizable grants for Canadian veterinary colleges. His honest assessment of well-known personalities and groups within and close to government are also enlightening.
ALUMNI-IN-ACTION ORAL HISTORY
MAURICE FOSTER, OVC ‘57
Ontario Veterinary College
Interviewed by Peter Hyde
October 1, 2004
P The first part of this tape is missing due to malfunction but it is an interview with Dr. Maurice Foster by Dr. Peter Hyde on October 1, 2004 and Maurice had just begun to talk about the reasons why he became a veterinarian, it was largely due to the admiration he had for the vet who used to come to his father’s farm. So he continues from here.
M The idea of doing what he did, large animal practice, which was most of the practice in our part of the country seemed like a pretty good life, going out and helping people, hopefully curing disease and preserving public health and all those things. Maybe if I’d grown up in a different situation I would have done something else, but that was kind of my world and so I went off to OVC, which was at that time part of the University of Toronto in Guelph. Even if I haven’t spent most of my life actually practicing or even in veterinary medicine, I think it was a wonderful education that we had; it was a wonderful situation with the three Colleges there. It was a nice community and background situation which was really a wonderful experience, looking back. It was a five year course; my brother was in the four year course, there’s a good story there. But, you know I graduated with great confidence that I could go out and practice veterinary medicine after five short years and help farmers and help myself and be a professional in the community wherever I chose to practice. Originally I had planned to go to Northern Ontario, a place called Desbarats, to buy a practice, but the person who was going to sell the practice decided not to. Two or three of my friends from Western Canada were going to Saskatchewan. So I went to Saskatchewan for two years and that was a wonderful experience because I had very little knowledge of western agriculture and massive grain production, wheat fields and soybeans and all the other crops there, and not much experience really with beef cattle and hogs; I mainly came from a dairy farm where it was a very organized situation; so that was a wonderful education and it was very important to me in my future responsibilities as a Member of Parliament because I ultimately became Agriculture Critic and Wheat Board Critic in the Official Opposition for some nine years, so, having spent a couple of years in Western Canada, the agriculture in Western Canada was really very, very helpful to me in what would be another career twenty or thirty years down the road.
P I'd like to come back to your political career in a little while, but just dropping back to your original comments about the impact that the practicing veterinarian who came to your father's farm had on you. It's very interesting, isn't it, that a fellow could come to the farm and treat cattle not realizing the impact he has on all sorts of other people just by the professional way he behaves. This sort of thing, you know, is interesting.
M Yes, treating something like milk fever where the cow appears as though she’s dying, and a few minutes after he treats her she's standing up and appearing pretty healthy; that kind of thing has quite an impact on a person in their formative years or their early teens. It was pretty hard for somebody growing up back in those days, I mean the world is so much more exposed to young people today with television and internet and all this, but in those days there was a radio and your exposure to other professions or other things was pretty limited. I mean, it was whatever you saw in your high school, whatever you saw in your home community; we didn’t even live in the largest community; we were in a small village and very orientated towards that situation.
P Maurice, when you went to that school at that time were they emphasizing anything in particular? For example, when I went through herd health was on the horizon and Doug Blood would talk about the future of veterinary medicine where the veterinarian would come in and look at the whole thing. Whereas when I was in practice it was you’d go in and treat one thing at a time.
M I think that in our period, which would be three or four years previous to your graduation it was pretty well a fire engine practice kind of approach; the vast majority were single person practices you know, like the little hamlet where I practiced in Northern Ontario. There was Sault Ste. Marie, at that time, probably 40 or 50,000 people; there were probably 100,000 in the whole area, you know. I did the large animal practice; there was one small animal clinic in Sault Ste. Marie; there was one Health of Animals veterinarian at the border, and we were it, so you just spent your life driving 40 or 50,000 miles a year solving people’s problems and mainly small dairy herds of 20 or 30 cows but there was a fair amount of beef cattle and a certain amount of horses; I often worked in the lumber camps up in the north where they had over 100 horses along the Algoma Central Railway and up in the bush near Thessalon.
P And equine infectious anemia was a big problem in those days I think, was it not?
M Yeah, although it was more the old fashioned sort of diseases like strangles and some dental work and infections.
P General across the board.
M It was general kind of stuff whereas today, in Sault Ste. Marie, which has grown only by maybe 15 or 20,000, I think there must be eight or ten veterinarians. In
my old practice, in a rural hamlet, there’s either three or four veterinarians whereas there were something like 140 dairy herds when I went there; they were small dairy herds. Now I think they are down to 50 dairy herds and there are some beef operations. But, I suppose 2/3 or ¾ of that rural practice in the hamlet of a few hundred people is small animals, with quite an influx of show horses and riding horses. It’s not a wealthy area; but companion animals assume such an important role that it’s almost, I don’t want to say overwhelming, but it's become so important compared to what it was back in the early 50’s.
P Yes. We never really foresaw that, did we?
M No. I mean now they bring companion animals into nursing homes and people think nothing of spending hundreds of dollars for a treatment for a companion animal, whereas in the old days the cost of neutering an animal,or spaying an animal was not much more than an office call today. It's a whole new world of economics.
P Yes it is.
M I only practiced for 11 years altogether. We were into herd health, but not as big as these days.
P No, because most of the herds weren’t massive herds.
M Yeah, they weren’t massive herds; you had a few big ones, but now you know its maybe a dozen or 15 herds that are left, and there are some well over 100 milking cows and so on.
P So after you graduated you went out west for a little while.
M Yes, I was there from 1957 to 1959.
P And then you came back to the Sault.
M Near Sault Ste. Marie in Algoma District in Northern Ontario.
P O.K; and did you start your own practice there or did you…
M No; I took over a designated area of practice as it was in Saskatchewan where the government pays you a retainer and you charge sort of a flat rate for your calls across.
P Has that changed now?
M I think its still pretty much the same; I think they not only provide a retainer but I think they provide mileage but when you’re driving, you know, doing calls 30 or
40 miles away from your base, then you are spending a lot of time on the road. But I don’t know that much about it. I still attend local association dinners or barbecues or whatever and I get some feedback, but I really don’t keep up on all the details.
P Yeah, I don’t either. But I gather in the west in particularly the sort of trend is that the farmer will bring his sick cow into the clinic, rather than the vet going out as I did when I was in practice.
M Actually, in Algoma District, when I was in practice I bought a farm and I built a clinic on existing property and I was, I would say, mildly successful getting people to bring in the sick animal.
P It’s a challenge.
M It was really tough when they are used to having you come to the farm. In the west if you know something is sick, and you know it ahead of time, it may be easier, if you have the equipment, to load the animal and take it in. I went to the trouble of building the clinic; it seemed to be the coming thing. But the veterinarians who have taken over the practice built a small animal clinic. I don’t know how much they use the the large animal clinic but I don’t think it’s something that’s really caught on any place in Ontario. It should have been successful in the North; we have a long distance to go.
M But in some ways a designated area system defeats the purpose because the government’s paying you to go out to the farms so why should the farmer pay to haul his own cow in?
P Very interesting. So then you practiced in the Sault area for 11 years.
M No; actually for 9 years.
P 9 years, OK.
M And I was in practice in the west for two years.
P O.K. And then you decided to enter politics, I believe.
P And what was the sort of motivation? It seems to me it takes a great deal of courage to do that.
M I guess my whole life I have been very interested in politics; in high school I was the chairman of the student’s council. In university I was class president one year and I was vice-president of the union council for the three colleges my final year and I was brought up in a home where we were quite political. When I went to practice in Algoma District, I was very active in the local school board and then we had an amalgamation of some 13 school boards and I was very instrumental in that, and it seems to me that it just happened kind of as a fluke, but I guess there is a pattern. In 1968 I had the opportunity to go to the National Leadership Convention and was chosen to see Trudeau, and I happened to be living in the constituency which turned out to be Algoma riding or Algoma Constituency; but most of the constituency had been Algoma East, which was represented for some 19 or 20 years by Lester B. Pearson, the former Prime Minister. So when we were here in Ottawa for the convention in April of 1968, where Mr. Pearson had a big luncheon for all the delegates from Algoma riding, and we had just reorganized the riding, I was kind of the representative from the former Algoma West riding which became a separate riding from Sault Ste. Marie. And during the course of his speech to the delegates he said, ‘Well, I want you to know that I won’t be running again as the candidate in Algoma, surprise, surprise, so all of you aspiring candidates had better get your election machine in order!’ Mr. Trudeau was chosen and Mr. Pearson retired and then Mr. Trudeau immediately called an election, or almost immediately, for June 25, just a few weeks after he had met the house and formed his government. And so, you know, I had always sort of though in the back of my mind I would like to run for parliament, but I was 33, 34 years of age and I talked to some of my friends. I said ‘Well, in politics, you know timing is everything, if you want to run you better run now because somebody else will be elected. The nomination won’t be open the way it is.' So I decided to run for the nomination and I lined up a few friends to help me, and we had a rip-snorting nomination meeting because, of course, there had not been a nomination meeting; no contested nomination meeting, really going back many, many years. Mr. Pearson was the member and nobody’s going to challenge him. He was elected in a by-election in 1948 and going back before that Senator Farber gave up his seat so Mr. Pearson could be elected to join the Cabinet as Minister of Foreign Affairs. I think he’d been elected in 1955 so you know, there had probably been no nomination meetings since 1935 that were ever contested and so we ended up with something like 9 candidates running.
P A little competition!
M A lot of competition and most of it would live in the former Algoma East riding and I lived in Algoma West. So we had a nomination meeting on a Saturday afternoon in early May, I’ve forgotten what day it was on, May, 1968 and we had something like 7 ballots. I’d say it was very, very casual in those days, I mean the kind of muscling and organization that goes on today, this was very civilized and very casual compared to what you see today. But, somehow or other I led on the first ballot. I got commitments from about 4 or 5 of the 9 candidates who suggested to me that if they went down they would support me, so I was pretty
sure if I could keep my momentum I’d keep going. We went through 7 ballots and 7 hours of balloting, so this was something that went from one or two o’clock in the afternoon until 7 o’clock at night. I mean it was the most horrendous time in my life; I don,t know whether it was exhausting or intoxicating.
P Yes, both.
M It was held in the old Legion Hall in Blind River and we had something like five hundred and thirty delegates and names; in those days we used to have proxies and of course there was a bar in the basement so everybody would retire to the bar after a couple of ballots because they got pretty dry…
P For discussions (laughing) or …
M …and we’d parade around the hall. Most of the guys who were running had been down to the delegates election meeting or the meeting where Trudeau was chosen so Jan and I would parade around the hall in our 'Support Foster' signs and so on, so it was a very exciting time. I had never even worked in an election campaign apart from running for my own position as a school board representative every two years, so I was really, really inexperienced in terms of the campaign. But most of the other candidates were from the other two parties so I had some good supporters. People look back at it now and say ‘You know, Trudeau was such a powerful force.’ But during the campaign we weren’t that sure. I mean Trudeau was a very interesting, novel kind of person, but unknown to many people. Compared to McKenzie-King ad Louis St. Laurent, and even Lester B. Pearson, you know, he was an unknown entity. Whereas Bob Stanfield, a Premier of the Province and highly respected, everybody knew the word Stanfield, or at least many people knew. So we dug right in and worked like troopers and had to make signs and in those days there wasn’t much appreciation of us or how you raised money or anything. There was always lots of money when Mr. Pearson was in, you know, election controls, people would come into the radio station and say ‘Well, I want to put down a thousand dollars for Lester B. Pearson', and put in whatever hours you get. I mean it was all very, very wide open and kind of naïve in a way, whereas now we have election controls and all this stuff. But I remember a couple of the jolts that kind of got me. The organization really had been kind of run by one or two people in Mr. Pearson’s day because he was a giant figure to us, and well loved in the Liberal party. The party was getting wiped out by Diefenbaker in 1950, 1958 and 1962. But I remember the first meeting when we got together to say ‘Well, let’s have a campaign committee.' I had never worked on a campaign, and we really didn’t have much of a team and I remember going through what we were going to do, because I didn’t have a well known campaign manager. And the other factor about the riding: it was Algoma District on the North Shore of Lake Huron, sort of from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie, and then there was Manitoulin District, and it’s the largest fresh water island in the world, it’s 100 miles long, 34-40 miles wide.
P So that was all in the riding?
M That’s all in the riding yeah, and I think I had only been to Manitoulin once. I remember the first meeting we were organizing and how we were going to run this campaign, so we talked about canvassing, sign campaign, advertising and so on, and so at the end of it I said, 'Well what about fundraising? Who’s going to look after the fundraising?’ and the President of the Riding Association, he was the local pharmacist, says ‘What do you mean how are we going to do that?’ He says ‘You know, you wanted the job; you run it, you get your own money.' He said, ‘If I had the money, I would run myself!’ (laughing)…
P That’s kind of a shock!
M So the next day I hired myself out for the night and borrowed $5,000 to kind of get things started. Campaigns weren’t nearly so expensive then…
P No but $5,000 was…
M Well it was quite a bit of money but that just got things started, so that was kind of a terrible note, but it was the tradition really; we had very good Liberal support in most of the old Pearson area, but at this stage nobody knew how popular or how well Trudeau would do. And I remember Bob Winters who had run second or whatever in our leadership but decided not to run in the election, being in the Sault. His son was working at Algoma Steel and we had a meeting there just because Mr. Winters was in the Sault. I was at the meeting and we were talking strategy and how well things were going or weren’t going and I said, ‘Well, you know, we’re working hard down in Algoma, but you don’t know at this stage how well it’s going to go, and we’re a new organization', new campaign manager and everything.' One of the headquarters people from Toronto said ‘What are you talking about?’, he says. ‘You don’t have to worry, you’re gonna win Algoma easy!’. He says ‘You know, if we start losing places like Algoma, we’re going to have a total wipe out against us and we’re going to do very well’. And, you know, finally the light went on: 'I’m going to be a Member of Parliament (laughing)!'
P (laughing) Ah, very interesting.
M I guess that was a pivotal note, and of course, it was very exciting to win and come to make arrangements to have a home in Ottawa here, where we are sitting in the same home today, 35 years, or whatever it is, later, and we maintain our home in the constituency that we had after I got elected. It was very exciting, finding somebody to look after the practice during the action.
P Well that’s what I was going to ask you, because when all this was going on, you were trying to run a practice.
M I just got out of a single practice and I think in the Province of Ontario a Conservative government had been in power for years; and I can’t remember who the premier was, but Bun Wharton was the head of the Veterinary Services Branch. And as soon as I won he called and said, ‘Congratulations. It’s great to hear that you are going to be the candidate, but I have to tell you that your contract is cancelled today!’. So here I was, you know, raising money for the campaign…
P Owing money to the bank.
M Hiring a veterinarian to take my place. I think it was about a 55 or 57 day campaign in those days and Bun had to call me to congratulate me and then to say that your contract ( he didn’t say because you are a liberal candidate) is cancelled as of today, but he was wishing me well, so it was all very nice (laughing). On June 25th we won the election, and I went through six more, and we had the four kids; they were sort of between 4 and 11 years of age so we bought a house ( this house that we are sitting in today) in 1968. I ultimately sold my practice and my home to another veterinarian .
P But it must have been nip and tuck for a while.
M It was. I was essentially in the old fire engine kind of practice, and the idea of being in an office and going around to fiftieth wedding anniversaries and traveling all over the countryside, phone calls coming in, and in those days the pay and the services for MP’s was very, very limited. You had to pay for your own phone calls and in a riding like Algoma, I think the pay was something like $12,000, and although we could ride back and forth on the train and everything, it was quite a...
P A sacrifice.
M …in those days. But I guess the thrilling part of it was I always enjoyed the work as a school board chairman and a member and, at the practical level, I was doing exactly what I had been doing in many ways, but as a Federal MP. People call and say ‘Hey, you know, this thing isn’t working out. Would you do something.' And suddenly you’re able to do something, and I thought ‘Hey, this is great, you know, I used to do this for nothing and now I am getting paid for it!’
P And you were doing something you wanted to do.
M Yeah, I was doing something I wanted to do. People said, ‘Well you were able to practise’. I said, ‘Well for the first couple of years I was able to practise in the summer time and when the vet who had taken over my practice, I was able to go back and help him for, you know, two or three weeks while he was on holidays. But it was a one-person practice, and I think we only did that about two years and then I became a Parliamentary Secretary and, you know, it just wasn’t possible to carry on the practice. Obviously I was very close. But the kind of vets in the area
were still only two or three in practice so it wasn’t a very large group whereas now they get together for their annual barbecue and there is maybe a dozen or so. And it's for the same population.
P I think from that point of view, the quality of enjoyment of veterinary practice must be better.
M Oh yeah.
P I mean, your leisure time.
M Oh yeah, it really was a very demanding life; we had four kids. We said when the babies cried, Janet looked after them, when the phone range in the middle of the night I had to go, and, you know, it was a very full life, but I often thought when you’re in your 20’s and 30’s, you’ve got to be strong. And you don't have the first idea how to protect yourself. You sell a bogus vaccine or something and you’re in big trouble.
P You’re on your own
M And you don’t want to get too many broken legs.
P That’s right.
M One of my predecessors used to tell his favorite joke when we went out to tell school kids about being a vet, 'Well, we hang around animals and get a kick.' Fortunately I didn’t get any kicks out of it that broke a leg or broke my arm or anything, but it is a very physically demanding thing. One of our caucus colleagues, Holliday, I don't know how, but he just retired a few weeks ago out there in Southwestern Ontario, and I don’t know whether he was in large animal practice all of the time but …
P You know I worked with him once.
M Did you?
P Goats, he was in goats.
M This week they had a retirement party for a fellow; I don’t know; he probably was mostly small animals, but it is very demanding. I often thought, this is kind of fun right now…
P Mmm hmm.
M Crawling into a pen, you know, vaccinating 10 steers or something, riding around on their backs and marking which ones they were.To do that when you are 40 or
50 or 60 is not great. Anyway, I went on and experienced in Parliament a vast number of things; I served on the Agricultural Committee, I served on the Health and Welfare Committee; during Minority Government in 1972-’74 I was Deputy Chief Government Whip, and that’s when the NDP kept us in power for two years. We came back with a big majority in 1974 and I went on to become a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Energy, Lands and Resources . Having represented Northern Ontario, big forestry companies, big energy companies like Dennis and Leo Bromley in the uranium business, by that time I was very experienced in the whole resource area, so I served for a little over two years there, and we put through bills like the Petro Can bill. That’s when the energy prices first blew up in ’72-’73 and that was wonderful experience. The first meeting was held, I think, in Winnipeg where the Federal Government committed $200 million for the first tar sands plant. I recall going to Calgary to speak at a Petroleum Industry Conference. I represented the Minister, you know, on extended committees that were taking place and this was during the summer and throughout that Parliament I served various times. When I was also in the Minority Parliament I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the House Leader for the Government. I was on Privy Counsel at that time, that’s in the Commons, and then in the ’74-’79 period I was also involved in the Legislation regarding the Northern Pipeline, the Alaska Pipeline bringing gas to the southern 48. You know, we rushed that through Legislation but (laughing) I mean they are still talking about how they are using it; they still haven’t built the pipeline, but these things in Parliament, they get a big rush on, you’ve gotta get them through, the world’s coming to an end, and then things cool down and some other thing comes on the agenda. And so we served through that Parliament and I was in the next Parliament in ’79-’80 which was the Joe Clark period, so we had that experience of the Government being defeated. It’s amazing how bad, in a way, communications sometimes are in government. I remember the night of December 13, 1979. My wife, Janet, was very involved with the Parliamentary Spouses Association. In those days there was a certain level of civility, especially among the spouses and the members and I remember coming home for dinner that night and saying to Janet that the government’s going to be defeated, the government’s going to be defeated. And we’ll be having an election in the next few month’s or so. Apparently one of the minister’s spouses who was a a good friend of Janet’s called, this was a Conservative minister’s wife, to ask Janet ‘What’s happening? What’s happening?’. And she said, ‘Hey, it’s all over, the Government’s going to be defeated tonight and there’s going to be an election.' I mean it’s amazing to me that the message doesn’t always get through, even from Chief Government Whip, to the various Ministers and things. So we had the January or the February 18th election in 2000 and that was a horrendous experience because everybody sort of cooled off and the next two weeks were Christmas and then January and February so it was something. We came back to Government and I served on a number of committees, which I loved doing during the summer. I think the Northern Gas Pipeline was through then. And I was always very involved in Parliamentary Associations. What I really specialized in was the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I’m always interested in the
newsletter from the Commonwealth Association because they were dealing with the same countries, so it was an opportunity to travel during that period.There were various Commonwealth Countries, and then in 1984 the Conservative Party came back to government, and I served during the next 9 years as Agriculture and Wheat Board Critic for the Opposition. And during that period I probably learned as much about agriculture as I ever did. We had a National Task Force with farmers and then poultry people right across Canada with Public Awareness and Community groups and College groups, visiting laboratories and so on and, of course, when you are in the opposition it’s beautiful because you are a hero even when you’re not in part of the territory; so I had that role for the nine years and it was a wonderful, wonderful experience, because when you’re in the opposition, especially within the first period, there were only 39 of us in the opposition, and whatever issue comes up, you’re the official spokesman, most of the time you had to give a two minute clip or something or another, so it was a wonderful experience. I think if I were advising somebody when the best time to come to Parliament is, it’s if you’re elected in the opposition; you have a lot more opportunity to speak and ask questions and demand answers and so on. I was pretty well a Member of Caucus from 19?8. They were much more prepared than serving in the Government where you don’t have quite the same responsibility to respond or be in charge of a whole Government Department.
P I think as an Agriculture Critic, for example, you would have to be as knowledgeable as if you actually had the portfolio in office?
M Yes you are, and, of course, you have the same feedback coming to you from the industry that the Minister has. I mean when delegations come down from Alberta or Saskatchewan or wherever it is, they go and give the Minister hell, and then they come to the Official Opposition and say ‘Now here’s the problem with this thing and I want you to get up and ask questions in the House’. The departments are not going to cause trouble, deliberately, for the minister, in most cases, but they are going to give you the generic information as if you were the Minister, because the first thing they know they’re going to be in front of the Parliamentary Committee and they refuse to give them the information, whatever it is.
M Of course, it’s a little harder to keep discipline in the opposition. I remember in the patenting of seeds and that kind of thing, quite a diversity of views. You couldn’t always get such discipline, but I think people misunderstand how much effort goes into trying to get a united party position on an issue. It’s not easy and, of course, if the media could get one guy opposing government position when in your government, the only person that you hear on television or the radio is the guy that’s opposing. It’s sort of loose talk about, ‘Oh well, we should have all free votes!’. Well, when a government comes to office it runs on a platform; it's not commitment to the people if just anybody could vote against it. I think Chretien and all these got a pretty good balance; individuals would vote against something
but they wouldn’t make a big issue out of it, but because of their constituency or because of their own personal religion, or whatever it was, they voted against an issue. But the idea of having a congressional system like they have in the United States with a Parliamentary system, well if you think you can do that, good luck, but it’s going to be a pretty wild, zig-zag kind of course, because if you promise that you are going to do this thing without some level of discipline in your caucus, you’re going to have a hell of a time implementing your program.
P Yes, I see. Maurice, as a veterinarian, being a Member of Parliament, presumably you had quite a lot of lobbying (probably not the right word), from the CVMA and other veterinary groups, did you?
M Yes, I think I had a pretty good ongoing relationship with CVMA; we had meetings when they were meeting here in Ottawa and I think it has been more extensive in recent years than it was maybe in the earlier days. We didn’t have a really great period there, I guess it was mainly during the Conservative Government before ’93 when I think we had about four or five veterinarians in the House of Commons.
P Shroeder was it?
M We had Richard Schroeder, we had…
P Did you have Horner, Bob Horner?
M …Bob Horner from Mississauga, we had one from BC who went on and became a Deputy Minister, he was in ’56 I think it was…
P And Clint McIssac would have been a Provincial Minister in Saskatchewan.
M I think in the ’93-’97 Parliament the Block had a veterinarian from Quebec who was their Defense Critic. He sent a letter to the Canadian Forces Bases of Quebec, at least some of them, I don’t know whether it was all of them or not, during the 1995 Referendum, calling on them to join the New Government…the new Independent Government of Quebec, I mean, God, give me a break. But in some ways we had some very colorful figures. I think that there were many times when the various members likely hated each other. I think it was during the period of '84 - '85 that it was very useful. But I guess the greatest, one of the most important things that I was able to take part in, partly because I was a veterinarian, but also because of my position in the Prime Minister’s office, and since I had retired, was working with the Dean’s of the four Veterinary Colleges. I guess that was about a year ago when we were able to get the $113 million. I wasn’t working in the Prime Minister’s office, I had retired, but I was able to use all my contacts to contrive...
P To facilitate the whole thing.
M To facilitate it, yeah. I mean I wasn’t the prime mover; the Premiers were, or the Deans were. They worked together wonderfully; I think many other professions just shook their heads when they saw us as a profession getting $113 million to upgrade the four veterinary colleges. People like Lyle Vanclief, who grew up in the same county as I did, was representative from Prince Edward County. Of course, he was the Minister and he was very important, but I was able to help that project through. It was one of the greatest experiences that I had, and having worked in the Prime Minister’s office, (I retired in 1993, in late October I think it was), in late January the Prime Minister asked me to take the caucus of his opposition because he had new MP’s. So I took up an office 2 or 3 doors down the hall from him, and worked for a little over 7 years with the caucus, getting them sort of up to speed and solving problems and helping them get started as a new government. I thought we had a very effective team; contact that we had with the Prime Minister was mainly meeting once a week with the Chair of Caucus and Chief Government Whip, the House Leader, and Representative of the House Leader, also the Senate and the Prime Minister’s office, to go over the plans for the caucus meeting the next morning. My job was to facilitate that as well as meeting the caucus members, usually in my office which was a couple of doors down from the Prime Minister’s office. I mean this was the kind of experience that was very interesting.
P Yeah. I would think so.
M Also being called in for meetings where there was trouble in the caucus. In that role I attended as the Executive of the Prime Minister; the arrangement was that we would meet around 8:15 or 8 o’clock with the Chief of Staff, the Chief of Communications, the Chief of Operations in the Prime Minister’s office, somebody that represented the Regional Committee, and a couple of policy people. The Chief of Staff then gave us a briefing; bugs we had closed, special telephone lines to our home, security briefings and all this sort of thing. Then every morning the Chief of Staff would go directly from our meeting from quarter to nine to nine o’clock to meet with the Prime Minister and the Counsel, and his input really came from that seven or eight people in the Prime Minister’s office. That was his input. The courier to Privy Counsel brought this information to the Prime Minister from the whole Public Service. And that was the briefing for the Prime Minister. And then, at the same time there was a meeting going on of the Whip and the Chair of Caucus, and Regional Chairs. Then there was preparing for question period. They would be dealing with these representatives from the regions and they would go over the questions; the person from the Prime Minister’s office was responsible for Question Period. He would start maybe at 6 o’clock in the morning going through all the media stuff from overnight and then from that, prepare the briefing books of things that had happened. It was filled with clippings from all over the country.
P Every day!
M Every day they would go through and say ‘OK, these are the most likely 8 or 10 questions’. Then that was divvied out to the various Cabinet Ministers to be ready to respond to the questions in Question Period. Then the Whip and this person responsible for Question Period would meet with the Prime Minister just around a quarter to one, or quarter to two or maybe two o’clock and brief him on what the issues were. It was a highly contentious thing. For the last nine years that I was in opposition (I was a caucus member when we were down 39 members), the House Leader and the Whip and other representatives in caucus that were in town and wanted to take part would come in and say ‘OK, I’ve got an issue here that I want to get on question period’ and they decide whose going to lead off question period; which caucus member is going to ask the question. So that’s the way it works.
P Now, just to ask you, do they ever give the question to the person who has to respond ahead of time?
M Yeah, the question period really becomes a bit of a show when you try to embarrass each other. But if you’ve got a question that is not a political question but a serious question that addresses national good of the country, then of course they should set it over, or it’s a regional issue where the Member of Parliament of the region wants a solid answer, then you give notice. And you wonder, like I was Parliamentary Secretary three different times, you wonder how do they manage to stay on top of all of this stuff. In Britain, one minister answers all day long for one area: of his responsibility. Whereas here, you know, everybody is fair game; I mean the Ministers have a briefing on an issue, sometimes there’s a little change in it or somebody moves off and they are briefed on that, but you’ll only be adding maybe one issue every second day or three of four days, so that you can kind of get all this stuff in your head and so you can manage the first day like those ministers that are getting ready for a house meeting next week for the first time since the election. I mean their brains are scrambled because they’re getting ready on a hundred issues all at once. But once you are into it and its going on day after day, you have a question and next time you do a little bit better and so on. So anyway, the other thing I want to mention about the subject, probably the year that I was Whip Apprentice was one of the great experiences I had. Prime Minister Chretien used to invite 12 Members of Caucus on a rotation basis to 24 Sussex Drive for lunch. I would organize those luncheons and I would do the follow up from them. I don’t think people really appreciated what a tremendous host Chretien is. He can entertain 12 people and ask questions for an hour and everybody is just there with their mouths open; I mean he is an incredible tease (I was reading in the paper this week where he’s on some International Speaker’s panel.). That was a wonderful experience because every member of caucus would probably only have the chance to go there once or twice during a year, whereas I went every week. We did it every Thursday noon, but it would probably end up being sort of two Thursday’s in the week, because of the Prime Minister visiting or something. But it was a a wonderful experience and it was very good for cohesion of the caucus. I think when the history of Chretien is written, as a Grass
Roots Politician and being able to size up a situation and make a decision, I think he would be, as historians would say, a gifted person. He made tough judgments, and his ability to work with members of Caucus was extremely good. It was an experience that I had and few people had a chance to view.
P Yes, and you’d see it up close wouldn’t you?
M Well, I’d see it up close and a Cabinet Minister sees him in a Cabinet meeting once a week or whatever but, you know, I would see him once or twice a week. But I wasn't as close to him as, say, his Executive Assistant or even the person that was looking after Question Period.
P Very, very interesting. Unique experiences.
M Unique experiences.
P Are you still quite active in committees and this sort of thing related to the operation of Government?
M Well, I serve on a volunteer committee across the country called the Forum for Young Canadians, a charitable Foundation for the Study of Processes of Government in Canada. They have a program called 'Volunteering Canadians' which brings 6 or 7 hundred young Canadians, in their last years of high school to Ottawa for a very, very intense week of looking at Government Institutions, looking at politics, looking at the Public Service. It’s a wonderful, wonderful experience and I serve on that committee as a volunteer and we’ve been able to assist in getting new office space provided by the Government of Canada and they are reorganizing and upgrading the program and it's really a great experience. This coming year we celebrated 30 years, and the average Member of Parliament usually sits down two or three times during the season and brings four groups of about 150 to Ottawa and they have a dinner with their own Member of Parliament, they get a chance to visit the House of Commons, and observe Foreign Affairs and a few things.
P You would have loved something like that as a youngster, wouldn’t you?
M Yeah, many of those people who came to Ottawa with the Forum for Young Canadians ended up in politics; many of the key people that are in government and so on today; their appetite for politics was whetted.
P That’s what I was going to ask you..
M So we are working closely with them. The other group that I serve with is the International Development Research Centre which is an agency of the Government of Canada that is trying to increase the research capacity in developing countries. What they do, they have a world-wide network of
professionals within Ottawa and throughout the world, about 350 strong with supports staff. They go in to developing countries and work with a a local or government agency doing research; it can be in animal husbandry or nutrition or health care or economics or agriculture or whatever and they choose projects that a local agency or scientific group or university group is interested in researching. They provide technical support and financial support. For instance, there is a project in Africa where they went to visit last fall, called the TEHP Project, Tanzanian Essential Health Program.What they have done over the last several years is taken a project or concept that is recommended by the United Nations and in two districts they went in and they worked with the local research team to re-organize their health care program. Now this is in an area where the healthcare clinic doesn’t have running water, it doesn’t have electricity, and probably has a nitrogen bottle that keeps vaccines refrigerated. But conditions improved just by having orderly vaccination programs, by having orderly systems of emergency aid to people who are ill, and by having prenatal and postnatal inspection regimes, mostly carried out by technicians, not even registered nurses, and on top of that, by doing a monitoring of what is actually happening on the ground. These are people who live in mud huts whose bathrooms are latrines with a few bushes beside them in the backyard. They just kind of reorganized the preventative medicine, things like malaria. When I did the investigation they said, 'You know malaria can be controlled by mosquito netting’. I mean most mosquitoes bit a person between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. and if you have mosquito netting over the place where a child sleeps for the first four or five years of life, or over the bed where a pregnant woman is sleeping, you reduce the mortality rate considerably. It’s not rocket science, it’s basic health and yet they have been able to reduce the child mortality rate by something like 30 or 40% and it’s just by organization. Of course, even in Canada, 60% of all our deaths are due to lifestyle, you know, it’s obesity or it’s stupid accidents, it’s lack of exercise it’s lack of proper vaccinations. But that’s the kind of project that they are doing. Now what they are hoping to do eventually is to expand the two areas to eleven areas and ultimately to a full twenty areas in Tanzania. So those are the main areas. I’m involved in my church and quite active in sailing. We spent three months up at our summer home in Desbarats where I used to practice and I am very involved with the North Channel Yacht Club. The other area that I’ve been involved with which is a volunteer thing personally, our daughter Peggy is an international athlete and she’s attempting to become the first Canadian woman to climb the seven mountains in seven continents, the highest seven mountains and seven continents in the world and she’s climbed them all, but unfortunately a year ago when she climbed Mt. Everest she wasn’t able to summit, so she’s still training and she’s preparing to go next year so I’ve been assisting her in her fundraising.
P That’s incredible. That’s really something.
M There are only 12 women in the world who have done it.
P Does she live in Ottawa?
M She’s living at our summer home up in Algoma. She was working in Colorado; she loves the mountains for some reason. At high school, she was very involved in running and sports and she has a Bachelor of Education from McGill and a Master’s from Ottawa, but she’s always been interested in athletic events. After she got through her marathons and triathlons and ultra marathons she took to living in the west.
P You’ve got your hands full there!
M Just since I’ve retired in 2001 I’ve been assisting her.
P That’s really good. Well, good luck with Peggy. Maurice, thanks very much, you’ve had such an interesting career and you’ve made so many contributions to veterinary medicine in Canada as a whole; it’s really overwhelming. But, before we end this, if some youngster was to come to you and say "I’d like to be a veterinarian" what would your answer be?"
M I would say, 'Do it' if they are really committed to doing it and I think it can be the most rewarding profession that you can go into, and it’s such a wide area of responsibility. Not only do you have all the species specialists, but there’s the whole area of research, and there’s the whole area of public health. You know, my ability to serve as a parliamentarian was greatly enhanced by being a veterinarian and when I served on the Standing Committee of Health or the Standing Committee in Agriculture my background was invaluable to me, because you really have a wonderful background; also for those years that I served as a Chief Opposition Critic for Agriculture. You can practice in Northern Ontario or you can practice in Saskatchewan but it is a wonderful background. With veterinary medicine as your specialty there are so many opportunities open to you, whether it’s government, practice, research, small animals, large animals or whatever it is. I think that you know that experience of working with people, and the kind of attitude that you are given by the University of Guelph towards your fellow human beings is a wonderful experience. I’m always amazed when I go down to the University of Guelph by how much involvement there is in international things, in the developing countries and the world’s problems with enough energy or its problems with enough food or safe food. Surely veterinarians have a paramount role to play in the vision of food and safe food for the family and you have the training and exposure to the world that I don’t think any other department or course in university could provide.
P Tremendous answer and a good way to end the interview. Thanks very much. I really appreciate your time.
M Thanks very much.