Pity poor Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota, who had the job of getting a roomful of social butterflies to hush up and listen during this year’s Politics and the Pen dinner, which was back in the flesh Tuesday for its first time since 2019.
It took a bagpiper to get the roughly 500 guests to clear out of the cocktail reception areas and into the Fairmont Château Laurier’s main ballroom, where the laughs, smiles and chatter continued. Rota repeatedly called for order. Former politician Brian Tobin, now vice chair of BMO Financial Group, tried the tapping-the-utensil-against-a-glass trick. Eventually, folks took their seats and settled in.
“After two years of COVID, an event like this is just wonderful for the soul,” Rota told the black-tie dinner crowd. “It’s nice to see people interacting in person rather than on video conference.”
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The sold-out gala, which had the support of CN, CIBC, Imperial and other corporate sponsors, is the largest fundraiser for the Writers’ Trust of Canada, a charitable organization that advances, nurtures and celebrates Canadian writers and writing. It also brings politicians together with prolific authors and journalists to poke a little fun at each other and themselves.
The event raised more than $300,000 this year, culminating with the awarding of the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing to Joanna Chiu, senior journalist for the Toronto Star and author of China Unbound: A New World Disorder.
Rodger Cuzner, former long-time Liberal MP for Cape Breton, may have left politics but everyone was happy to have him back for his always-popular video to open the evening program, done by Shaw Communications. Cuzner is now Canada’s consul general in Boston.
Elizabeth Gray-Smith, co-founder of GSD&Co, co-chaired this year’s Politics and the Pen with Patrick Kennedy, principal at Earnscliffe Strategies. They were joined by fellow volunteer committee members Jim Armour (Summa Strategies), Hardave Birk (Shaw Communications), Maureen Boyd (Parliamentary Centre and Carleton University), Heather Bradley (Office of the Speaker of the House of Commons), Catherine Clark (Catherine Clark Communications) and Dan Mader (Loyalist Public Affairs).
Clark also chairs the board of the Writers’ Trust of Canada, a Toronto-based national organization led by award-winning Canadian author Charles Foran as its executive director.
Clark’s famous parents — former prime minister and former PC leader Joe Clark and Maureen McTeer, who’s a long-time advocate for gender equality and women’s health — attended that night as authors.
So did former governor general David Johnston and his wife, Sharon Johnston, and retired Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin, who in 2020 was presented the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for her memoir.
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien, 88, was also among the distinguished guests.
Marci Ien and Seamus O’Regan, both of whom are federal cabinet ministers, served as this year’s delightful co-hosts. They’re close pals from their days together in television broadcasting on CTV’s former morning news show, Canada AM.
“It is so much fun, I have to say, co-hosting with you here again,” Ien told O’Regan on stage during an affectionate moment shared between the two.
Ien went on to point out that she’s the second black woman from the GTA to serve in cabinet, after Jean Augustine, while O’Regan is the second gay man to serve in cabinet, after Scott Brison.
“Yeah, yeah, the second gay man to serve in cabinet,” replied O’Regan with a ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ expression that had the whole room laughing. “This is a political award for non-fiction, right?”
Ien, who’s the MP for Toronto Centre, is minister of women, gender equality and youth while O’Regan, who’s the MP for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl in Newfoundland and Labrador, is minister of labour.
Also finalists for the literary prize were Mike Blanchfield, international affairs writer for The Canadian Press, and Fen Osler Hampson, Chancellor’s Professor at Carleton University, for The Two Michaels: Innocent Canadian Captives and High Stakes Espionage in the US-China Cyber War; Stephen Poloz, former governor of the Bank of Canada, for The Next Age of Uncertainty: How the World Can Adapt to a Riskier Future; Geoffrey Stevens, former managing editor of Maclean’s and The Globe and Mail, for Flora!: A Woman in a Man’s World; and Jody Wilson-Raybould, former justice minister and attorney general, for “Indian” in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power. Wilson-Raybould was not in attendance.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Lisa Raitt, vice chair of global investment banking at CIBC, was part of the three-member independent judging panel for the literary prize, joined by Charelle Evelyn from The Hill Times and Jacques Poitras from CBC News in New Brunswick.