Politics and the Pen literary gala raises $385K for The Writers’ Trust of Canada

Toronto journalist Rachel Giese win this year's $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing

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It’s spring, and with it comes — along with the heady scent of a federal election in the air — that rare and special night in Ottawa when politicians put aside their party differences and play nice at Politics and the Pen.

The popular literary gala returned Wednesday to the Fairmont Château Laurier, bringing together an easily sold-out dinner crowd of 500 politicians, authors and corporate sponsors. The evening raised $385,000 for The Writers’ Trust of Canada, a charitable organization that advances, nurtures, and celebrates Canadian writers with its literary awards, prestigious fellowship, financial grants and writers’ retreat.

The black-tie event culminates with the announcement of the $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. This year, it was awarded to Rachel Giese, a former senior editor at The Walrus, for her debut book Boys: What it Means to Become a Man (Patrick Crean Editions).

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Newcomers to Politics and the Pen included Canadian actor, director and screenwriter Jay Baruchel, who last year published his Born Into It memoir, inspired by his love for the Habs. He was seen arriving with This Hour Has 22 Minutes star Mark Critch, who’s got his own funny autobiography, Son of a Critch.


Politics and the Pen was organized by a gala committee and co-chaired by communications consultant, broadcaster, emcee and writer Catherine Clark, who’s also board vice-chair of The Writers’ Trust, and by Dan Mader, founding partner of boutique government relations and strategic communications firm Loyalist Public Affairs.

After 90 solid minutes of mixing and mingling during the cocktail reception, guests were escorted into the ballroom by a lone piper. They were officially welcomed by Speaker of the House of Commons Geoff Regan, who had his work cut out for him in trying to get all the social butterflies in the room to shut up and take their seats for dinner.


Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould, who represents the riding of Burlington, hosted the dinner with Conservative Durham MP Erin O’Toole, shadow minister for foreign affairs. They poked fun at themselves, at each other, and at federal politics. They wrapped up their light-hearted spiel doing what politicians were born to do when it comes to addressing important issues: dance.

The pair grooved on stage, swing dance style, to Benny Goodman’s Sing, Sing, Sing.


Liberal Cape Breton MP Rodger Cuzner was back to star in the amusing opening video, which saw him seek out various ways to address steadily rising tension and conflict in the House of Commons. He called on his corporate friends from sponsors CIBC and Imperial for advice. He gave out free hugs, in front of Parliament Hill, to politicians of all stripes. He imagined a political debate where candidates — free of party discipline and spin doctors — could give their honest opinions.

Cuzner, who was first elected in 2000, announced last month that he’s retiring from politics. He earned a standing ovation from the room for his contributions to his riding and beyond, as well as to Politics and the Pen. He always makes the night so much more fun and entertaining.

“I’ll do something, I’ve always been a go-getter,” says Cuzner while discussing his future with Cole Harbour, N.S. colleague Darren Fisher in the video.

“What does that mean, you’ll drive your wife to work and then go get her?” Fisher quips.


The hotel’s new general manager, Rick Corcoran, who just took over from recently retired Claudé Sauve, was at the reception.

Attendees included Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, the latter of whom was seen introducing her newly elected colleague, Paul Manly from the Vancouver Island riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith, to others.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz were there, as were former governor general David Johnston and his wife, Sharon Johnston, both of whom are published authors.

Also part of the literary crowd were former U.S. ambassador Bruce Heyman and his wife, Vicki Heyman. They’ve been busy promoting their new book, The Art of Diplomacy. One of the first things the Heymans did when they arrived to Ottawa in 2014 was to host a pre-gala reception for Politics and the Pen. This year, the finalists were fêted by Ambassador Kareen Rispal at the Embassy of France.

Business leaders included Sheila Wisniewski, the new president and CEO of Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada. She replaced Goldy Hyder after he left to take on the role of president and chief executive of The Business Council of Canada.


Shaughnessy Cohen Prize finalists also included Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung for Homes: A Refugee Story (Freehand Books); Sarah Cox for Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand against Big Hydro (On Point Press); Jacques Poitras for Pipe Dreams: The Fight for Canada’s Energy Future (Viking Canada); and Harley Rustad for Big Lonely Doug: The Story of One of Canada’s Last Great Trees (House of Anansi Press).

The excitement isn’t over yet for Rustad. He’s getting married this Sunday on Salt Spring Island.


— caroline@obj.ca

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