Busboy: From Kitchen to Cabinet by Don Boudria
Optimum Publishing International Inc., Montreal, Maxville, Ottawa, 2005
For more than twenty years Don Boudria was an observer and participant
in most of the political and parliamentary events of the day. By his own
admission this book will likely be a disappointment to those seeking inside
gossip. It also does not tell us very much about how public policy is
made in Ottawa. What we do learn is about Don Boudrias life and it is
an extraordinary story.
No single path is taken by the 308 men and women chosen to represent their
fellow Canadians in the House of Commons. But the usual route begins in
a well to do or at least a middle class family with stops at university,
perhaps law school or a career in business or one of the professions.
Not so for Mr. Boudria.
He came from a family of very modest means whose situation was made even
more difficult when his father was killed in a car accident when Don was
five years old. He dropped out of high school, joined a rock band, and
eventually got a job as a busboy in the Parliamentary Restaurant.
This book traces his life from that time to his career as municipal councilor
in a rural area outside of Ottawa, to a seat in the Ontario Legislature,
to the House of Commons and eventually a seat in the Cabinet of Jean Chrétiens
A great deal of this book is devoted to his family, extended family and
to the larger franco-Ontario community which he served in so many capacities
and which was so supportive of him. Unlike many political memoirs he mentions
and acknowledges virtually every staffer who ever worked for him in Ottawa
or in the constituency office. Indeed when he defeated the Conservative
incumbent to win a seat at Queens Park one of his first acts was to rehire
the incumbents constituency assistant. His attention to those who helped
him over the years explains why he enjoyed such support and rolled up so
many convincing electoral victories even if people did not agree with his
position on every issue.
The years at Queens Park are treated briefly but he does mention a few
important lessons that he learned, particularly about the need to represent
local interests. In 1984 Don Boudria left Queens Park to run federally
and was one of only 40 Liberals elected in the Mulroney landslide. Along
with Sheila Copps and John Nunziata he formed the so-called Rat Pack, a
group of young Liberal members who took the lead in attacking the Conservatives
and were not shy about using whatever means they could to embarrass the
Most of the book deals with his years in the House of Commons. In opposition
he slowly mastered the various elements that lead to a successful career
including a knowledge of parliamentary procedure. He discusses the major
issues of the day including the Free Trade Debate, the Meech Lake and Charlottetown
Accords, the disappointing tenure of John Turner as Leader of the Party
and the selection of Jean Chrétien as Leader in 1991. These are largely
factual accounts of information that is in the public domain with the occasional
personal comment on a rival or a colleague.
In September 1989, Mr. Boudria decided to address his academic shortcomings
and enrolled as a correspondence student at Waterloo University. He took
the entire BA programme this way over the next decade. It was all done
anonymously so as not to obtain any special consideration and frequently
involved writing essays and tests in hotels around the world or rising
at 4:00 am to study before a days work as a cabinet minister.
Aside from old fashion hard work there is another anecdote that reveals
the secret of Don Boudrias success. After supporting Jean Chrétiens
leadership campaign he was disappointed at being replaced as Deputy Opposition
Whip and given the new position of deputy Opposition House Leader. After
brooding a few days about the loss of income he decided not to consider
it a demotion and issued a press release thanking the leader for the promotion.
One of his colleagues said Boudria this is not a promotion and we both
know it." He replied: It is now and by the end of the year everyone
else was also considering it a promotion.
Generally speaking Don Boudria has something good to say about everyone.
He discusses briefly his tenure as Minister of Public Works where he replaced
Alphonso Gagliano at the time when revelations were coming forth about
the sponsorship programme. We learn little about the programme or the department
but he does make the point that Mr. Gagliano is a kind decent man and
a hard working, highly competent public servant.
It is clear that Mr. Boudria enjoyed immensely his first cabinet position
as Minister for la Francophonie. It allowed him to travel extensively and
the issues were not generally controversial. His reward, after the 1997
election was the position as House Leader, a much more demanding job involving
constant negotiations with the other four parties.
Once again we do not learn much that is not on the public record but there
are some interesting tidbits such as the fact that potential cabinet appointees
like himself had to be interviewed by Mitchell Sharp who was the special
dollar-a-year ethics advisor to the Prime Minister.
The election of Paul Martin spelled the end of Don Boudrias career in
cabinet. His offer to serve Mr. Martin was made sincerely and in person.
It was not accepted and this was a point of some disappointment although
he is not in any way critical of Mr. Martin.
The final section of the book deals with his time as Chairman of the House
of Commons Committee on Procedure which was responsible, among other things,
for the study of electoral reform including proportional representation.
He discusses the Committees trip to Australia and New Zealand to study
Electoral Reform but reveals very little about the substance of the debate.
While the absence of policy discussion is a bit frustrating it was clearly
not the purpose of this book and as Mr. Boudria is still fairly young one
expects there may be another career and perhaps another book that covers
some of his thoughts on public policy.