Drinking on Parliament Hill: Former MPs discuss culture of indulgence
Social media means 'it takes about 10 seconds before you find out if anything inappropriate happened'
Recent news of two Liberal MPs dealing with alcohol addiction has sparked a discussion about the culture of booze on Parliament Hill, a place that had its own liquor store up until a few years ago.
Two former MPs with different perspectives on the issue spoke to CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Friday about the impact of the Ottawa cocktail circuit on politicians and staffers.
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Don Boudria, a former Liberal cabinet minister who represented Glengarry—Prescott—Russell from 1984 to 2006, first arrived on the Hill as a junior staffer in 1966 and says it "used to be quite the drinking place.
"I worked, myself, in the liquor store," he told host Robyn Bresnahan. "Gradually all of these things changed. There was no business for the liquor store; it shut down. Similarly the bar that used to be in the Confederation Building on the eighth floor shut down. There was just no business," he said.
But these days it's not nearly as bad, Boudria said, and he doesn't believe Parliament Hill itself is to blame.
"Please remember that Parliament has really only been sitting steady for about eight weeks now. You don't acquire these kinds of problems over eight weeks. These are obviously problems that existed before and had very little to do with the present Parliament," he said.
'Large presence of females' partly responsible for change
But society's growing intolerance for alcohol abuse isn't the only reason for the change in behaviour.
Boudria thinks the "large, large presence of females on Parliament Hill," as well as social media, have played big roles.
"[More women on the Hill] has tended to make, particularly the male MPs, behave much better than they once did. That has had a huge cultural influence on how things work on Parliament Hill, and for the better," he said.
Are the women whipping the men into line, or are the men afraid of embarrassing themselves in front of the women?
"It's both," Boudria said. "It's a societal thing. The presence of women in the workforce has largely changed the behaviour of men as a sociological phenomenon. Parliament Hill is not exempt."
The threat of being caught doing something inappropriate on Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat is also making people think twice about indulging.
"Now it takes about 10 seconds before you find out if anything inappropriate happened, so it's changed the behaviour of people," he said.
'Booze flowed endless and free'
Ryan Cleary, who more recently served as a NDP MP for St. John's from 2011 to 2015, said the cocktail circuit is easy to slip into in Ottawa, especially for MPs coming from elsewhere.
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"It was my experience that alcohol is served at receptions on Parliament Hill every evening. When I was there for four years, every evening on Parliament Hill — in the Parliament buildings and in Château Laurier and other buildings downtown, but on Parliament Hill, too — there are receptions and ... the booze flowed endless and free.
"And if you wanted to go out every night and eat the best of food and drink to your heart's content, you could," Cleary said.
He and other rookie MPs were warned by seasoned veterans when they first arrived about the dangers of indulging too much, he said.
"The warnings you got right from the start were, watch out. Watch out for the food, watch out for the booze, watch out for being away from your family ... so I heeded those warnings. ... I only went to cocktail parties where there was a real presence from home," he said.