CANADA

When life was gentler

A 42-year veteran says goodbye to the Hill

LUKE FISHER January 25 1993
CANADA

When life was gentler

A 42-year veteran says goodbye to the Hill

LUKE FISHER January 25 1993

When life was gentler

A 42-year veteran says goodbye to the Hill

LUKE FISHER

Bracing themselves as a bitter wind whipped across Parliament Hill, the two tourists approached a grey-haired man in uniform and asked for directions. They could not have consulted a more qualified guide. During his 42 years on the Hill, Frank Foran, now a sergeant with the Senate Protective Service, has acquired an unparalleled knowledge of Canada’s Parliament and politicians. His career spans the terms of seven prime ministers, and he remembers most of them fondly: Louis St. Laurent was a reserved and gentle man, while John Diefenbaker was much loved by the Hill staff. Pierre Trudeau, Foran recalls, always seemed to be lost in his own thoughts, while Brian Mulroney, despite his widespread unpopularity, is well regarded by Foran and other security staff members because he always takes time to thank them for their efforts. Over the years, Foran, 55, has himself become a Parliamentary institution. And for many political veterans, the Hill will become a less personal place when he retires on Jan. 22. Says Gov. Gen. Ramon Hnatyshyn, a former Conservative cabinet minister who first met Foran in 1958 while working in Ottawa as a senate aide: “Frank is a wonderful guy who brightens the day for many people.” Foran’s duties, which bring him into daily contact with members of both the upper and lower chambers, continue a family tradition.

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His father, William, who died in 1969, began working on the Hill as a security guard in 1913 and rose to become chief of the Senate Protective Service before his retirement in 1959. With his father’s help, the younger Foran became a Senate page at 13 in 1950, when St. Laurent had been prime minister for just a year. Promoted to chief page in 1954, Foran later served as a Senate messenger. Accepted as a guard in 1964, Foran has been a sergeant since 1967, and now commands one of the upper chamber’s six platoons of 11 guards.

Foran looks back fondly on his four decades of close contact with the famous and infamous. He began his career, he says, in a quieter era, when people working on Parliament Hill greeted each other as though they were the residents of a small town. “Today, we’re all just a machine,” Foran adds. “There used to be much more concern for the human element.”

The sheer growth of the federal government has contributed to that impersonal atmosphere, he says. Until the 1960s, every MP and Senator had an office in the Centre Block, the hulking sandstone building that dominates Parliament Hill. Now, politicians’ offices are spread throughout all three Hill blocks and four other buildings nearby.

Foran adds that politicians used to spend more of their social time on the Hill than they do now. By tradition, office lights burned late

on most Wednesday evenings as politicians, their staff and even members of the press gallery gathered for parties that often became quite wild. Foran recalls frequently helping drunken parliamentarians get home after a night of heavy drinking. “Guards were discreet about it,” he says. “We would look after them.” Over the years, however, the relationship between journalists and politicians became increasingly adversarial—with the result that most parliamentarians now try to ensure that their on-Hill behavior is beyond reproach.

In the past, Foran says, politicians were also more cavalier about their sex lives. “Their families would be out east or out west, and they would be here alone,” he says. “Things went on—and the fact that we worked here 24 hours a day meant that we would see a lot of this stuff.” Foran remains circumspect about what he has witnessed over the years, but he recalls being questioned by senators’ wives about g their husbands’ alleged philandering. Wives 2 were not the only irate spouses. In the early I 1960s, he says, one enraged husband, armed o with a gun, came to the Centre Block in search § of a Liberal MP who, he claimed, had slept with £ his wife. Foran says that the matter was quietly " dealt with without charges being laid, and he still declines to identify the MP concerned.

Two events in the 1960s resulted in everincreasing security and a loss of informality. In 1966, a mentally disturbed security guard from Toronto died in a Centre Block washroom when his homemade bomb, which he had intended to detonate in the House of Commons, exploded prematurely. A year later, there was an explosion of another sort: as part of Canada’s centennial celebrations, hordes of tourists visited Ottawa and lined up to tour the Parliament buildings. With only 18 Senate and 75 House guards in 1966, security was sometimes haphazard. Each of the five entrances to the Centre Block was often protected by a single guard who, if called away, would enlist a messenger to take his place. Now, access is controlled by 325 Commons and Senate guards. Says Foran: “Even today, the support that staff give to security is not what it should be.”

In March, the Senate will host a retirement party for Foran, complete with a guard of honor. Foran says that he is looking forward to visiting France with his wife of 32 years, Rita, after which he will help to research the history of the Senate Protective Service. When he leaves the Hill, he will take with him warm memories of some of the politicians he has encountered over the years—former Liberal leader John Turner is one of his favorites. “He always had something nice to say,” Foran recalls. “He respected you. Some would be very sarcastic, but he was very kind.” As for the senators, Foran says, diplomatically, “They were all unique.” Meanwhile, he bemoans the current widespread distrust of elected officials. “We have to re-establish our confidence in politicians,” he says. It is a timely reminder from a man who has rubbed elbows with many of them.