While the bells on Parliament Hill won't call MPs back to the House of Commons until Sept. 17, this week's federal caucus meetings signal the start of preparations for the fall session.
Every summer brings its share of predictable photo ops (Stampede breakfast anyone?) punctuated by intermittent flare-ups of news. But what about the hazier, lazier days in-between, when Parliamentarians disappear from the radar for weeks at a time?
Here's what a few MPs were up to during their break from the Hill:
Paddling the Fraser
When your MP's first name is Fin, maybe it's only fitting to hear he spent the summer on the water rather than behind a desk.
Fin Donnelly, the New Democrat from Vancouver, has a unique relationship with the Fraser River, which forms the southern boundary of his New Westminster-Coquitlam riding. Donnelly has swam its entire length (1,375 km), from the Rocky Mountains to the Georgia Strait, not just once, but twice. Before that, he swam Georgia Strait four times, raising some $50,000 for the Georgia Strait Alliance.
His swims and other work for the Rivershed Society of B.C. have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last two decades, he estimates. This year, he spent 25 days at the helm (literally) of a leadership development program he founded that takes small groups of young people down the entire length of the Fraser by 34-foot Voyageur cargo canoe and whitewater raft.
The Sustainable Living Leadership Program is now in its tenth year, offering not only a physical adventure, but also an educational experience during stops along the way at First Nations and other communities that rely on the river for their livelihoods.
"While it's a fantastic trip, it's a lot of work," Donnelly says. "It's pretty intense, but I definitely take a lot away from it."
Donnelly is the NDP's western fisheries and western economic development critic. While the more remote parts of the trip take him well outside BlackBerry range, he appreciates the chance to connect in person with people involved in fishing, tourism and other industries along the way.
This year, the group paddled a massive cargo canoe right into a rally at Kitsilano, where Donnelly spoke against recent cuts to coast guard service.
"For me, it's a real inspiration and recharge," Donnelly says of working with the young people chosen for the trip. "It reminds me of why I'm doing the work I'm doing in Ottawa."
Receiving honorary citizenship
Conservative Stella Ambler thought her trip to Italy this summer would be a personal one, but the Mississauga, Ont., MP ended up at a government meeting anyway.
Her parents immigrated to Canada in the fifties as children. In 1962, a group of Italian-Canadians in Toronto formed a social club for everyone who came from the town of Pescosolido, northeast of Rome. As part of the club's 50th anniversary this summer, a reunion trip was planned and Ambler's father wanted to take her 13-year-old son. Ambler decided to join part of the trip.
The MP has cousins, aunts and uncles still living in the town. When she arrived on a Saturday morning, her uncle showed her a poster in the town square advertising a special meeting of the municipal government scheduled for that evening.
There was only one item on the agenda: a surprise honorary citizenship for her, to commemorate one of their own being elected to Canada's House of Commons.
"It was so cute and such an honour," Ambler says, adding she had some help crafting a short speech in Italian to thank her hosts.
The entire group of about 70 from Toronto, her extended family and much of the town turned out to hear the mayor and her first cousin, who's a town councillor, speak about what she's said and done so far as an MP, researching her committee work and speeches from the House of Commons. She was particularly touched when they spoke of her being a role model for their daughters as a woman in politics.
"There's something special about going back to where you are from," she says, saying the Pescosolido club was very formative for her growing up. "These are people who supported each other when they didn't know anyone."
Hitting the open road
Here's a tip for married guys who want to take an epic summer road trip with one of your buddies: first, get in your wife's good books.
Sudbury, Ont., MP Glenn Thibeault started the summer by celebrating his tenth wedding anniversary with a trip and wedding vows renewal ceremony in Cuba. The trip was a chance to reconnect with close friends and family after long absences in Ottawa earlier in the year.
That, he says, cleared the way for another trip he wanted to take with a friend at the end of the summer: a week-long, 1,700-km motorcycle trip to Cape Cod, Mass., and back.
Thibeault had started a similar trip last year, reaching only the tip of Lake Michigan before news reached him of his leader Jack Layton's resignation to fight cancer.
The NDP MP knew he had to turn around and go back to Ottawa to be with his colleagues.
This year, he was able to do it all, including a "breathtaking" ride up Vermont's Hogback Mountain, which he describes as a highlight.
"I call it my decompression," he said over the phone on the last leg of his journey back to Sudbury last week. "It's nice just to be able to drive and not worry about my BlackBerry and everything else."
Reuniting with teammates
In Canada, Corneliu Chisu is known as the Conservative MP for the Ontario riding of Pickering-Scarborough East. But this summer he returned for a reunion in his Transylvanian hometown, where he's known for something else: fencing.
The Romanian city of Satu Mare is famous for producing outstanding fencers. Chisu was the junior champion of Romania in 1965, when he was 16, and competed for Romania at the World University Games. A friend of his became a world champion representing Germany, while others competed at past Olympic Games.
Chisu, who left Romania when he was 29, says fencers from Satu Mare are now scattered all over the world. Of the 200 or so who attended this summer's reunion, about 20 competed internationally in the sport. Others, he says, were unable to attend because of their continued involvement in the sport at this year's Olympics in London.
He's not the only politician in the group: a former president of Hungary is also a fencer.
"Fencing taught me a lot of things," he says. "You can't blame anyone for your faults ... You must attack your priorities and make decisions in time. You can't postpone."
Chisu calls fencing an "intelligent sport" where you engage directly with one adversary and need to outsmart him. "That guided me my entire career," he says.
Across the Commons aisle, Chisu has learned that Quebec MP Christine Moore also enjoys fencing. He's hoping to organize a friendly competition against the NDP opponent, perhaps for charity, sometime in the future.
Emergency room nursing
For her part, Moore hasn't exactly been taking it easy this summer. She's used her time away from Ottawa to take nursing shifts in the ER and ICU at her local hospital, the Centre de santé et de services sociaux des Aurores-Boréales.
The NDP MP for Abitibi-Témiscamingue already puts in long hours over long distances get to and from — and around — her remote Quebec riding, travelling an estimated 8,000 km each month. But when she's home, she tries to fit in a few shifts in order to keep her nursing licence while serving as an MP.
"It helps me keep in contact with people," she says. "At the emergency room people talk about work, families, the difficulties of their kids at school ... I really like to know what the reality is of true people."
Moore says people are sometimes surprised to realize their nurse is also their MP. Some have joked about going to Parliament Hill next time they need an injection, or going to see her at the hospital instead of her office when they have a concern. Sometimes students at the hospital call her "Madame La Deputé [French for MP]."
Fitting in enough nursing shifts to keep her qualifications is a challenge for a busy politician. She also recently purchased a home in Hull, Que., to use when she's in Ottawa and she's spent part of the summer fixing it up.
"I didn't really take vacation," she says.
Racing to fundraise
Several members of the Liberal caucus hit the road this summer for the fundraising circuit. In Halifax West MP Geoff Regan's case, he used his bicycle to raise money for charity.
Regan's first contact with his region's MS Bike Tour came a few years ago when his former law partner called him to say they needed another team member to ride and raise money for multiple sclerosis. He's seen a friend, brother-in-law and former assistant fight the disease.
"I've seen what they've gone through when they were first experiencing it," he says. "It's baffling at first ... with a bunch of effects that can really be tough."
Regan says he's done other charity runs as an individual and MP, but this is his big fundraiser each year. He raised more than $1,500 as part of a large team — "Road Kill" — that brought in close to $49,000 as a group.
Doing the tour is a chance to ride with people he doesn't often have a chance to see due to his hectic schedule as an MP.
"It's fun to see folks I've known off and on since high school," he says.
The Windsor-to-Wolfville, N.S., course is either 50 or 85 km each way, depending on a rider's abilities, with an overnight stop. This year, Regan did the shorter distance on the first day so he could rush back to Halifax for the 25th anniversary of the city's Pride Parade. He was one of the first riders to complete the 50-km ride on the Saturday morning, hustled back to the city to walk and dance his way through the parade, then hurried back to complete the full 85 km on the second day of the tour.
Other years he's had to miss the parade for the bike tour, but he wanted to attend this year to show his support after the death of a prominent gay activist in Halifax earlier this year.
Compared to previous years, "I was pretty darn slow" on Sunday, Regan says. But "it's really important to support research in this area."
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Top 10 Most Expensive MP Pensions
Welcome to the $3 million club. The following 10 MPs will each receive an estimated total lifetime pension of more than $3 million if they retire in 2019. All the <a href="http://taxpayer.com/sites/default/files/CTFMP-PensionReport-WEB.pdf" target="_hplink">estimates come from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation</a> and are based on an MP retiring in 2019 and ceasing to receive their pension at age 80. The numbers if the MPs retire in 2015 are also included in the caption to each slide.
10. Michael Chong - $3,124,903
Conservative MP Michael Chong would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,684,816 if he were to retire in 2015.
9. Peter Van Loan - $3,194,114
Conservative MP Peter Van Loan would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,462,029 if he were to retire in 2015. (CP)
8. Rona Ambrose - $3,330,876
Conservative MP Rona Ambrose would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,429,149 if she were to retire in 2015. (CP)
7. Rob Anders - $3,643,873
Conservative MP Rob Anders would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,034,089 if he were to retire in 2015. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
6. Denis Coderre - $3,701,989
Liberal MP Denis Coderre would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,288,821 if he were to retire in 2015. (Graham Hughes/CP)
5. Scott Brison - $3,723,666
Liberal MP Scott Brison would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,113,881 if he were to retire in 2015.
4. James Moore - $3,795,386
Conservative MP James Moore would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,893,658 if he were to retire in 2015. (Althia Raj)
3. Gerry Byrne - $3,996,498
Liberal MP Gerry Byrne would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,450,711 if he were to retire in 2015.
2. Jason Kenney - $4,318,507
Conservative MP Jason Kenney would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,416,779 if he were to retire in 2015. (CP)
1. Stephen Harper - $5,596,474
Prime Minister Stephen Harper would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $5,456,109 if he were to retire in 2015. Harper's numbers are based on the PM not buying back into the program for his service as a Reform Party MP between 1993-1997. In order to make a political statement, Harper did not contribute to the pension program during his time as a Reform MP. After returning to Parliament Hill in 2002, Harper could have retroactively contributed to the program for his service from 1993 to 1997. According to the PMO, Harper has not and will not make those contributions. MPs are not obligated to disclose this information. If Harper were to choose to buy back in for those years, his numbers would change. If he were to buy back in and retire in 2019 he would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $6,216,858 and $6,233,568 if he were to retire in 2015. His numbers also include the special allowance he will receive as Prime Minister. An earlier version of this story used the numbers based on Harper buying back in for the 1993 to 1997 period. After being contacted by the PMO with the prime minister's pledge not to do so, the numbers were updated. (CP)