OTTAWA — Bardish Chagger's first foray into federal politics came at age 13, as she hammered in lawn signs in her Ontario hometown of Waterloo for Liberal nominee Andrew Telegdi.
Twenty-three years later, she is the first woman to serve as government House leader, responsible for shepherding the government's legislative agenda through the Commons.
"I believe in hard work, and I'm up for the challenge," Chagger, 36, said Friday shortly after being sworn in.
Chagger's rise seems nothing short of meteoric, having won her first election just last October and being named small business minister — duties she will keep — in Justin Trudeau's debut cabinet.
Bardish Chagger speaks to the media on Parliament Hill after being sworn-in as Government House Leader, Aug. 19, 2016. (Photo: Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)
But as Telegdi will tell you, she's been at this since 1993, when the Chretien Liberals were on the verge of a landslide victory.
"She came with her father to help put up signs for me," he recalled in an interview Friday. "I said to her father, 'We need some young Liberals — you've got three kids, you know, send me one'."
Chagger was active as a fledgling Liberal at the University of Waterloo, where she earned a bachelor of science degree.
A member of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms generation, she embraced causes including same-sex marriage rights.
"I believe in hard work, and I'm up for the challenge."
As executive assistant to Telegdi, she co-ordinated both his Ottawa parliamentary and local offices. She helped constituents with the bureaucratic nitty-gritty of passports and visas, employment insurance and income tax forms.
In turn, Telegdi mentored Chagger over the years and helped her win the Liberal nomination for the riding of Waterloo in last year's election.
"She's well-liked, and a very hard worker," Telegdi said. "She really believes in an inclusive country."
Before becoming an MP, she worked as special projects co-ordinator with the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre, which helps new Canadians settle in and find work that suits their skills.
"She really believes in an inclusive country."
Chagger was also a board member of the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin and MT Space, a not-for-profit theatre company. Other volunteer causes included Interfaith Grand River, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Waterloo Rotary Club.
As House leader, Chagger follows a long line of legendary political luminaries such as Herb Gray, Don Mazankowski, Jack Pickersgill and Howard Green.
The job of keeping the legislative assembly line running smoothly requires both firmness and diplomacy.
Telegdi believes Chagger's tactful nature will help her succeed in the role.
"She tends to get along with everybody, she has a way of finding common ground," he said. "And you see it in her performance in the House. She's very courteous to the opposition. So I think she'll work well with people around her."
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