As the dust settles after the federal election, it has to be said that Laureen Harper was an extraordinary volunteer in her years at 24 Sussex Dr. She is a great asset, as all the organizations she helped to champion know well. A secret weapon, in fact.
She is a dynamic supporter and recruiter, a mobilizer of volunteers and a passionate promoter of her causes. Most people don't know that about her and are surprised. Throughout her time in Ottawa, she has made a massive contribution to the National Arts Centre, humane societies across the country, anti-bullying initiatives with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, the Red Cross, True Patriot Love and youth mental-health programs.
As co-chair of the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) Foundation, I have had the privilege of watching Laureen in action. We were extremely fortunate to have her take on the role of honorary campaign chair as we work to connect the iconic 24,000-kilometre national recreational trail from coast to coast to coast in time for Canada's 150th birthday in 2017 (the greatest project ever).
It is a cause close to Laureen's heart. She walks the TCT in Ottawa almost every day, hikes regularly and loves the outdoors. She owns a small piece of land outside Calgary and plans to build a small house there some day and live right on the TCT.
Laureen came to trail openings and announcements, hosted donors at 24 Sussex and gave them a private tour of the Parliament Buildings (with great stories) and attended fundraising events, and most potential donors didn't know what hit them. She even lobbied to have the driveway of 24 Sussex named an honorary part of the Trans Canada Trail. She is friendly, funny, feisty and fearless. She is utterly without pretension.
I have hiked with her and other TCT supporters on the Laura Secord Legacy Trail in Niagara, the gorgeous trails in Charlevoix and the Sleeping Giant Trail near Thunder Bay. She is always energetic, upbeat (despite mosquitoes, rain, excessive heat), takes beautiful photographs and makes sure we always have a supply of salted caramels from the kitchen at 24 Sussex.
When I tell people about Laureen, they usually say they have no strong sense of her. She has not taken a high "first lady" profile and most Canadians don't know much about her. She has worked very hard in the background on projects that she cares about. She is completely down-to-earth and tells very funny stories about herself, such as the time she decided that for the first time in her married life, she needed a matching bedroom set in her house in Calgary. She bought one and assembled it herself, saying she comes from a long line of contractors, pipefitters and welders and should be able to figure it out. The bed collapsed with her and the Prime Minister in it and she thought that was hilarious. She is crazy about Charlie, her pet chinchilla, and has endless pictures of him on her phone.
She is a shameless promoter of all things Canadian and never stopped plugging them, whether it was Ron White shoes to the spouses at the G20 or Lankaaster cheese (supreme global cheese winner) to a point where you could no longer find it in any store.
Laureen has done a great job on so many worthwhile Canadian projects and deserves our thanks. Brava Laureen.
This post was originally published in the Globe and Mail.
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