________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 9 . . . . January 5, 2001

The Custodian of The Hill.

Claudette Jaiko. (Director). Yves Bisaillon & Jacques Menard (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 1999.
50 min., 37 sec., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C9199 012

Subject Headings:
Canada-Parliament-House of Commons.
Parliamentary practice-Canada.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Joan Marshall.

**** /4

It can be difficult to make Canadian politics come alive for fourteen-year-olds. This excellent video will give students and their teachers many opportunities to discuss federal politics. It will clarify the Speaker's role in the House of Commons, but, much more importantly, it will give students a sombre glimpse of what it means to become a national politician.

      Gilbert (or Gib as he is known by everyone) Parent was a teacher and a school administrator when he decided to run for federal office in 1974. A backbencher for twenty years, he was elected in a secret vote by his peers to be the Speaker of the House of Commons. This video shows the ritual associated with the job: the march through empty hallways protected by his clerks, guards and the Sergeant at Arms, symbolizing five centuries of British struggle for freedom of speech; the formal robes; the role of host to foreign dignitaries. However, it also clarifies the Speaker's actual day to day activities: the conferring with his staff over the issues that will arise that day in the House, his overseeing of 1400 employees and a $200 million budget, his assigning of offices to the MP's, his solemn ejecting of a recalcitrant MP from the House. Parent is clear in his objective: while walking a tightrope of asserting authority and at the same time keeping a low profile, he works like an arbitrator to ensure Canadian unity and to set an example of democracy for the rest of the world.

      This video's strength lies in its depiction of a politician's life. We see Parent running for office in his home riding, connecting with ordinary Canadians. We see the tension and relief of election day. You can taste the tension in the air on the day Parent is elected Speaker. He controls the party leaders and MP's presented here arguing in full voice. It's clear that an army of volunteers and staff support him. More difficult to face is the amount of time Parent must dedicate to the job and the effects the position has on his marriage. His daughter makes sure that the man she marries will not be a politician. His wife comments on his absence, saying how difficult it is to hold family life together. He returns to Ottawa immediately after the accidental death of his son, and it is clear that, even years later, he continues to mourn. We learn that Parent and his wife have recently separated.

      As Parliament is bilingual, so is this video. The narrator, who is the filmmaker, speaks in English. There are English subtitles when people are speaking in French. The bilingual nature of the video, however, does not confuse the viewer in any way. In fact, for our students, seeing the politicians switching easily from English to French and back again alone is worth the price of the video. The video is 50 minutes long and will require some creative scheduling so that students can benefit the most from its potential. Every older teenager in Canada would benefit from viewing The Custodian of the Hill.

Highly Recommended.

Joan Marshall is the teacher-librarian at Henry G. Izatt Middle School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364