MAYBE ONE REASON why Canada is so hard to govern is that the 3,000 people who keep Parliament Hill running guzzle 50,000 cups of java and chomp 1,200 kilos of patates frites every month. That dietary statistic is just one of the interesting factoids that can be gleaned from On The Hill (McClelland & Stewart, 160 pages, $14.99 paper), a breezy guide to the parliamentary precinct by the journalist and novelist Heather Robertson.
Arranged alphabetically, the guide yields often humorous information under some 200 entries, ranging from "Bomb" and "Hansard" to "Prime Minister" and "Unity." Subtitled A People's Guide to Canada's Parliament, the book gives equal time to the parliamentary proletariat the stone carvers, carpenters, guards, Dominion Carillonneur (the official Peace Tower chime player), translators, cooks, cleaners, messengers, pages, clerks, and aides who help members of Parliament and honourable senators to go about their task of either saving or scandalizing Canadians.
Robertson states that her book "is a general reference, not an encyclopedia or textbook." Indeed, it's as idiosyncratic as Samuel Johnson's Dictionary. Robertson views the Hill as "a medieval walled city," a perception reinforced by the Canadian Gothic Revival architecture of the Parliament Buildings and the arcane rituals of the Commons and the Senate. She also maternalistically describes MPs' aides as "easy to spot by their bright eyes, big smiles and air of importance." And her discussions of Canada have a distinct Ontario-Quebec emphasis.
All in all, On the Hill is a good gateway to Parliament and its populace. As Hansard would record it, Hear! Hear!