Lisa Raitt has always been cautious by nature.
The Conservative MP for Milton spent years splitting her energy between two kids and a longtime partner at home, and her life on Parliament Hill as a minister in Stephen Harper’s government. It took organization and dedication, but Raitt herself acknowledges she wasn’t prone to big, adventurous leaps.
Then her now-husband, Bruce Wood, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease— and everything changed.
“You always know that there’s a clock above your head, you don’t know when your time is up, but now I just see that clock every day,” Raitt told The West Block‘s Vassy Kapelos as the two sat down for a meal at Ottawa’s famed Mamma Teresa ristorante.
“I know that I can’t say ‘Oh, we’ll do that next year,’ because I don’t know where we’re going to be next year, I don’t know how he’s going to be feeling … so we do it all now. We just do it all.”
COMMENTARY: Life and Love and Alzheimer’s
That means a family trip home to Cape Breton for Christmas, followed by a break “down south” in January for some sunshine and golf before the House of Commons resumes. Next summer, the family is heading to Italy. Whatever Bruce wants right now, Raitt said, he gets.
“Obviously, you know, the disease progresses and you can see that there’s little things that he once was able to do, it’s more difficult,” she added.
“But his memory is good. He knows where we live, he can drive, he works in his barn … (but) something he would think nothing of a year ago is difficult, so you have to rely on others a lot more.”
WATCH: ‘Life can be okay’: Lisa Raitt pays tribute to husband, discusses Alzheimer’s battle
Raitt has had an enormously busy year in 2017, running for the leadership of the Conservative Party while adapting to that new reality at home. She came in eighth, right around the middle of the pack, but has few regrets beyond not getting a better grasp on the French language during the campaign.
“Best decision I ever made,” Raitt said of her run.
“So happy I did it, so grateful for the people who supported me … in a selfish way, I got to see Canada. I got to meet Conservatives from across the country and I have a better understanding of who we are. And that’s a gift.”
Who Conservatives “are” is something that Raitt still believes is widely misunderstood, even within the party itself. She herself doesn’t fit the traditional mould, she noted.
“I am a woman, first of all, and from the GTA, suburban, grew up on the East Coast.”
All of that, Raitt said, has led some to look at her as an exception to the rule, someone who isn’t necessarily likely to be a Conservative voter.
“But I am because I saw them across the country,” she said. “So I know that I represent that voice … to win a majority government, you have to get people who resemble me … to vote for us again. And that’s who I talk to.”
— Watch the full interview with Lisa Raitt above, including her thoughts on harassment on Parliament Hill, and an extended version of the conversation below.