If Coun. Stephen Blais get his way, a massive, new $1.8-million community park in Orléans will be named after former eastern Ontario MP, one-time “Rat Pack” member and Chrétien-era cabinet minister Don Boudria.
Boudria, who lives in Sarsfield, is a well-known figure in local and federal circles. He served in public office, at all three levels of government, for 30 years, with 22 of them in the House of Commons as the Member of Parliament for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell.
Now 68 years old, he’s worked as a lobbyist in Ottawa for the past decade.
While Boudria’s son, Daniel, submitted the application to the city to have the future 9.29-acre park in Ottawa’s east end bear his dad’s name, Blais, the councillor for Cumberland ward, admitted he approached the younger Boudria with the idea.
“I’d been thinking of a way to honour Mr. Boudria for some time. … He’s contributed to the community for quite a long time,” Blais said in an interview Tuesday, pointing out that the area of Orléans where the park will be located was all farmland when Boudria was first elected.
“The community has certainly changed quite a lot … It’s important to ensure that (for) people who are new to the area, we protect our common history and honour those who have dedicated huge chunks of their life to community service.”
In an interview Tuesday, Boudria said getting the call from Blais about the commemorative naming proposal was one of the few times in his life when he was “left speechless … or close to it.”
“I was very flattered, obviously,” Boudria said. “It’s a beautiful park that they’re proposing and obviously, I’m very, very grateful to all of those who seem to think this is a good idea.”
The park, once constructed, will be located at the intersection of Jerome Jodoin Drive and Decoeur Drive in the Avalon Encore development — a large expansion in suburban Orléans. Minto, the developer constructing many of the new homes in the area, is footing the whole bill for the park and hopes to break ground sometime in 2019, Blais said.
The concept design for the mega park shows off a variety of amenities like a little league baseball diamond, a multi-purpose court, a puddle rink, a playground, game tables and picnic tables — plus open green space and a one-acre dog park. Boudria said he’s excited about many of those proposed features — particularly the baseball diamond, because of memories coaching baseball as a teenager and meeting his wife of 47 years on the field.
As a musician, Boudria said he’s also thrilled to see a gazebo in the mix.
“I’ve told all my friends that when the park’s open, we’re going there, we’re going to have a jam,” he said.
Born in Hull, Que., and raised in Sarsfield, Boudria’s political career began in 1976, when he was elected as a city councillor for the former Township of Cumberland. In 1981, he left municipal politics to run for the provincial Liberal party and was elected as MPP for Prescott and Russell.
Three years after that, he made another successful leap to the federal arena, winning Glengarry–Prescott–Russell for the Liberals in the 1984 election. It was during that first term on Parliament Hill that Boudria and three other young, scrappy opposition backbenchers gained notoriety for their fierce and vocal criticisms of the Conservative Mulroney government. Their theatrics got them nicknamed the Liberal party “Rat Pack.” (They even had t-shirts.)
Asked whether the new park might host a “Rat Pack” reunion, Boudria laughed.
“Maybe we’ll invite them to the jam,” he joked.
Over his years in federal politics, Boudria served as chief government whip, leader of the government in the House of Commons, minister for international cooperation, and the minister responsible for La Francophonie.
While serving as minister of public works in the early 2000s, he was the target of conflict-of-interest attacks from opposition MPs after he stayed at a Quebec chalet owned by a major firm that did business with his department.
Boudria was reelected to Parliament four consecutive times; he chose not to make a sixth bid in 2006. He then traded politics for public relations, taking a job in 2007 as a senior counsellor with Hill+Knowlton in Ottawa, where he still works today.
Earlier this month, Boudria was honoured with a “Distinguished Service Award” from the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians.
He has two children and five grandchildren.
In a report submitted to the community and protective services committee, a group of city staff said the Boudria park application meets the criterion for a commemorative naming and they support the proposal.
The community and protective services committee is scheduled to discuss the application at its next meeting on Thursday. If it’s approved by committee and city council, any costs incurred from purchasing a plaque or hosting a naming ceremony will come out of the City Clerk and Solicitor’s operating budget, according to the report.