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Ed Aquilina

The black phone sitting on the corner of the desk is ringing. Again.

"Ed Aquilina speaking" is the solid answer each time. Holding the receiver in one hand and shuffling through several brown folders with the other, the man with a neatly trimmed white beard searches for a pen.

"Some days...," he mutters to himself, hanging up the phone and turning to his computer. He flips through some papers mumbling about how his partial vacation just isn't working out.

Partial vacation means he is only in the office two days a week throughout August. Those two days seem to come with the workload of two weeks.

As senior policy adviser to Bob Chiarelli, mayor of Ottawa, Aquilina's working day is a flurry of paperwork, meetings and phone calls. An odd life for a 70-year-old man who originally retired from the public service over 10 years ago.

Former House of Commons MP and cabinet minister, Jean-Jacques Blais met Aquilina when both were serving in federal politics some 20 years ago.

"The thing that strikes me the most is how, notwithstanding that he's a retired civil servant and financially comfortable, [Mr. Aquilina] has chosen to come back and serve in public life," said Blais, who attributed the decision to Aquilina's sense of public duty.

During his time as MPP for Ottawa West in the late 1980s, Chiarelli became familiar with Aquilina, who was then involved in federal politics. When he decided to run for regional chair, Chiarelli asked then-retired Aquilina to be his co-president of campaign and policy. After Chiarelli's victory, Aquilina became a senior policy advisor.

"It was supposed to be a relatively short stay," Aquilina says, sipping some apple juice. "Years later, I'm still here," he chuckles.

"Mr. Aquilina likes to work," says Roger Poulin, who first met Aquilina during a federal election and now works as a consultant for Delsec Inc. "He's in high demand, he's highly knowledgeable."

Sporting a CV which is six pages long condensed, a list of career highlights which span two pages, and a knowledge of seven languages, Aquilina might well be considered an asset to any organization.

His career has been concentrated mainly in the public sector with his fields of expertise lying in areas such as administrative reform, policy formulation and human resources planning and management.

Beginning in 1961, he served prominently in the federal bureaucracy holding positions such as policy officer and assistant to policy secretariat to the Prime Minister's Office. He was assistant secretary to the Privy Council Office, assistant deputy minister of the Department of Regional Economic Expansion and chaired the Task Force on Decentralization of the Treasury Board. From 1977-81, Aquilina was general manager of the National Capital Commission and played an instrumental role in introducing notable programs like Winterlude and the Festival of Spring.

"The idea was to change the focus of the NCC from building roadways and parks to adding a more cultural component," he says of the programs' beginnings.

In 1981 he re-entered the federal bureaucracy and became deputy secretary of the official languages branch of the Treasury Board Secretariat. He would later become assistant deputy minister of the administrative branches of the Treasury Board Secretariat, the Department of Finance and the Office of the Comptroller General.

Aquilina retired from work at the federal level in 1989 after which he went into management consulting and worked as an adviser on public administrative reform and public financial administration in countries such as Lebanon, Ethiopia, Benin and Haiti.

He has also been involved administratively in numerous community-based organisations like the board of Catholic Family Services, the executive of the committee of the Association for Bright Children, the board of the Ottawa-Carleton Learning Foundation, and the Carlingwood Action Committee. In addition, he was president of the Glabar Park Community Association, the Federation of Citizens' Association of Ottawa-Carleton and the advisory committee for the promotion of scientific studies at Charlebois High School.

In 1994, he chaired the citizens' review panel on the salaries of regional councillors. He became senior policy adviser to Bob Chiarelli in 1997.

Aquilina admits it was quite a shift from smoother federal politics to the more chaotic municipal level. "You're getting the problems head-on, they haven't gone through all those other levels of government yet."

However, his track record suggests he's up for the challenge.

"He's yet another example of the contribution an immigrant can make to this country," says Claire Marshall, director of the Institute of Governance of which Aquilina is an associate member.

Edwin Charles Aquilina was born in Cairo, Egypt, the eldest of two children. He describes himself as Maltese but of Italian origin. His ancestors were part of the Italian house of the Knights of Malta, a military order which defended crusader territory in the Holy Lands. After Napoleon splintered the order in 1798, Aquilina's ancestors were among those who chose to follow the conqueror to Egypt.

Aquilina's father was the first civilian in his lineage and worked for the Shell Oil Company during the Second World War. He contributed to the war effort by building highways and roads in and around the Middle East and northeast Africa. Young Edwin didn't get to know his father until he was 15-years-old and the war had ended.

At the age of 18, Aquilina decided to leave Egypt to pursue studies in the United States. He was accepted as a scholarship student to Carleton College in Minnesota. There, he completed a B.A. in International Affairs and Economics before pursuing an M.A. in Political Science and Economics at Columbia University.

"Everybody's dream at that time, I remember, was to go to North America. That was the dream," he remembers. "I had the opportunity, so I took it."

Aquilina left Egypt by boat, departing from Alexandria and making a short tour of Europe, stopping off in Venice and Austria.

"It was 1950 and a lot of Germany was still bombed," he remembers. "They didn't have much money. The best way to get anything done was with cigarettes instead of money."
Aquilina also made stops in France, England, New York City and Cape Cod before arriving in Minnesota by bus in September of 1950.

"I still remember the first snow," he laughs. "I'd never seen snow in my life, in Egypt you don't see snow. It was kind of funny to see all this white stuff and you want to touch it and find out it's like water."

During his first winter in North America, Aquilina contracted pneumonia. He was hospitalised for three weeks and was put on antibiotics which got him through the illness.
In addition to having to adjust to the climate, Aquilina also notes that one of the hardest adaptations he had to make was to North American food.

"Some food was great and others were unusual. I mean, peanut butter is not something that we ever ate [in Egypt]. I had a difficult time adjusting to that sort of thing."
Another challenge for Aquilina was learning to look after himself. "I never did anything when I was young. We had servants to clean our shoes. I never did anything. All of a sudden I had to do all of that. Clean my shoes and wash my clothes and if I wanted something to eat I had to go and get it."

Although his beginnings in the Western world were in the States, Aquilina always wanted to visit Canada. While still a boy in Egypt, he met a French-Canadian priest from Quebec City who enthralled him with tales of Canada and Quebec.

After finishing his studies at Carleton College, just before his departure for Columbia University, Aquilina made a trip to Canada. He passed through London, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City.

"I just loved it," he states. "I really liked the country."

Aquilina decided to stay. Being Egyptian, he was a British subject and in those days, Canadian citizenship was readily available to British subjects if they had $500 in their pocket, which he did.

Aquilina moved to Montreal which felt the most like home out of all the cities he'd been in.
"I was used to Cairo, where I lived, it was a very multicultural place. There were Egyptians, Italians, Greeks and French. There were all kinds of nationalities. Montreal, at that time, was more cosmopolitan. They spoke french and english and so on."

His younger sister, Therese, and their parents would eventually follow him to Canada and settle in Montreal where they still live today.

Aquilina is married with three sons and has no plans to expand on his career in politics.
"Next time around, it's retirement," he says with a smile, as his phone begins to ring.

By Fiona Story.

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