Hamilton-area MP Filomena Tassi promises to bring passion to new seniors portfolio

Tassi, a first-term MP, says her work is a tribute to her 89-year-old mother

Filomena Tassi, centre, sits with Bill Blair, left, and Jonathan Wilkinson at a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

There’s a saying that all politics is personal, and on Wednesday, that was definitely true for Hamilton-area MP Filomena Tassi.

That’s when she was named minister of seniors, a new federal cabinet post created by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Tassi, a first-time MP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, was a surprise choice.

“To get this position is beyond belief for me,” Tassi said in a phone interview Wednesday.

On accepting the role, she said, “I wore my hammer earrings.”

For Tassi, the post is an emotional one. Her mom, Irene, is 89 and still lives in Tassi’s childhood home in the east end. She once worked as a constituency assistant, and got Tassi interested in politics.

Tassi watches her mother struggle to get in and out of the car, and to get out to the grocery store. She sees this as a way to give back to her mom. And everyone else’s mom.

“That’s what makes this so exceptional for me,” she said. “It’s not only being in cabinet, it’s this portfolio.”

“My goal is to bring ‘golden’ back to the golden years.”

Tassi’s appointment was part of a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall Wednesday.

Her portfolio is one of five new ones in the cabinet of 35. The other additions are small business and export promotion, border security and organized crime reduction (helmed by former Toronto police chief Bill Blair), heritage and multiculturalism, and fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Tassi will help the government “better understand the needs of Canadian seniors and ensure that programs and services are developed that respond to Canada’s aging population,” Trudeau’s office says.

‘Been working under the radar’
“This will provide Canadian seniors and future retirees greater security and a better quality of life.”

Tassi told reporters in Ottawa she already holds “tea and talk with Tassi” sessions with Hamilton seniors. A former corporate lawyer, she also served as a high school chaplain for 20 years, and came up with programs to link seniors and high school students.

Peter Graefe, a McMaster University political scientist, said he hadn’t predicted Tassi as one of the cabinet appointments.

“Clearly she’s been working under the radar of the Ottawa press gallery,” he said. In predictions for Wednesday, “her name didn’t appear a single time.”

Some pundits have said the new appointments — most in vote-rich Ontario — are a response to Ontario voters tilting to the right. This is evidenced in the recent election of Doug Ford’s PC party.

First Hamilton cabinet minister in years
Graefe said that’s possible. But personality-wise, Tassi fits the role too. Her chaplaincy background means she brings a human touch to the job.

Tassi dismissed the Ford connection.

“Our prime minister picks people to put into cabinet that he believes are going to be able to best serve Canadians,” she said.

Tassi is also the first cabinet minister from Hamilton since Liberal Tony Valeri was house leader in 2004.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger tweeted that Tassi will be “a strong voice … for our community at the cabinet table.”

Source: www.cbc.ca