Monday 19 August 2013

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Feeling Important: Eating Inside the BC Legislature

When visiting Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, it's fun to try and get a little taste of what it would be like to be a political big wig. After all, this is where the major decisions are made for Canada's westernmost province. Just being in the area when parliament is in session gives you a small sense of importance and it's natural to want to try and find some way to participate in the political process. What can you do though? You most likely can't speak, spend, or pass laws like a politician (Unless you count making a motion to reduce your kids allowance, a motion that was sadly defeated when it went to vote.) but don't despair. There is one thing in Victoria you can do exactly the same way that your elected representatives do. You can eat like a politician. 

Victoria Parliament Buildings Canada Day

It's not widely advertised, but there is a restaurant in the basement of the BC Legislature. Its primary purpose is to feed the members of parliament when they're on break from session, but when the dining room isn't busy serving the local policy-makers, it's open for the general public to enjoy. Well...kind of open. To eat in the Legislative Dining Room you first have to pay a visit to the security office and surrender your driver's license, passport, or other official form of ID. In exchange for this you are given a badge which literally unlocks the door to the secret world of political power dining.

BC Parliament Building Victoria

I have to admit that having a pass made me feel pretty important. I walked confidently down the Legislature hallway (my kids used the word "strutting") showing my pass to everybody in sight, most of whom were tourists wondering why this strange man kept flashing his red and white card at them. Eventually came the end of the hallway and the most exciting moment of the journey...a door marked "No Public Access". With a wave of my badge (actually five or six waves, and some help from an elderly gentleman walking by) there was a beep and the door opened to reveal the inner hallways of the BC Legislature...

BC Legislature Victoria Parliament Building

...which truthfully looked exactly like the outer hallways of the BC Legislature. To my disappointment there was no guard there to check the validity of my pass (There's never a guard when I actually have a pass.) so we proceeded down the hallway. Not only wasn't there a guard present but there weren't any people at all. We were wandering around in the off-limits area of the BC Legislature with nobody around watching over us, one day after a terror plot was thwarted at this very building. It was kind of a strange feeling, but being the good, law-abiding citizens that we are, we didn't do anything that would be cause for concern. We simply obeyed all the posted signs and followed the path towards the dining room. 

Victoria BC Parliament building
OK...Maybe we disobeyed one sign....
After making our way downstairs we arrived at the Legislative Dining Room at 10:30 am. It's a very fancy room (we were definitely underdressed) with about 30-40 tables. There was some concern about time as we'd been told that the dining room closed at 11:30 to serve members of parliament during their lunch break, but the greeter assured us that the members never showed up on time for their lunch break and that we would have plenty of time for breakfast. We were seated immediately (there were only two other tables occupied) in a little nook off to one side of the restaurant and presented with what turned out to be the biggest surprise of our dining experience.

Breakfast Menu for the BC Legislative Dining Room
A reasonably priced menu!
It seems that the BC Legislative Dining Room is taxpayer subsidized. I probably should have guessed that, considering it's designed to be used by politicians, but the very fair prices on the menu were a fantastic surprise. I'm pretty sure if I'd ordered the same food back at the Fairmont Empress it would have been at least $20 a plate. With no worries about breaking the budget, everybody was free to order whatever they liked.

BC Legislative Dining Room Breakfast

Breakfast at BC Legislative Dining Room

Breakfast at restaurant inside BC Parliament Building

Breakfast restaurant at Victoria Parliament building

Every single thing we ordered was fantastic, but the food was definitely second to the ambiance. The room is covered with pictures and news clippings of famous BC politicians and I couldn't help but wonder just how many important deals were brokered at the very table we were currently eating our breakfast at. Our waiter, who was super friendly but made it clear that he wasn't at liberty to talk politics, explained to us that we were seated in a section of the restaurant reserved for members of the opposition party. That took a little bit of the glamour away, but it was still very cool to be sitting in a room so full of history.

Restaurant inside the BC parliament
Don't we look governmental?
We finished our meal just as the wait staff was beginning to set up for the arrival of the members of parliament. Tables were being pushed together and reserved signs were being placed out at every available setting. I'll admit that all the activity helped to give me a bit of an ego boost and I may have tipped more than normal in my attempt to justify the feeling. Not a big deal as it really was well deserved, and we all left feeling like we had just eaten somewhere pretty special. If our importance meter still wasn't maxed out though, we had one more chance to top it up. After making our way back up to the security office to return our badges, we exited the Legislature to find this scene outside...

media outside Victoria Parliament Building

I gave it serious consideration but in the end I decided that it really wasn't the best time for me to hold a press conference. With my swelled sense of importance I might have done something ill advised like announce an election or declare war on Saskatchewan. Besides, I was already feeling really full from a great breakfast and I probably wouldn't have been looking my best for the reporters. They say the camera adds 10 pounds and there's an awful lot of cameras down there.

Written by Steve Pratt