black phone sitting on the corner of the desk is ringing.
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.
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
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
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.
House of Commons MP and cabinet minister, Jean-Jacques Blais
met Aquilina when both were serving in federal politics some
20 years ago.
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.
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
was supposed to be a relatively short stay," Aquilina
says, sipping some apple juice. "Years later, I'm still
here," he chuckles.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
1994, he chaired the citizens' review panel on the salaries
of regional councillors. He became senior policy adviser to
Bob Chiarelli in 1997.
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."
his track record suggests he's up for the challenge.
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
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.
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
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.
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."
left Egypt by boat, departing from Alexandria and making a
short tour of Europe, stopping off in Venice and Austria.
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
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."
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.
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
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.
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
just loved it," he states. "I really liked the country."
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
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
younger sister, Therese, and their parents would eventually
follow him to Canada and settle in Montreal where they still
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.