Meet the Players
The Eighth in a Series of Interviews with Political Strategists and Candidates
“Not Left. Not Right. Moving Forward.” That is the slogan that greets all visitors to Martha Hall Findlay’s website. It’s easy to write off that greeting as mere political rhetoric, empty words, or, as we say in my native French, la langue de bois.
They may indeed be empty words when spoken by most politicians but they aren’t when spoken by Hall Findlay. (Or at least I would like to think they aren’t!)
Proof positive is the text of the interview that follows below. Hall Findlay, as you will read, appears genuinely interested both in inviting and engaging in constructive dialogue. Whether ideas trace their origin to the left or to the right does not seem to matter to her as much as whether those ideas can lead to better solutions to enduring problems.
Why can’t we have more people like her in Parliament?
There is much to find compelling about Hall Findlay. A quick look through her life’s work will show you why. Championship skier, distinguished graduate of the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall, attorney at a high-powered international law firm here, corporate executive there, 2006 Liberal leadership contender, and now Member of Parliament for Willowdale—all while raising three children, aged 24, 26, and 28. To describe all of that as impressive might be the understatement of the year.
What impresses me most about Hall Findlay, though, is a certain quality she possesses, one that eludes most people in her current line of work: authenticity.
Some are eloquent, some have great organizational skill, others have born leadership ability, many are smart, most are ambitious, and all have worked indefatigably to win their seat in the House of Commons.
But few exhibit authenticity.
Whether Hall Findlay is authentically authentic, or whether it is a carefully developed and deliberately managed strategy developed over her years of successfully navigating vast and competitive social structures, I cannot say for sure. But I sure hope she is authentically authentic because I’m convinced that she is.
But you can decide for yourself in this eighth installment of our continuing Meet the Players series.
One quick word about the mechanics of the interview: Hall Findlay received my questions by email on September 12, 2009—just as speculation about a Fall election reached its apex. But I did not receive her answers until a few days ago. To be fair, September and October were busy times for Liberal MPs, so I hope you will forgive her delay, as I have.
You will see that it has been well worth the wait.
Richard Albert (RA): So, Martha, what’s your latest take on whether Canadians are heading to the polls this Fall? I’m skeptical. So much so, in fact, that I’ve issued an open invitation to my readers: I’ll give 30-1 odds against an election taking place this Fall. (And while I got you on the line, you’re a lawyer, right? Perhaps you can tell me whether the famous Carbolic Smoke Ball case applies to my open bet. I hope not!)
Martha Hall Findlay (MHF): Wow, it sure shows how long it’s taken me to answer your questions, when the first one is about whether we’ll have an election this Fall. My feeling badly about taking so long is reinforced by the fact that it now already feels like winter outside. The good news is that we’ve come so far this Fall without an election. Did anyone take you up on your 30-1 bet against one happening? You’re looking more prescient every day… As for whether the Carbolic Smoke Ball case would apply (even though it was 25 years ago when I first studied it, I remember it fondly)—you didn’t put any money on the line. No consideration, not a valid contract. A no-risk proposition, one might say, other than reputational damage if you turned out to be way wrong. Good news for all, it looks like you might be right.
RA: Your predecessor in Willowdale, Liberal MP Jim Peterson, held your seat in Parliament since 1980 (with one term of interrupted service as a result of the conservative sweep of 1984). Based on my back-of-the-envelope calculations, Peterson achieved over 50 percent of the vote in every federal election since 1988, including the last election he contested in 2006.
In 2008, which was your first general election following Peterson’s resignation, you earned less—a little less, but still less—than 50 percent. Any idea why Peterson’s supporters did not all move to you?
MHF: Jim Peterson indeed did very well in almost all of his campaigns in Willowdale. An almost continuous run of 27 years. (We don’t talk much about 84-88, or his first run in 1979 which he lost.) You are correct that in the General Election I managed just under 50%. I will note that in the by-election in March, 2008, when I was first elected, I managed just shy of 60% of the vote. In the general election of 2008, the same thing happened in Willowdale as happened all across the country—the Conservative Party vote in fact went down; the NDP vote went down. The problem was that a lot of Liberals stayed home, and the Liberal vote went down even further. We look forward to getting those wonderful Willowdalean liberal voters back out the next time—just not anytime soon.
RA: You recently said that the next election will be “fought on attitudes.” Interesting. What did you mean by that?
MHF: Attitudes—Ken Dryden put it best when he described the Harper government as “pinched”. It’s the perfect word. “Let’s see what little we can do. Let’s give as much up to the provinces. Let’s see how far back we can pull from our Canadian participation on the international stage.” It’s pinched. I find it all rather grumpy. I just don’t believe that Stephen Harper has much optimism about Canada—I get the impression that he’d be just as happy if we were one of the United States of America. I don’t. I see Canada as a place, and as a group of people, with immense potential to do so much, both at home and abroad. Glass half full v. glass half empty. I am definitely a glass half full person. I feel a personal responsibility to start a de-grumpification process. (Yes, that’s my own word, but it’s pretty good, no?)
RA: Bottom line, though, Martha. Why is your leader better for Canada than the current prime minister, Stephen Harper?
MHF: Michael Ignatieff is better than Stephen Harper for a number of reasons, but first and foremost relates to my last answer. Michael is hugely optimistic about Canada and Canadians—what we are, what we have been able to accomplish, what we can do going forward, what we can become—leaders once again in the combination of economic prosperity, but prosperity with a purpose—a social justice purpose.
RA: My very first guest in this interview series was Warren Kinsella, the master Liberal strategist who is apparently slated to run your Party’s war room in the next election. I asked him whether he thought the Liberal Party was doing enough to be more inclusive to, and encouraging of, female candidates. To his credit, he said no and expressed his wish that your Party do more. Surely you agree, as I do. But can you articulate for our readers precisely why it is so important to have more women in Parliament?
MHF: We do need more women in government. At the federal level, we make up only 21% of MPs. Compare that with the fact that we women make up 52% of the population as a whole (yes, that’s a majority!). As such, we are the ‘consumers’, or ‘recipients’, if you will—the majority of those affected by—legislation. My answer is therefore simple: women make up more than half of those affected by legislation, therefore more than half of the people around the table when that legislation is put forward, debated, and passed, should be women.
MHF: It used to bother me a bit. As a lawyer and businessperson, with a considerable focus in past lives on international relations and international trade and business, I used to respond with, “Can we please talk about economics, finance or foreign affairs?” But particularly after the 2006 Leadership campaign, I recognized that I am seen as representing a minority that shouldn’t be one, and I do feel a responsibility to work to effect that kind of change. I also realize that an awful lot of women, young and old, are really interested in getting involved, but don’t really know how—and more importantly don’t know just how accessible political involvement is. I really enjoy encouraging more women to run, by sharing my experiences, giving advice, occasionally being a shoulder, etc… I rebel at the label “a woman in politics”—I am “a politician”. But (based on the last time I checked ) I AM also a woman, who happens to be in politics, so therefore have a role and a responsibility that I enjoy taking on.
RA: It is admittedly still a little early, in my view, to assess people and events from the 1990s. We need more distance. Nonetheless, how do you think history will remember Kim Campbell, Canada’s first and only (until you become Liberal leader, perhaps?) female prime minister? Has she been treated fairly since her departure from Canadian politics?
MHF: Kim Campbell will be recognized, rightly and importantly, as the first female Canadian Prime Minister. She faced a huge challenge insofar as the federal Conservative Party itself was facing a huge challenge from the Reform Party at the time—and the story of what happened in the election in which she, and the Conservative Party, suffered so much, was in my view much less a story about her (despite much of what was said and written) but rather much more about the success of the Reform Party. As such, I do not think she was treated fairly, nor do I feel she was treated fairly by her own party as the situation became so clearly challenging. The fall, at the time, of the Conservative Party was by no means the fault of Kim Campbell alone, yet she bore, unfairly, much of the blame. Remember that she was, before that, an extremely highly respected Minister of Justice and was highly regarded for her performance in other roles.
RA: So, on another topic, where is your Big Red Bus? It is still fueled up somewhere, ready to go next time around?
MHF: The Big Red Bus did its job well, and has been granted appropriate retirement—at least from me. The MHF wrapping was removed, and my “home” for many months was sold. I hope that the new owners are enjoying travelling across this fabulous country as much as I did!
RA: Let’s transition to a couple of lighter questions as we prepare for the super-fun lightning round. If you could have any superpower, what it would be? And why?
MHF: Any “superpower”? Is “wisdom” a superpower? I think it should be, although it doesn’t exactly make for exciting comic book material. No matter—I choose “wisdom”. I dare you to come up with an exciting costume for that one.
RA: (A costume for Captain Wisdom? I bet some people would think a mask that looks like this would be just right. Others, though, might think this is more like it. My own personal choice, though, would be this.)
Which three living Canadians (whom you do not yet know nor have ever met either in person or virtually) would you most like to host for dinner at Pourquoi Pas?, one of the finest restaurants in your riding? Why?
MHF: Having been to Pourquoi Pas? a few times already, I would certainly love to go back with any of my favourite people. As for three living Canadians whom I’ve not yet met … Hmmmm … That’s a challenge because I’ve been so fortunate to have met so many interesting Canadians with whom I’d love to have longer conversations. So I’m going to break your rule, and list three I’d love to have longer conversations with, whether I’ve met them or not.
Alice Munro, because I love her work. Her stories suggest that she’s had many experiences that resonate with my own personal experiences, and it would be fascinating to hear more about them.
Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, because he occupies an incredibly influential position that, ironically, prevents him from doing too much—I’d like to know what he really thinks.
Preston Manning, because although he and I disagree on many policy issues, I am a big fan of his trying to make change that he honestly felt would benefit Canada and Canadians—I’d like to learn from his experiences.
RA: Mac or PC?
MHF: PC (although kudos to MAC for great marketing).
RA: Less filling or tastes great?
MHF: Oh, good heavens—it has to taste great! Our team actually has to work to make sure I eat enough. “Less filling” is not an issue for me. (Example: I never drink “light” beer—that’s for girls.).
RA: Favourite band?
MHF: I’m listening to Dave Matthews’ Band as I’m writing this, but that’s just because they were next in my iTunes library list. There are so many great bands… so instead of “favourite”, I’ll plug the newest addition to my collection, a great young duo from Toronto called Dala. Great harmonies and some really good songs.
MHF: Sid the Kid. (Sorry, Wayne.) I mean, that Tim Horton’s ad where he gets off the bus and joins the kids on the outdoor rink? How can you not love the guy?
MHF: I bristle at the concept of “Great Men”, but only because it ignores all of the great women who either influenced history and events themselves, or hugely influenced the men who ended up as “great” in their influence of history and events. That being said, I agree with Carlyle’s theory. I believe in the power of individuals to make change. If, as Spencer suggests, those individuals become who they are because of other factors, so be it—it is the individuals who ultimately go through those doors, take those chances, take those risks, make those decisions.
MHF: Not having met Blake and despite political challenges, my great respect for Stéphane Dion’s honesty, integrity, vision and passion for Canada remains strong and undiminished.
RA: Greatest Canadian?
MHF: There is no one Canadian who can be called “greatest”. That does a massive disservice to all of the many, many Canadians, some unsung heroes, who have contributed so much to this country and its people. Sorry, I know that’s avoiding the easy answer, but that’s how I really feel. When you think of it, maybe that’s quintessentially Canadian—we’re not big on singling out individuals, but really proud of what we can do collectively.
RA: Two more questions, Martha. Greatest prime minister?
MHF: I have a three-way tie.
Pierre Trudeau, mostly because of how he inspired Canadians and made us all feel so hopeful about what we could, individually and collectively, accomplish, both here and abroad, but also, of course, because of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Lester Pearson, for the obvious peacekeeping initiatives and how he established such respect for Canada abroad, but also because under his watch we established health care, CPP, the flag—no small feats.
And Louis St. Laurent, for quietly accomplishing a great deal for this country, but doing so in a way that was always conscious and respectful of the English and French duality of Canada, and his insistence on conducting politics with respect and civility.
RA: And greatest politician never (or never yet) to become prime minister? (P.S. You cannot say the current Liberal leader, nor can you choose Stéphane Dion or Edward Blake.)
MHF: I can’t speculate on the future, and you’ve limited my options. I also assume you mean Canadian politicians (as opposed to others from other countries) who have not become Prime Minister. My Liberal friends may not be happy, but out of Canadian history, I would say Robert Stanfield. He was respected by a great many people, of all political stripes. That says a lot.
RA: It does indeed say a lot. Not only about Bob Stanfield. But about you. That you would say such nice things about a Tory like Stanfield and also about a movement conservative like Preston Manning is out of the ordinary for a Liberal politician, at least in the current political climate enveloping Parliament. I hope some of your grace rubs off on your colleagues—of all parties.
Thank you for participating in our Meet the Players series, Martha, and for sharing a bit about yourself and your views with our readers. We’re grateful. Continued best wishes to you.
Meet the Players: Interviews with Political Strategists and Candidates