SHEILA COPPS COVETS RESPECT, but she has always been better at courting controversy. Her new memoir, Worth Fighting For, chronicles her years as a federal cabinet minister under Jean Chrétien while pleading for attention to her work on the environment and culture. But the buzz, inevitably, is all about Copps’s tell-all take on her bitter feud with Paul Martin. While a ghost-written book had been planned for some time, she chose to write it herself after Martin’s forces pushed her out of politics by defeating her for the nomination in a Hamilton riding last March. True to her reputation, she doesn’t mince words.
You claim in the book that the Martin camp played dirty to get that nomination for their guy, Tony Valeri. What’s your proof?
Hundreds of people were turned away from voting at the nomination meeting. I have a tape of Liberal officials leading Tony Valeri’s people in through the back door to vote.
How many media would put up with that in Afghanistan? It isn’t just poor me. This sort of thing happened in at least 30 ridings.
But politics has always had its rough side.
There may be thugs everywhere, but usually they are not running the government.
You’re calling the Prime Minister’s crew thugs?
What was it like writing this book so soon after being forced out of politics?
It turned out to be very therapeutic. Going through something like that nomination process, there is a lot of pain involved. Writing the book helps organize your thoughts, helps heal you, in a way.
You argue in it that women in politics still face an uphill struggle. Has that changed over the years?
I think in the 1980s and early 1990s there was an attempt to fight systemic discrimination against women in politics, and then we just sort of all assumed the fight was over, and gave up. I was a watchdog for women in the Liberal party. We had a strategy and a target; we had to go out and find 25 per cent women candidates. But in the last election, women’s issues weren’t even mentioned in the debates by any of the leaders— not one of them! I see the CBC has its 10 Greatest Canadians [poll] and there’s nary a woman among them.
You seem frustrated that your policy ideas have received less media attention than your combative persona.
So much of what we do is defined by the 15second clip. There isn’t a lot of time given to thoughtful articles anymore. You used to be able to get detailed stories in the daily newspapers. Now it’s become a kind of collection of rumours.
Of the political giants you write about, Pierre Trudeau and Bill Clinton among them, who impressed you the most?
They’re all very different, obviously, but Nelson Mandela was the most amazing. You see people in religious paintings and they have a halo. He has an aura. He literally forgave everyone. He has no rancour. He is so at peace.
You’ve been acting in the play Steel Magnolias'^ Kingston, Ont. That’s quite a change of pace. What’s that been like?
I’m having a ball. Unlike politics, in a play, if you fail, everybody else fails. In politics, it’s the exact opposite. If you fail, there are a lot of people lined up to take advantage of it. JOHN GEDDES
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.