INTERVIEW

INTERVIEW

'This is the right time to get into politics. Not to step to the sidelines because a bunch of crooks did something that required an inquiry.' DEBORAH COYNE TALKS TO LINDA FRUM

December 19 2005
INTERVIEW

INTERVIEW

'This is the right time to get into politics. Not to step to the sidelines because a bunch of crooks did something that required an inquiry.' DEBORAH COYNE TALKS TO LINDA FRUM

December 19 2005

INTERVIEW

'This is the right time to get into politics. Not to step to the sidelines because a bunch of crooks did something that required an inquiry.' DEBORAH COYNE TALKS TO LINDA FRUM

In the riding of Toronto-Danforth, Liberal candidate Deborah Coyne is endeavouring to unseat NDP Leader Jack Layton. A former adviser to Newfoundland premier Clyde Wells, Coyne gained a national profile as the constitutional expert who persuaded Wells to torpedo the Meech Lake Accord. Soon after, she gave birth to Sarah, now age 14, a daughter fathered by former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Coyne has built a quiet career as a lawyer, university professor, public servant, writer, and public policy consultant. Protecting her daughter’s privacy has always been a high priority. She was divorced in 1999, after a short marriage to Globe and Mail journalist Michael Valpy, with whom she has a son, Matthew, age 9-

QYou are a very intriguing person. You are Canadian political royalty, but at the same time you have kept an extremely low profile. Why have you decided to enter public life now?

Well, I’ve always been interested in politics and most of the work I have done in my life is related to public service, most recently on the refugee board. So it was just a matter of time when I would get into active politics, where you feel you can have an impact on the social and economic policies that affect everyone in their daily lives. It just seemed to be the right time.

So to your best friends, and the people who

know you well, this comes as no surprise?

Absolutely not.

It was shocking to learn recently that there are more women involved in electoral politics in Afghanistan than in Canada. Of course there are lots of good reasons why women don’t go into politics. For most women—and you are a single mother of two kids—it’s the total commitment of it that makes it so impossible...

I have two wonderful kids and I think the world of them and they are obviously the most important thing in my life. And women candidates, obviously, have to struggle with that. You just do your best. The children come first. My first priority is to be a good mother. But also I think I have something to offer in terms of public policy and making the world a better place for our kids. That is what drives me. So you try to find a balance.

York University president Lorna Marsden recently told the Toronto Star that she wouldn’t want to go into politics because it’s too hard on marriages. Given this, being a single woman can actually be an advantage, don’t you think? There’s one less thing to go wrong?

Ah... no comment.

Another barrier to women entering politics is their fear of the sometimes cruel scrutiny of their appearance—their hair, their shoes. Belinda Stronach complained about this recently. Does that worry you?

I’m not worried about it. I abhor it, and to the extent that it exists, it’s too bad. But I don’t believe the residents in Toronto-Danforth think about that. And the people who are voting—more than half of them are women—

I think people really do want to focus on issues and get past the superficial.

While I can understand that the politicians who have been members of the Chrétien-Martin government for the past 12 years are obliged to defend this government’s record of corruption, I don’t understand why you, with an unblemished reputation, would wish to take this burden on.

A On the street, the Gom-

ery Inquiry is not actually a big issue. People do understand that it involves a few people and that the party itself has been exonerated. I think generally people are interested in having ethical government, they want people who are committed to public service, people who will follow through on their promises. I still believe in the Liberal party. And I think this is the right time for me to get into politics. And I think it is the right time for everybody who wants to restore faith in public service as a higher calling to get in. Not to step to the sidelines because a bunch of crooks did something that required an inquiry. You have to get in and try to make a difference.

Depending on whose numbers you believe, anywhere from $1 million to 55 million was transferred from the sponsorship program to the Liberal Party of Canada. So it’s not just a few individuals who are corrupt. The Liberal party is guilty of fraud.

The party has dealt with that. Any monies that were paid to the Liberal party, it is my understanding they have been fully paid back. Judge Gomery has identified the wrongdoers. And it is a contained group of people. Now that’s not to say that in any way I condone that. Of course I am horrified by it. And the Prime Minister has taken steps to ensure that it won’t happen again.

Gomery also spoke about the “culture of entitlement” that permeates the Liberal party. Why bring your good name to that?

A But this is a good moment to come in. There is a lot of cynicism— among the media but also among the people. All elections are important, but this is an important one in particular. Look at the environment. We have huge global challenges we have to deal with. We have to talk about what we are going to do about climate change. And we have to go way beyond what is happening now. I want to see the minister of environment on a par with the minister of finance. I want to make sure we are investing the surpluses we have for the moment in things that are going to help us out with environmental damage, with science and technology and research, and kids studying science and engineering. That’s a really important issue here on the ground. I hope people can shed this cynical attitude about politics and realize that we can make a difference. ,

As someone consumed with policy, how are you enjoying the retail side of politics?

I love the door-to-door. Because I think you have to engage people, to show them that Canada can be a force for change in the world. I think I can project that and it’s why I’m in politics.

Did you help your ex-husband, Michael Valpy, canvass when he ran in the 2000 election for the NDP?

No. We’ve been divorced for many years. How is it that you ended up in the riding of Toronto-Danforth ?

Dennis Mills, my predecessor, decided not to run toward the end of August, and at that point I decided this would be a good election to run in. And I was interested in getting back to Toronto and it seemed like a very good fit. The riding itself is incredibly diverse, cosmopolitan, and to me it represents a microcosm of Canada as it’s becoming.

But you are a big shot and this is not the most winnable riding...

I don’t think people see it that way. You know what? They really want the best representative. And I’ve been down, for example, dealing with the social housing issue, which Jack Layton has been nowhere on, because he’s really not in the riding much—they’ve had no assistance from the NDP councillors, and I’ve been helping them out. Even if I’m the candidate, not yet elected, that’s my job.

Anybody who knows me knows that I’m interested in doing something about the gun violence—which I see as a social and economic justice issue as much as a criminal law issue. I just want to be known as someone who can make things happen.

But why Toronto? Your home is in Ottawa.

I have lived the majority of my adult life here in Toronto. I went to law school here. I’ve had a variety of jobs here. So I consider myself a Torontonian.

When was the last time you lived here?

Five, six years ago.

It’s still curious they didn’t give Deborah Coyne a better riding.

Well, wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t even have to get elected? But that’s silly. Because partly the value of getting into politics is having to convince people of your point of view. So actually I think it’s wonderful having a riding like this. It was very close last time. Jack Layton only won by just over 2,000 votes. It will be a close fight, and a door-todoor fight, and I thrive on that.

In the event that you don’t win, have you been promised anything? A job? A reward for running?

No. I have a job now. I’ve got a consulting job. And I will go back to that. So absolutely not. I think that just feeds into the cynicism.

The reason I ask is because there was a recent CanWest news survey that showed that more than 6oper cent of the 93 lawyers who received federal judicial appointments in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan since 2000 donated exclusively to the Liberal party, while only a handful of those who donated exclusively to the Conservatives or NDP were appointed in the same period. So we do have a system in this country where, in order to get a judgeship, you have to appear to be a friend to the Liberal party. This is not cynicism. This is reality.

Well, I’m not part of that reality at all.

Twelve years is a long time for any party to be in power. If the Liberals win re-election, their reign could continue for 14 to 16 years. At some point, do you not agree, it erodes the democratic process to live in a single-party state?

We’re not in a single-party state. We’re in a democratic country. And the Liberal party, if it becomes the government again, has to work with all the stakeholders, it has to represent all of Canada. No matter which party wins the election, it has to act in the best interest of the country.

In your nomination speech you said that the “Liberalparty has helped to build the most fascinating, diverse and cosmopolitan society in human history. ”

Yes.

What is the second most fascinating, diverse and cosmopolitan society in human history?

Well, there would be a lot of runners-up.

For those who share your view of the Liberalparty, and its enormous contribution to Canada, do they not owe a tremendous vote of thanks to Jack Layton for keeping the Liberals in power for the last 18 months?

Not at all. Mr. Layton tries to take credit for so much. You have to recall he has 18 people in his caucus. Yes, he did help pass the budget earlier this year. But all the stuff in the budget was things the Liberal party had already promised. And if we are in a minority situation, it is the obligation of opposition parties to work together.

'Jack Layton has shown himself as just as opportunistic as the people he alleges to criticize'

But isn’t it a cruel reality that Jack Layton is currently more important to the success of the Liberal party than you are?

Not at all. Mr. Layton helped to defeat the government and has been in bed with the separatists and the Conservative party just to bring down the government for opportunistic reasons. He has now shown himself as just as opportunistic as the people he alleges to criticize. And that’s what I’m hearing on the streets of Toronto-Danforth.

Who is your favorite political columnist?

Rex Murphy. Just love him.

Cousin Andrew won’t be hurt to learn that?

Andrew and I are relatives, so of course we’re friends. M