The federal election is coming up NEXT WEEK, and we’ll be spotlighting both rookie and seasoned candidates so that you can learn what they’re all about and make an informed decision on October 21.
Prior to entering politics, Dr. Carolyn Bennett worked as a family doctor at Women’s College Hospital and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto. She has represented Toronto-St. Paul’s in the House of Commons since 1997 and is the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.
Carolyn is an advocate for issues like housing affordability, health and healthcare, accessibility, support for seniors and action on climate change. She believes that reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is a Canadian imperative and the job of all Canadians. Carolyn believes that her training as a family physician taught her to ‘ask what’s wrong, listen and together make a plan.’
SDTC: Have you always been politically active? What’s your earliest memory of getting passionate about a certain cause?
CB: I was very involved in the fight to keep Women’s College Hospital independent. Soon after, when I was asked to become a candidate for the Liberal Party, I responded that “I don’t know anything about politics.” They replied, “What do you think you just did?” I learned that fighting for something you believe in is politics!
What led you to the Liberal party initially? What keeps you there?
I probably had voted for many parties, largely supporting the local candidate. When the Liberal Party approached me to run, I was immediately impressed with evidence-based policy that would help the most people, or the people who need it most. I am still uncomfortable with the ideologies of ‘the right’ or ‘the left.’ I enjoy the process of debating ideas and then deciding together the best way forward.
For undecided voters heading into this election, are there any specific items on the Liberal platform you’d like to draw attention to?
I am very proud of the $70 billion, ambitious and do-able plan to address the climate emergency – price on carbon, public transit, retrofits, the 2 billion trees, clean tech. The National Housing Strategy is a comprehensive 10 year plan that addresses all aspects of housing affordability – from reducing chronic homelessness by 50 percent, to making it easier for Canadians to buy their first home.
Heading into this election, which issues are atop of mind for you personally?
I am worried about the increasing cynicism about government. I believe that there is a serious campaign to ramp up cynicism in order to decrease voter turnout – particularly women, young people, Indigenous peoples and new Canadians. We know that social media can be weaponized as it was against Hillary Clinton – such than many of her supporters stayed home on Election Day.
There really is a lot to be excited and hopeful about right now. I am proud of the progress we have made in past years in jobs, child poverty, the environment, Indigenous rights. I really want to be able to go back to Ottawa and do even more.
How do you want to help the constituents of Toronto-St. Paul’s? What do you love about this place?
Toronto-St. Paul’s is a very special place. Behind almost every door is someone passionate about something – wanting to make a difference in their neighbourhood, our country, the world! I love representing these engaged citizens who provide the solutions I get to take to Ottawa.
I love our strong natural neighbourhoods, the ravines, walking, taking the TTC and the best restaurants in Canada! I am proud that we have been able to make significant investments in local public transit, housing and the arts – projects such as the NIA centre on Oakwood.
Our St. Paul’s model of ‘Democracy between Elections’ has ensured that citizens have a voice – through our regular Town Hall meetings, Neighbourhood Check-ups and the bi-annual Summits with all elected reps -trustees, city councillors, the MPP and the MP – for Toronto-St. Paul’s.
Walk us through a typical day in your life, from getting up, til going to bed.
I’m married to a saint. Everyday I’m home or Peter is in Ottawa, the day starts with Peter bringing me a coffee to me in bed as I read the news clippings, I then check the weather for where I’ll be! I have to choose which shoes/boots, which coat – and then get dressed! Almost every night we watch The National at 9:00pm and CTV News at 10:00pm. If I’m home in time – The Agenda with Steve Paikin at 8:00pm.
Every workday is different.
Mondays are the most routine – up at 5:00 am, Air Canada flight 440 at 7:10am to Ottawa. Then I pick up a breakfast sandwich (without the bun!) in the cafeteria and then the briefings start at 9:00am. Often there is a cabinet committee meeting at 11:00am, the preparation for Question Period at 1:15pm and then Question Period at 2:00pm. Afternoons are full of meetings or cabinet committees. The evening generally have two or three events that we can sometimes only pop in to.
When I get back home to Toronto on Friday, we usually order in – Bosca pizza from Ferraro, our favourite Italian place around the corner. Every Saturday morning I’m at the Wychwood Barns. Sunday night I cook – we still try and protect Sunday nights for family.
I am getting better at trying to get 7 hours of sleep a night, a big change from my days being up all night delivering babies.
Do you want to continue to be involved in federal politics?
I love it. I am reapplying for the best job in the world! Every day I get to ‘Ask what’s wrong, listen, and together make a plan.’ It feels very similar to my role as a family doctor. But now ‘the system’ is my patient. I still am helping individuals and families, but also have the responsibility of working on the systemic changes that can make a difference in the lives of many many more.
As a doctor I knew that the medical model of a ‘repair shop’ – fixing people up when they get sick, instead finding ways to prevent illness and promote health – wasn’t sustainable. Now, I get to focus on keeping people well by concrete actions to address poverty, violence, the environment, housing, equity, education.
As Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, I have been able to work with First Nations, Inuit and Métis to close the gaps in health, education and economic outcomes and the implementation of Indigenous rights. There is far more work to do, I want to be part of the journey of reconciliation.