OTTAWA — The political pace can be relentless and all-consuming. Meetings and more meetings. House duty. Committee sessions. And on weekends, duty calls in the ridings where MPs meet constituents and attend events.
With such a jam-packed work agenda, carving out personal time can be a challenge, but it’s a goal that Justin Trudeau and his cabinet ministers have set for themselves.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna set the tone with her commitment to return to her Ottawa home most days around 5:30 p.m. to have dinner with the family and help with homework.
That message was underscored this week when philanthropist Melinda Gates said she was “thrilled” by McKenna’s example, and she’d like to see male Liberal cabinet ministers follow that lead.
To escape the demands of office, ministers hit the gym, block out one night a week to be with their spouse, and make effort to get back to their home towns as often as they can.
With 100 days in office now under their belt, the Toronto Star checked in with several cabinet ministers to see how their life-work balance was working out.
Health Minister Jane Philpott (Markham -Stouffville) said it’s all about priorities.
“Well, my family is not living in town; they’re back in the riding. So when I go home on weekends, I make sure that I get all kinds of time with them, and I talk to my husband and my kids pretty much every day and make sure they’re a top priority.”
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South) said it’s difficult to make time for family, especially when they don’t live in Ottawa. But Sajjan said he’s used to the balancing act, with his military background.
“Technology helps, but I’ve been away from my family before as well, in terms of being deployed overseas, but at the same time, you know what, I — as the minister of national defence, I can’t really complain too much because I have troops spread out all over the world that are away from their families and so my heart also goes out to them.”
Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains (Mississauga-Malton) said that he remembers well from his previous experience in government that it’s important to spend time with his two daughters, now 8 and 5.
“When I’m in the constituency, I carve out a day for them, to make sure that there’s uninterrupted, the phones are put aside. I’m spending time with them. We might go for breakfast together, might watch a movie together, but I don’t bring work or I make sure that work doesn’t interfere with that day . . . . I must say I’m very blessed to have a very supportive wife.”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett (Toronto-St. Paul’s) says she tries to devote a day a week to family time, and if at all possible get some cooking in. Bennett, a physician, also praised down time and sleep as part of being able to perform well.
“I also know I have to get to the cottage to actually . . . plug in the batteries and have time to think and that. So I think you have to carve it out and you have to decide that this is . . . part of you doing a good job. And I think the other piece that probably I did very badly for 25 years delivering babies is to get enough sleep.”
Transport Minister Marc Garneau (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount) said that every cabinet minister — and every Canadian — has to figure out a system that works for them.
“That’s something everybody has to figure out for themselves, but it is . . . important if you can be with your family. Not everybody lives (in Ottawa), of course, but otherwise to take some time for yourself, call your family. I call my family; I keep in touch with them. It’s something you have to — you have to balance, as with any job, really.”
Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu (Thunder Bay-Superior North) uses her trips back to the riding to recharge.
“When I’m in Ottawa, I’m here to work so I don’t necessarily have any problem at all with the long days. They’re long, absolutely. Then I’ve been able to get home just about every weekend so that is the balance I need. I need to connect with my 19-year-old and my partner, spend some time with my dogs and life a normal life. It’s really adapting and learning but I’m enjoying it.”
Government House leader Andrew Leslie (Orléans) laughs aloud when asked abut his life-work balance.
“I have my wife at home here in Ottawa and she grounds me and makes sure I get to the gym at 5:30 in the morning. I’m not entirely sure I pass the life-work balance test . . . so still have some learning to do. . . . All parliamentarians, in my opinion, having been a soldier for 35 year, I find work very hard. When they’re not here in Ottawa, they hop on a plane or drive or train to their constituencies and go all weekend.”
Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly (Ahuntsic-Cartierville) says her resolution for 2016 is to achieve better life-work balance.
“For me, my personal life and my relationship with my spouse is the most important priority. Anytime that comes into conflict, I know what to choose. . . . I try to organize myself to really be able to balance everything. . . . Friday nights always set aside, at least one day over the weekend. . . . When I’m here, I go and do my training with some friends . . . . My team knows that ultimately to have a performing minister, they need to have a healthy one.”