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Interview with the Minister

Flora MacDonald, Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, became our new minister on June 30,1986. During a recent interview with Communications Express, Miss MacDonald responded to a number of questions about her role as Minister, her priorities, her relationship with the bureaucracy, and how she allocates her time.

 

What are the areas you would like to focus on as Minister of Communications?

 

DOC is an extremely interesting, stimula­ting department. I want to bring a balance to its two major elements, that is, culture and communications. They're both so important that the country can't exist, can't develop, without tremendous attention being paid to both. But they also have to be very complementary and interactive. There's no point in our thinking that we're going to maintain our position as world leaders in the telecommunications field unless we know what it is we want to send via that telecommunications technology. We need a communications policy and communications legislation.

 

My focus will certainly be on maintaining the very high profile that my predecessor gave to cultural initiatives in this country, but to try also to bring about a much greater awareness in the public at large as to what the communications field means to individual Canadians. One of my key responsibilities is to be an advocate within Cabinet for the role that communications play and, as well, to convey and keep uppermost in the minds of other ministers, the fact that cultural sovereignty is basic to our economic and social goals. This has to be a mind-set, not just with me, but with all members of Cabinet. I will be a vigorous promoter of cultural sovereignty, because the country won't exist without it.

 

Employees at Headquarters were impressed with your initial speech when you joined DOC. Will you have time to visit staff in the regional and district offices?

 

I intend to make it a priority to ensure that I get to know the people who are part of the team. I'm curious about what people are doing, what they think about their own

jobs, whether or not they're satisfying and what can be done to improve them. I think that's particularly important in a depart­ment that's as vibrant and as fast-moving as DOC, because it is the Department of the future.Does what we're doing get explained properly to all members of the staff? I like to know those things, and so I will very much make it a-point to visit offices as I travel across the country. I've already been able to visit our research labs at Shirleys Bay and in Montreal and to meet with regional staff in Vancouver.

I must say I find the calibre and the quality of the staff to be extremely high. They're all very young, too! It's one of the things that impresses you in this Department. I'm sure that that's endemic to any department of communications. The world of communi­cations is a whole new world, and people come into it more easily when they begin to learn at age four instead of 40. But it's still interesting when you get past 40!

 

What about the bureaucracy? When the new government came into power, the media said that the bureaucracy was considered to be an enemy.

 

I found when working with Employment and Immigration that there was an excellent rapport between my staff and the departmental staff, and beyond, to the huge bureaucracy of 25,000 employees across the country. Again, I realize there were morale problems in a tough depart­ment like that and I worked to do my best to help overcome them. Here it's a differ­.nt ambience. I find it exhilarating. I realize i have a lot to learn, but I'm impressed by the assistance I'm being given. You get up in the morning absolutely sure that you're going to learn something new. You then have to judge the value of it. But I can see a very good relationship developing.

 

Do you have a particular philosophy or point of view with respect to your role and that of departmental staff?

 

Obviously, the departmental staff is able to devote a great deal of time to policy concepts. I know that in this Department there's a lot of creativity capable of proposing various policy options. But they are just that, policy options, because in the final analysis, the Minister must make the decision. So we work together to develop proposals; but there's one responsibility I have that no one else has, which I have to be very conscious of al I the time - the decision-making is the responsibility of Cabinet ministers.

 

Given your commitments as a minister and member of Parliament, how do you accommodate your own interests?

 

If I weren't a politician, I'd be working with people in much the same way as I do now. Being single, I can afford to devote all the time I want to my job. For 30 years of my life, in one way or another, I have been involved in the political scene. Politics is the mixing that you do with people. Some forums I enjoy more than others. What is absolutely great about being with this is that where, heretofore, I would have to try to plan to take a couple of hours to go to a concert, or a play or a movie, now I can say, "Hey, that's my work!" So something of great interest to me becomes much easier to arrange. And that's a real blessing.

 

I very much believe in exercise and fitness and making sure that my time each day accommodates some period of exercise, although not always in the same way. I like outdoor sports, whether it's swimming in the summer or speedskating in the winter, or bicycling. You can't get into that sort of thing unless you've been keeping yourself fit all year.

 

What is your typical workday like?

 

My alarm goes off at 6:30 or 6:45, and I lie there for 10 minutes trying to figure out where I go from one point to another all day, just so it's clear in my mind. I get up and do about 15-20 minutes of floor exercises of one kind or another, which wake me up. One thing I always do is have a very good breakfast. That's basic. Then I'm set for the day. Usually, I'm at the office about 8:30 and the day begins. It consists of fitting in one thing after another and that's as varied as the schedule will permit: meetings and conferences and speeches. When the House isn't sitting, I have meet­ings booked well into the evening. Then I go home and get prepared for the next day. I always take work home with me. I'm an inveterate telephoner. At midnight I begin my telephoning, though I might start at 11 p.m. with people in Newfoundland, because it's past midnight their time. I leave British Columbia to the end. I know people who, when the phone rings at two o'clock in the morning, just pick the phone off the hook and say, "Yes, Flora   

 

You seem to be a very well-organized person. Is that true?

 

Yes, I try to be. It doesn't always happen, but I try. Details are important to me. The way that you look is important in politics and to do that you have to do all sorts of things, like having your clothes ready and knowing the details concerning a partic­ular kind of event. That requires time.

 

You seem to have unlimited energy. What is your secret?

 

I think it's curiosity. If you have curiosity it drives you to try to find out things. That's the sparkplug. I have lots of curiosity and I think that energy comes from mental stimulation. I've always said that what a politician really needs to be successful is, in order of priority: stamina, curiosity and a modicum of intelligence.

 

Miss MacDonald has a new team of advisers. Her staff includes: W.H. (Bill) Musgrove, Chief of Staff; Patricia Dumas, Press Secretary; Margit Herrman, private secretary; special assistants Carleen Carroll for legislation, Jane Condon for cultural affairs, Marc Desrochers for ministerial affairs, Jim Everson for communications, Doug McClelland for scheduling and tours, Robert Pilon for broadcasting and Yvonne Van Dinther for constituency.

 

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