Three Questions for Peter Kent

By Steve Paikin - Published on December 7, 2009



For 40 years, Peter Kent was the very model of a modern major journalist. He had done just about everything there was to do --- from anchoring, to reporting, to making documentaries, to writing, to producing, to being a senior executive.


In 2006, he decided to try his hand at politics, running in the mid-Toronto riding of St. Paul’s for the Conservative Party of Canada. He got thumped, losing by 15,000 votes to the Liberals’ Carolyn Bennett, even though the Tories won the election.


Undeterred, Kent waited ‘til next time, but chose another riding in which to plant his flag. He successfully captured Thornhill by 5,000 votes over the incumbent Susan Kadis.


The Tories were shut out within the 416 boundaries of Toronto, so Kent’s Thornhill victory was the closest thing the party had to a Toronto seat.  He was immediately ushered into cabinet as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.


I asked Peter Kent “Three Questions” during a recent conversation in his office in the JusticeBuilding on Parliament Hill.


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Steve Paikin: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about being in politics, compared to what you thought politics was like when you were in journalism?


Peter Kent: Politics is a lot harder than it appears from the outside. As a rookie MP and junior minister, the learning curve is huge. I’ve had to miss some of the learning curve from Parliament’s backbench context and had to absorb an awful lot.  The first few months I was completely sleep deprived.


But it’s been really great. It’s taken my first full year in office to get my feet on the ground. Having a background in journalism is a huge help. And now I have a job on the responsible side of public policy.


Doing journalism at CBC, NBC, or the Christian Science Monitor all dealt with public policy. Look at Pamela Wallin or Mike Duffy. Any mature journalist’s experience represents the perfect preparation for public service, in a way former doctors, lawyers, or policemen just don’t have. Journalists do have a great advantage.



SP: I noticed when I attended Question Period earlier today (November 18, 2009) that, rather than ad-libbing your answers as you would have frequently done in your broadcasting days, you read everything from prepared sheets. How come?


PK: I can ad-lib answers around specific points but I’m covering a lot of files today that aren’t normally mine.


(Note: Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, and International Trade Minister Stockwell Day were all absent from Question Period, traveling overseas. Kent was covering for them all and thus got a ton more “ice time” in Question Period than normal).


One of the strengths of our government and one of the shortcomings of the opposition parties is that we make sure everyone knows what our government’s position is.  We make sure we speak to issues with a united voice. 



SP: So that’s why you, and the prime minister, and other ministers all end up using the exact same quotes when you answer questions?


PK: Yes. So when we’re asked about the Israeli position on settlements, we never criticize Israel publicly. We say those settlements are “unhelpful” in finding a comprehensive peace settlement.


We’ve put on the record our position on nuclear power and India. We say “it’s no longer the 1970’s, it’s now 2009.” I saw the prime minister’s quote in the newspapers to that effect yesterday, and so I used it today.