Transcript: Michael Coteau: The Candidate | Apr 29, 2019

♪ It's a beautiful day
in the neighbourhood ♪
♪ A beautiful day in
the neighbourhood ♪
JOHN MICHAEL MCGRATH:
It's a different
public television property.
You can't sing that.
STEVE PAIKIN:
Sorry.
♪ Won't you be my neighbour ♪

STEVE:
Welcome, everybody,
to the
#onpoli
podcast,
a show all about,
you guessed it,
Ontario politics.
I'm Steve Paikin.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And I'm John Michael McGrath.
So, Steve,
this is our third episode.
STEVE:
It is.
JOHN MICHAEL:
You seem to be doing all right.
You're settling into
the podcast thing.
STEVE:
Mmm, I don't know. I don't know.
This podcasting stuff
is new for me,
but it's a good chance
to have an opportunity
to go much more in-depth
with the people
that we're talking to,
many of whom I've known
for a long time but haven't--
You know, because
we haven't done these kinds
of interviews before,
I haven't got to find out
this kind of information
about them.
So, uh, I've enjoyed it.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, you're still on probation,
but you seem to be doing okay.
(Steve laughing)
STEVE:
On probation. Okay, you call me
Proby from now on,
okay, John Michael?
That's good. That's good.
JOHN MICHAEL:
How many interviews
have you done at this point?
STEVE:
How many have we done?
Have we done three?
We've done Vic Fedeli.
We've done Jill Andrew.
We've done Michael Coteau.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And how many have you done
in your 37 years?
STEVE:
Oh, my gosh.
You know, I don't know.
I actually sat down to try to
figure this out one day.
I think I came up with
about 25,000.
Now, just don't ask me to name
every single one of them.
I'm not sure
I could do that anymore.
(John Michael chuckling)
I do get asked
from time to time,
"Who's the bigger #onpoli nerd,
you or John Michael?"
Um, I don't know.
What do you think?
JOHN MICHAEL:
I think in terms of volume
of knowledge,
depth of knowledge,
you must have me beat.
STEVE:
That's only 'cause
I'm older than you.
(John Michael laughing)
But in terms of
actual granular nerdiness,
you know, you do know
arcane intricacies
about how
the Ontario Municipal Board--
Although no longer called that--
The LPAT now operates.
So, you may have me on that.
JOHN MICHAEL:
There are details that you,
Steve,
have at your fingertips
that I just don't have.
STEVE:
That's only 'cause I'm
older than you, John Michael.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, no. It's not just
that you're older than me.
Like, in this interview
with Michael Coteau,
he asks you about how many seats
Brian Mulroney won in 1988,
and you had that number.
STEVE:
Actually, it is '84, I think.
JOHN MICHAEL (Laughing):
Okay.
STEVE:
Well, it was the biggest
majority government of all time.
Everybody knows that,
don't they?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Uh, you'd think I should.
(Both laughing)
Um, and you know,
there are some types of numbers
like that
that I can, you know, dig up,
but I don't have them easily,
like you do.
STEVE:
John Michael, I have no doubt
that if I asked you to tell me
word for word
what Section 307, Subsection 2,
Letter (a)
of the Planning Act
of the Province of Ontario was,
you'd know it
like the back of your hand.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, that one, I can tell you,
doesn't exist.
(Both laughing)
STEVE:
There you go. I was right.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I'm definitely a nerd.
Nobody has ever mistaken
that fact
when I'm at a dinner party.
Um, but it's--
I think there's a difference
in depth.
And well, for starters,
I have zero published books
to my name,
unlike the person
across the table from me.
STEVE:
Again, just 'cause
you're younger than me.
Your day will come.
JOHN MICHAEL:
When did-- Okay.
How old were you
when you wrote the first book?
STEVE:
Uh, I was 40.
So, you're not 40 yet.
JOHN MICHAEL:
All right. That's true.
I'm not 40 yet.
STEVE:
So, there you go.
BOTH:
There's still time.
STEVE:
That's right.
That's exactly right.
Actually, I got a crazy story
about this.
In January 2012,
I bumped into former premier
David Peterson at some event,
and I said to him, "Did you call
Bob Nixon yet today?"
Bob Nixon, the four-time
Ontario Liberal leader,
his former treasurer.
And he said, "No. Why should I?"
And I said, "Well, 'cause he got
elected for the first time
50 years ago today.
Surely you know that?"
And he said, "Paikin, you have
more irrelevant (Bleep)
in that head of yours
than anybody I know."
(John Michael laughing)
I couldn't disagree.
JOHN MICHAEL:
So, you concede I win.
STEVE:
Yes, I do.
(Both laughing)
Well, can I tell you a little
bit about Michael Coteau?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Absolutely. Let's hear it.
STEVE:
We went to Queen's Park to visit
the Liberal member
of the Ontario Legislature.
He's a very--
Am I allowed to say this?
He's a very cool dude.
We went up to the fourth floor
of Queen's Park,
where he hangs out.
That's his office.
Of course, he used to be
a cabinet minister.
Had much better digs.
Now, he's sort of out
in the boonies of Queen's Park,
way up top.
JOHN MICHAEL:
For people who don't know
the Legislature,
the fourth floor
is kind of like Siberia.
STEVE:
Yeah. You're kind of
in deep opposition
if you're up there
on the fourth floor.
And even though I've known him
quite a while,
I did want to sort of sign-post
for him
that this was going to be
a different kind of interview.
MICHAEL COTEAU:
Am I exactly on time?
STEVE:
Perfectly. Two minutes early.
Yeah.
MICHAEL:
How are you? Excellent.
STEVE:
Well, these interviews
that we're doing for this new
podcast are meant to, you know--
Not so much partisan politics
and a lot more just about you.
About getting to know you
and some of the other members
better.
MICHAEL:
It was a stormy night.
(Both laughing)
STEVE:
John Michael, I think he's got
the first line of his
autobiography figured out there.
He's got a flair for
the novella.
Um, he's actually got
a pretty neat office number,
given that he represents
a midtown Toronto riding.
And we all know
what the area code is
in the city of Toronto, right?
You're in Room 416.
You know that, right?
MICHAEL:
Yeah. I represent The Six.
STEVE:
You represent--
(Laughing)
Did you ask to get Room 416
here?
MICHAEL:
Nope. It just happened.
STEVE:
And now you want to be
the King of the 416 and more,
don't you?
MICHAEL:
Ah, you know.
I'm Toronto, right?
JOHN MICHAEL:
It makes it easy to find him
at Queen's Park,
but there is
a double edge there.
STEVE:
What's the double edge?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, not every politician
in Ontario loves Toronto.
STEVE:
Well, that is true, yeah.
It's one thing to be
the King of the 416.
It's another thing to want to be
the King of all of Ontario.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Something Kathleen Wynne
had to deal with.
STEVE:
Indeed.
He is, we should say,
from Toronto, of course.
And he's got the classic story,
John Michael,
of someone who grew up on
the wrong side of the tracks.
Struggled in high school.
Had no plans to go to university
or college.
But he was lucky enough to get
a few nudges by mentors
who had a big impact
on his direction in life.
And then, he was inspired
to become involved in
Liberal Party youth politics,
and he now sits at Queen's Park
as the Liberal MPP
for the 416 riding
of Don Valley East.
As we all know, Michael Coteau
is one of just how many?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Seven.
STEVE:
Seven.
Seven Liberals left standing
after the
last provincial election.
We talked about that, but first,
we started at the beginning.
Let's tell some of the Michael
Coteau story here, shall we?
Where were you born?
MICHAEL:
In Yorkshire.
Huddersfield in the UK.
Well, in England.
STEVE:
How long did you stay there for?
MICHAEL:
Uh, four and a half years,
and then my family arrived
in Canada
just before
I was five years old.
STEVE:
Why here?
MICHAEL:
Um, so my father
is from Grenada.
Actually, he's from a small
island called Carriacou.
7,000 people. He was a tailor.
His sister sent him a ticket
to come to England.
I think it was actually by boat
from Grenada to England.
And then his sister
came to Canada,
and she told my father
there was a lot of opportunity.
And he came here;
then he sent for my mother.
And then he sent for me
and my brother,
and then we eventually had
one more addition:
my youngest brother, Stephen.
And the five of us were here.
You know,
it's interesting for them.
They have a pretty unique story.
My father is black.
You know, my mother is white.
And, uh, it's always been
a big challenge for them.
In the '60s in England,
you can imagine
what that world was like.
My grandfather
didn't speak to my father
until maybe the early '80s,
and they became very different.
STEVE:
Because of that issue?
MICHAEL:
Yeah. Oh, yeah.
So, you know,
it's an interesting story.
But I think of my father being,
you know,
from this small, little,
tiny island, 7,000 people.
You know, former slave colony.
Seven plantations.
You know, going as
an 18-year-old boy to England.
What that world
must have been like.
And meeting my mum
and then coming here.
It's a pretty unique story.
STEVE:
So, they got married
in the '60s?
MICHAEL:
Yeah. My parents got married,
I guess--
I was born in '72,
so early '70s.
STEVE:
Had you ever asked
either of your parents
what made them,
in spite of
all of the challenges
that would have been involved in
a mixed-race marriage back then,
why they still went ahead
with it anyway?
MICHAEL:
I think that, you know,
there was this huge movement
of Caribbean people
into England
in that time period.
You know, you listen to
any of the music.
From ska to different forms
of reggae
to just the English sound.
Like, that influence of
the Caribbean sound in England
was very popular.
And, uh, it's because, you know,
in places like Birmingham
and Manchester and London
and Bedford,
there were just
so many people coming.
And so, I thought--
I think that it was, like--
You know, it wasn't just like
one person was doing it.
There were a bunch of people,
and there were clubs
and places people hung out.
So, it was a little bit more
culturally accepted
within the worlds
that they moved in, right?
So, um,
you know,
I think that was probably--
It gave them
a little bit of an ability
to be a little bit, uh--
A little bit, um, I guess, freer
to make those types of
decisions.
Because there were many people
who were in that cat--
If you to England and you go to
a place like Bedford,
where there's
a large Grenadian population,
there are a lot of
biracial people.
I grew up on Saturdays with,
you know,
curried chicken
and rice and peas from my dad,
and Sunday,
with Yorkshire puddings
and roast beef
and mashed potatoes.
So, it was interesting.
It was a nice upbringing.
STEVE:
You've talked a lot about the
neighbourhood you grew up in.
What made it unique for you?
MICHAEL:
Multiculturalism.
We just had a group
of young people around
that were from every part
of the planet,
and we were just in
a completely different world.
And when we got out
into other parts
and we started going out to,
like, the Don Mills
and the Leasides,
like, we knew that
we were very different.
Because, you know, there were
a lot of these communities
that were homogeneous, right?
So, you know, when I got into
a community
and there was one Filipino guy,
I knew, you know,
all the bad words in Filipino.
I knew what they ate. I knew
a bit about their culture.
I could speak to those things,
right?
So, everywhere I went,
I kind of had a connection
to other people.
STEVE:
What high school did you go to?
MICHAEL:
I went to three high schools.
I went to, um, Victoria Park
for a year and a half.
Then I went to Leaside
for most of the time.
I did my last credit
in summer school at Newtonbrook.
STEVE:
Now, why did you switch
high schools?
MICHAEL:
Um, I went to VP,
and I found that, you know,
the time I went to Victoria Park
it was a bit rough.
STEVE:
In what way?
MICHAEL:
Just it was tough
going to school, you know?
There were fights every day.
It was a tough place to be.
And you know, I always
had trouble with school.
I stopped going to high school
probably three times.
You know, and I had to do summer
school five years in a row.
STEVE:
You just stopped going?
MICHAEL:
I stopped going.
STEVE:
And your parents let you
get away with it?
MICHAEL:
Uh, no. I just, you know--
My marks were bad, and then
I'd have to go to summer school.
I'd have to go
to night school.
I went to night school
maybe three years.
Summer school, double credits,
five years in a row
and it took me an extra year.
So, I was just--
I was a terrible student.
STEVE:
How come?
MICHAEL:
I think there's a few reasons.
There was not really
a high expectation
for me to do post-secondary.
I had the attitude, you know,
if I can get 51% that'd be good.
Like, I believed that.
If I got 51%, I passed.
If you passed, you passed.
STEVE:
Anybody in your family
go to post-secondary?
MICHAEL:
No.
Both parents, Grade 8 education.
STEVE:
So, that was not--
MICHAEL:
And Yorkshire
was a very poor place.
Barnsley, where my mum grew up,
it's a mining town.
And Grade 8 was probably the end
of one's academic career
and then they went right into
a trade.
A very Industrial Revolution
type of, uh, you know--
Just that whole--
My mum went straight into
a mill,
and my grandfather
is a coal miner.
All of his boys
went into the pit.
When I was a kid,
I was just oblivious
to all of that kind of thinking,
"What about the future?"
Like, I was saying to a bunch of
young people recently--
I think they were engineers--
I said, "I don't even think
I knew what an engineer was
until I went to university."
I thought it was the guy with
the hat in front of the train.
(Laughing) You know?
Like, it's just like
I was oblivious to stuff.
And, um, I was in Grade 12
and I was at Leaside,
which was just a game-changer
for me.
You get to Leaside,
they have, what,
a 100% university acceptance
rate?
Everyone goes. I was probably
one of the, you know,
dozen kids who were
visible minorities.
Maybe six black people
at this school
of 2,000 young people.
It's funny.
I got into the school.
I went by myself
at 16 years old, maybe,
and met the guidance counsellor
without my parents.
I went all by myself
and he said,
"Why do you want to be
at the school?"
I said, quote unquote,
"I want to broaden my horizons."
I remember that perfectly.
(Steve chuckling)
And that's what one of
my friends said I should say.
And then, when I got to--
He asked me.
He says,
"Do you play basketball?"
And I said, "Yeah."
He says, "Are you good?"
I said, "I'm really good."
Truth was, I wasn't very good
at basketball.
And, um--
It's funny. I told
Stephen Harper this story,
because we were at the Aga Khan,
at the museum
when it opened,
and he went to Leaside, right?
STEVE:
He's Leaside as well, yeah.
MICHAEL:
So, he said-- 'Cause I told him
I went to Leaside,
and he said,
"Well, where did you grow up?"
I said, "Flemingdon Park."
He says, "Well, how did you
get into Leaside?"
So, I told him this story.
He started laughing.
(Steve laughing)
But I told him I played well,
and he says, "Okay."
He signed me up,
got me into the school,
and then a month later,
saw me in the hallway
and was, like,
"What's going on?
Why aren't you at practice?"
I said,
"My knee has been killing me."
So, that's how I got into
Leaside, and everything changed.
I was in class one day, and
the teacher was going around
asking everyone, "Where are you
going to go to university?"
And it was the first time
in my life
I actually thought about it.
Every single young person
in that room had a response.
There was one guy
who I knew quite well.
He was, like, the class clown.
When they went to him,
he had an answer like that.
(Snapping fingers)
And I thought to myself,
he's going to go to university?
So, it opened up things.
And I went to go speak to
a guy in my building
who was the only guy
in my building
that was a teacher.
So, he was educated.
His name was Freddie.
Freddie Alexis. From
the same island as my father.
And, um, I told him.
I said, you know,
"They asked the question."
And he said, "Well,
you should consider going."
And you know, he pushed me
and encouraged me.
And this guy didn't have money.
He wasn't very--
You know,
he worked in a factory.
But he encouraged me and gave me
the $50 to apply,
and I got into
Carleton University.
After all of those challenges:
like, just stopped going
to school, summer school.
You know, but something inside
of me just saying, keep going.
And at the end, I got into
Carleton University with, like,
a low-60 average.
It was the last year
they had an open-door policy.
STEVE:
How'd you do at Carleton?
MICHAEL:
I did very well at Carleton.
STEVE:
You applied yourself?
MICHAEL:
Yep.
There were a couple of factors.
Well, the biggest thing--
There were three things
that helped me.
I had a friend
named Robert Simon.
He's one of the only guys
from my neighbourhood
that went to university.
And he was a few years older
than me,
and he would say to me,
"Michael, you know,
"if you go back home,
you're going to go back to
"a two-bedroom apartment
with five people.
"Do you want to go home,
or do you want to actually
do something?"
Like, this guy
is not much older than me.
He was there with, like,
a newborn baby
and his girlfriend, you know,
getting his degree.
And he would say, like,
you know,
"Michael, just have fun,
but don't have too much fun.
Focus on your marks."
And I kept thinking, you know,
do I want to go back
to Flemingdon Park
and my mum's apartment?
At the same time, I walked into
the Liberal Party headquarters.
Didn't know a single person.
Offered to help,
and I got plugged into
that Liberal network.
And by the time I graduated,
I would say
I had maybe an A average
in university.
STEVE:
Are you saying that if you'd
walked into the Tory campus club
instead of
the Liberal campus club
I might be talking to
a Conservative MPP today?
MICHAEL:
No, because I--
A while before that,
I went to the library
and looked at, um,
an encyclopedia
about the difference between
the three political parties
and decided I was a Liberal.
STEVE:
Huh. Okay.
MICHAEL:
And that was 'cause of
Pierre Elliott Trudeau
and his whole piece
around multiculturalism.
STEVE:
Had you ever met Trudeau?
MICHAEL:
Um--
STEVE:
The father.
MICHAEL:
I saw him once and said hello
to him when I was in Ottawa
when he was walking in front of
the House of Commons,
but I've never formally sat down
and spoke to him.
But I would really like to meet
Brian Mulroney.
He's probably
my favourite politician
from a political
kind of standpoint.
You know, reading his book,
The Politics of Ambition.
Do you remember that book?
STEVE:
Mm-hmm. Sure.
MICHAEL:
By John "Stoski"?
STEVE:
Sawatsky.
MICHAEL:
Sawatsky?
What an incredible book.
It just, you know--
It shows this guy who's kind of,
uh, middle class, working,
kind of build himself up.
STEVE:
Less than middle class.
They came from nothing.
MICHAEL:
He is a remarkable--
He has a remarkable story.
And I was always impressed
with Brian Mulroney
as the politician.
I think he's incredible.
STEVE:
As we sit here taping this,
he's going to turn 80
in a couple of weeks.
Which is shocking to me,
because I remember when he was
a 44-year-old
becoming prime minister.
MICHAEL:
I can remember him,
and it was interesting.
I remember him debating
John Turner when I was a kid.
So, that was, uh--
Was that 1984?
STEVE:
'84 and '88, they went toe-to--
MICHAEL:
So, when was
the comment around--
You know how you romanticize
these types of things?
I don't know if--
There was--
I was in a campaign headquarters
in Flemingdon Park.
I don't know who
the candidate was.
We went in there.
There were a bunch of us.
We were eating their cookies
and having--
And I remember them watching
the debate,
and there was something
about Brian Mulroney
that, you know,
just caught my attention.
He was, just, like, so good
as a politician, right?
The way he could express himself
and you know,
bring people together.
And going from, you know,
the most--
I guess building
the most successful--
He had, what, 217 seats?
How many seats?
STEVE:
211. Biggest ever.
MICHAEL:
211, the most ever, right?
STEVE:
Yep.
MICHAEL:
Diefenbaker, I think,
was second. Is that correct?
STEVE:
208.
MICHAEL:
208?
STEVE:
But in 1984, which is the day
you're talking about,
which was the best debate
performance of any candidate,
ever; it changed the election
overnight.
MICHAEL:
Yeah.
STEVE:
How old would you have been
in '84?
MICHAEL:
So, I was born in '72.
So, 12 years old.
STEVE:
And despite your clearly being--
He clearly made
an impression upon you
in that 1984 debate.
MICHAEL:
I didn't even know his name,
and I probably didn't know his
name for four years after that.
STEVE:
Huh. Okay. Interesting.
MICHAEL:
There was this visual in my head
that I can't shake.
STEVE:
'Cause I wonder why you're not
a Tory if he's the guy for you.
MICHAEL:
Yeah. You know what?
You know one of the reasons
why I'm not a Conservative?
Because I believe that the NDP,
the Conservatives, the Liberals,
there's, you know,
80% of what we do
is all pretty much the same in
a traditional sense, you know?
You want a good economy.
You fund education.
You fund healthcare.
You know, your spending
is, like, fixed almost, right?
This is what you spend
your money on.
The 20% is flexible.
It's like at the school board.
You've got a fixed budget,
and then you've got
the flexible budget.
Um, the reason I think I'm a
Liberal and not a Conservative
is 'cause I think Conservatives
are just locked in
this way of doing things.
Like, it's like this narrative
around--
You know,
that Reagan just fortified,
where it's, like, "Less taxes.
Less government. Less law."
You know, it's just such
a simple kind of formula
that's been so successful
for these guys.
STEVE:
But the flip side is, do you
want more government, more laws?
MICHAEL:
Well, the flip side is
that we as Liberals
have always, you know--
It's like Roosevelt's New Deal
has been this lasting legacy
for a hundred years
that defines who Liberals are.
I think if you actually went
around and asked 100 Liberals
what a Liberal is,
you'd get probably, you know,
30, 40 different answers.
That's a big problem
for Liberals.
STEVE:
Big problem,
'cause it's a big tent.
MICHAEL:
Yeah. So, the beauty behind
being a Liberal
is that it gives you
the flexibility
to be in the centre
and to adjust
based on the circumstances,
and it does have the ability
to attract people
from all walks of life
and all different
political philosophies,
because you have the ability
to be a little bit less defined.
STEVE:
How'd you end up in South Korea?
MICHAEL:
You know, I wasn't very, uh--
Wasn't very sure if I should go.
You know, being a black male,
I thought--
You heard these horror stories
about, you know,
being a teacher in Asia.
And, uh, my girlfriend
and I talked about it,
who's my wife now.
And we said, "You know what?
Let's go.
If we don't like it,
we'll just come home."
I went there. Stayed there
for almost three years.
Two and a half years.
Never had
one single negative experience.
Not once.
Then at the end,
my mother was sick.
And when she called me
and told me she was sick,
I was home,
maybe 48 hours later,
and that was the end of
my Korean experience.
STEVE:
Did your mum recover
from that sickness?
MICHAEL:
Yep. She had, um--
I think about a third
of her heart was deteriorated
and she had
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
when I got back.
When they diagnosed her
with a heart issue,
they were going through her--
You know, doing tests,
and they found cancer
in her stomach as well.
So, she survived
and she's still alive today,
knock on wood.
STEVE:
Fabulous. How old?
MICHAEL:
My mother now is 74,
and she lives in, uh--
She went home to look after
her sister
about four or five years ago
in Barnsley
and decided to stay there.
STEVE:
So, she's overseas still?
MICHAEL:
Correct.
STEVE:
How about your dad?
MICHAEL:
My dad, his name is Joseph.
He's 80 years old.
He just turned 80.
And you know, he's the guy
that's never missed
a day of work.
He's a hardworking guy.
He, you know, worked
with his hands his whole life.
He's an honest man,
and he's a real role model
in the sense that he will
do anything to help anyone.
STEVE:
When did your folks split up?
MICHAEL:
Uh, when I was about 16.
STEVE:
And how was that?
MICHAEL:
It was terrible. I was angry.
And you know, I was, uh,
just mad at the world.
And you know,
eventually, eventually,
you know,
it just works well
and settles in,
and you figure out everything.
But at 16,
it's always difficult.
I always think
if people get divorced,
it's probably better
when the kids are young,
versus when they're 16.
'Cause at 16, you know,
you're thinking
in a completely different,
non-logical way.
(Laughing)
STEVE:
There's two schools of thought
on that, I've heard.
One is the one
you've just described,
and the other is the old joke
where these two 90-year-olds
are in front of the court
asking for a divorce
and they say,
"My goodness. You've been
married for 70 years
and you're getting a divorce
now, in your 90s? What for?"
And they said,
"Well, we wanted to wait
for all the kids to die first."
MICHAEL (Laughing):
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Yeah, but my dad is great.
My mother and dad
are good friends, and, uh--
STEVE:
Now, you're the product
of a mixed marriage.
MICHAEL:
Yeah.
STEVE:
So, how do you self-identify?
MICHAEL:
I've always identified as black
with, you know,
Grenadian and British heritage.
I've always just seen myself
as black.
It's interesting because growing
up, you're confused, right?
You know, the black kids
will call you a zebra.
You know, at Grenoble,
I remember that so clearly.
You know, and people asked me,
"Are you adopted?"
You know, my mum
has blonde hair, green eyes.
And then, you know,
on the black side, it was--
I'm sorry. On the white side,
people would say, um, you know--
Just look at me and just assume
that I'm just black, right?
So, I think
it was just easier for me
to just self-identify as black
just to make things simple,
and that's what I did.
STEVE:
I want to go back to something
you said a little while ago.
You're 16,
your parents get divorced
and you're an angry, young
black man living in Toronto.
MICHAEL:
Yep.
STEVE:
And my guess is, you weren't--
MICHAEL:
I never said "black."
(Laughing)
STEVE:
No. You didn't say "black,"
but--
MICHAEL:
I'm just joking.
STEVE:
But I'm adding that
because my hunch is
you weren't the only one.
MICHAEL:
No.
STEVE:
You probably saw a lot of
angry, young,
black and white and everything,
young men at the time,
and you probably see a lot of it
today, still, too.
MICHAEL:
Yeah. And it's always carried,
like, throughout my life.
But two things brought a lot
of clarity to me personally.
Hip-hop music has been something
that has always driven me.
I can remember the first time,
you know, listening to, like,
Public Enemy.
Like, listening to
"Bring the Noise."
I remember the exact moment,
the exact--
Like, where I was,
who was around me,
and, like, listening, saying,
"What is this?"
Or, you know, being on the bus,
going to work at a dead-end job.
You know, reading
the autobiography of Malcolm X
or Stokely Carmichael's
black power book.
And reading it not from
a standpoint of, you know,
being someone who was angry
and looking for
a philosophy or ideology,
but more around the person
finding themselves.
Like, I remember reading
the autobiography of Malcolm X.
Have you ever read the book?
STEVE:
No.
MICHAEL:
I really recommend you read it.
'Cause a lot of people
will think--
Like, they'll take a character
like Malcolm X
and just think, you know,
he's a racist.
You know, angry black man
in the '60s.
Racist. Didn't like, you know,
this group, this group,
this group.
But if you read the story,
it's about a guy
who kind of is lost.
His name is Detroit Red
at the time.
He's angry. He's selling drugs.
He's, uh--
You know, his life is in chaos,
and he finds the Nation
of Islam,
and then he transcends
the Nation of Islam
and becomes a humanist.
And you know, he gets to the
point where he's in--
You know, doing the pilgrimage,
and he says,
"I looked to my left.
The whitest of white skin.
"The bluest of blue eyes.
"To my right, the black."
And you know,
he transcends race.
Like, he starts to go to a point
where he becomes a humanist.
And it shows, like, the story
of a person finding himself.
And I always thought
it was interesting, you know?
He would say, "I've armed myself
with my briefcase,
my watch, my glasses."
Like, the tools he needed
to explain himself.
So, I read books like that,
and I started to, you know,
kind of understand
everyone has challenges,
and everyone, everyone,
is going to start off
in a different place.
And what really matters
is where you end up, right,
at the end.
And the beautiful thing
about hip-hop music
is that hip-hop music is one of
those things that you see
out there where you take nothing
and you monetize nothing.
Like, they took literally
nothing.
You know, a beatbox. Lyrics.
You know,
a broken record player.
Or a record player
and some old records,
and they started looping.
Making something out of nothing
and monetizing it into
a billion-dollar industry.
How is that even possible?
So, I don't care who you are,
where you're from
or what your story is.
You have the opportunity
to do well.
STEVE:
I think I remember seeing
a picture
of Kardinal Offishall
and Jully Black
and you and the former premier
all, like,
posing for pictures here.
They came to the Legislature
one day, did they not?
MICHAEL:
I invited everyone
from the early hip-hop pioneer
music from Ontario
to the Legislature
to welcome them to Ontario--
Well, into the Legislature
to say
"Thank you for everything
you've done
"to build an industry
that you're not reaping
the benefits off of."
So, you look at guys like, um--
You know who has
the number-one song
in the world right now?
Let's see how-- Like, I know
you know a lot of things.
STEVE:
You understand that
my musical appreciation
kind of stops
with Frank Sinatra?
But I'm going to guess Drake.
MICHAEL:
Snow.
STEVE:
Snow? No,
I wouldn't have guessed that.
MICHAEL:
It's Snow with Daddy Yankee.
Daddy Yankee. Is that his name?
It's the number-one
global song right now.
He had a song, "Informer."
It's a remake of that song
from the '80s.
So, guys like that,
the Kardinal Offishalls
in the '90s more and the 2000s.
Ron Nelson,
who was a DJ at CKLN.
These guys, like, laid down
the foundation to allow for
the Drake, The Weeknd.
In my community and growing up,
these are big players, right?
But in the world out there
who have reaped the benefit
and monetized this music
that these little black kids
have made,
and some white kids--
But I mean, these guys, like,
were early pioneers.
And the people who are making
money off the industry now
are not the people who
were there doing the hard work.
They were the people
who were saying,
"It shouldn't be on the radio.
This music is going to steer
kids in the wrong direction."
So, it was nice
just to bring them in.
Sorry that answer was so long,
but I'm very passionate
about that.
STEVE:
I can tell. You're glowing
as you talk about this.
It clearly had an impact on you.
MICHAEL:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
STEVE:
Okay. So, you're taking history
and political science
in university, and you've
visited the Liberal club
and you've decided
that you're a Liberal.
At what point do you actually--
Did the light go on that
you made the decision,
"I need to have my name
on a ballot someday"?
MICHAEL:
I came back from Korea.
Decided I was going to run for
the school board.
Knocked on 40,000 doors
with a couple of friends
who'd just returned from Korea
who were unemployed.
There was four of us.
We knocked on all these doors.
Like, nonstop for a few months.
STEVE:
When you won for school board,
was it clearly with a view to
seeking higher office later on?
MICHAEL:
No.
Actually, you know what?
I probably had it
in the back of my mind.
The first maybe one
or two terms,
it was just, um--
You know, for me it was, like,
really, really challenging.
And by the third term,
I was, like--
You know,
I knew how to do everything.
And maybe at that point,
I started thinking more about
federal politics.
And I wanted to run federally.
I was thinking--
I knew Trudeau was starting
to build up around 2010, 2011.
I always thought I'd run as
a Trudeau Liberal federally.
STEVE:
And why didn't you?
MICHAEL:
In 2011, I was, uh--
It was evening,
probably around 7:00, 8:00.
I noticed on Twitter at the time
that my name started
to get some--
It started to come up
a bit more.
And people started to
just tag my handle.
And it said something like,
"David Caplan
has decided not to run.
"Maybe Shelley Carroll
or Michael Coteau
will replace him."
That's what he suggested
as two potential names.
STEVE:
On election night,
your first victory.
What's going through your head?
MICHAEL:
TV Ontario followed me around
for, I think, six months
during that time period.
STEVE:
I remember that. Yes, we did.
And the lead-up to it.
FEMALE REPORTER:
It's election night in Ontario.
(Crowd cheering)
In the riding
of Don Valley East,
residents have chosen
Michael Coteau
as their Member
of Provincial Parliament.
STEVE (In 2011):
Michael Coteau, yes.
I think Greg Sorbara told me
Michael Coteau
was their best new candidate.
MICHAEL (In 2011):
We have a commitment
to healthcare, education.
We've got to take care of
our seniors and our families.
We have a lot of work to do
and we can't stop.
This is just the beginning.
(Crowd cheering)
MICHAEL (In present):
I was just minding my business,
relaxing.
And then two months later,
I was the MPP.
It goes from school board
to backbencher
to cabinet minister,
and it happens quick.
STEVE:
In a pretty short space of time.
MICHAEL:
Yeah. I think I had
six portfolios in six years.
STEVE:
Okay. I want to ask you about
a very unpleasant event
in your life,
which is last June,
when the Liberal Party
went from majority government
to seven seats.
And I remember very well
arriving at a playground
in your riding
with just a few days to go
till election day,
and I encountered you
before the premier showed up.
MICHAEL (Laughing):
I remember this.
STEVE:
And Michael, you looked like
you had seen a ghost.
Like, you looked like all
the air was out of your tires.
And I said,
"What's going on here?"
And you said, "I think
she's conceding the election."
MICHAEL:
And you didn't know at the time,
did you?
STEVE:
I did not know. No.
MICHAEL:
Then you looked like you saw
a ghost at that point.
STEVE:
Well, I was pretty shocked
myself,
'cause I can't ever recall
a premier conceding an election,
you know, a few days before
election day.
What was that day like for you?
MICHAEL:
Well, it was interesting.
I was knocking on doors.
There was a 10:00 call
that morning.
I missed it,
'cause I was knocking on doors.
Where the premier told everyone
what she was doing.
I, um--
I got there
not knowing anything,
and then I think Sarah called
me, who was my campaign manager.
And she told me, I think,
two minutes before I saw you.
(Laughing)
I was, like,
"What are you talking about?"
I was, like, okay.
"Bring everyone
from the campaign office,"
'cause that was, like--
This was, like, history being--
You know, real-time history
being made, right?
That's never happened before.
And we got there,
and everyone came.
It was a sad day for everyone.
And I said to my two
little girls who were there--
I thought they were going to
make an announcement about kids.
Like, school stuff, right?
I said to my two girls--
I said, "Myla"--
Who's the youngest--
I said, "I know you're young,
but I really need you
to pay attention to what
she's saying in this moment."
You know, I saw the premier
deliver that speech.
And I think it was a sad day
for me,
because, you know,
I've seen Kathleen Wynne from--
Like, she's my MPP of the place
I grew up, right?
Flemingdon Park at the time.
So, I grew up
in her neighbourhood.
I know who she is.
I know that she's caring.
I know that
she tried her hardest.
I know she's smart,
and I know that five years later
from this beautiful speech
at the convention,
five years later, this lady,
this beautiful woman,
was standing there and saying
that it's over. It's done.
And you know, just from
a personal standpoint,
you know, knowing her,
it was sad to see that.
STEVE:
David Hurley,
your campaign manager,
was at that event, too.
And I had never seen him
cry before,
but I saw him cry
on that occasion.
MICHAEL:
That's right.
STEVE:
And he said to me,
"I should have been able
to find a way
to get her
over the finish line."
And I think my response to him
was,
"David, sometimes, you know,
victory is just--
Victory is not a possibility
in every single campaign."
And he said,
"I should have found a way."
On election night, it was close
in your riding, right?
MICHAEL:
Yeah. We won by only
a few percentage points.
A thousand votes.
STEVE:
Did you want to win?
MICHAEL:
I wanted to win.
STEVE:
You wanted to win, even though
you knew it meant coming back
in third place, one of seven,
as opposed to--
You know, there's something
to be said for losing
where it's just a clean break
and you get to go
reinvent yourself
and do something else
in your life.
But you wanted to--
You're happy now
being back here, one of seven?
MICHAEL:
The first six months
were difficult.
I couldn't really figure out,
like, my footing around--
I didn't know this part of
the building.
I didn't know the Legislature
above the second floor.
I didn't know the tools
that I had available to me.
There were no resources.
I lost maybe
15 good staff people
who I've worked with,
some of them, for almost six,
seven years.
And it was hard, right?
But I knew at the end of the day
that there's a place.
And it took me a while
to figure this out.
There's a place in Ontario
for the centre, for centrists,
for moderates,
for reasonable people
and Liberals to, uh--
Progressive Liberals
to bring people together
to find solutions.
I really think that
there's a place,
and I don't know why
I was chosen
out of all of our members,
the seven of us.
Like, why, you know?
A person from Thunder Bay.
Two from the Don Valleys.
Three from Ottawa.
One from Scarborough.
Like, why were we chosen
to do this?
But you know, we've been given
a huge responsibility
that's not only connected to us
as individuals
and to our communities,
but to the heritage and legacy
of the Ontario Liberal Party.
It's an old party, right?
So, we've got
a big responsibility,
and our number-one objective
is going to be
at the end of the day
to rebuild the party,
and then, you know,
at the same time,
find a new leader.
STEVE:
Which leads me to
the next question.
At what point do you
make your mind up
as to whether or not you think
you ought to be that leader?
MICHAEL:
Well, I've decided that
I'm going to pursue it.
And what I have been doing
for the last few weeks
is just going to different parts
of Ontario
to talk to people.
I want to hear--
STEVE:
So, you're in?
MICHAEL:
I'm in, yeah. I'm in.
Obviously,
there's some key steps.
You've got to, you know,
put down 50 grand.
You've got to sign up.
You've got to--
The rules have to come out.
So, there's formal steps.
But I mean, at this point,
I've made a decision
that I'm going to go out there
and talk to Ontarians,
talk to Liberals,
to see if they would consider
someone like myself.
STEVE:
You do know
that this means that--
Probably the convention
is next spring.
So, you know that
for the next year,
to win this thing means
not seeing your kids very much?
It means not seeing your wife
very much.
MICHAEL:
Yeah, yeah.
STEVE:
It means a lot of
probably lonely nights
in Kapuskasing
on a Saturday night.
MICHAEL (Laughing):
I love Kapuskasing.
STEVE:
Nothing against Kapuskasing,
but you're from the 416.
MICHAEL:
No, no, no.
My daughter said to me,
my oldest daughter said,
"Why would you do that?"
And I said,
"Well, why wouldn't I do it?"
And she said to me, "Look how
they treated Kathleen Wynne."
You know?
STEVE:
How meaningful would it be
to you--
There's never been a black
Liberal Party leader before.
There's never been
a black premier before.
MICHAEL:
Yeah.
STEVE:
How important would that be
to you to be number one?
MICHAEL (Laughing):
Number one.
STEVE:
The first ever.
MICHAEL:
It's funny.
I was running
out of the house today,
racing my daughter to the car,
saying, like, "I'm number one!
I'm number one."
And she beat me. She says,
"No, I'm number one."
Um, I-- You know--
Being the first of--
Obviously, Kathleen Wynne,
it's very symbolic
and very meaningful to people
being the first female premier.
I think it would be good
for young people
to see someone a bit different
from what they've seen
in the past.
I think more than just being,
like, you know,
the first possible
black premier,
I think being someone
who's not from, you know,
the upper-middle class,
not from the Establishment--
You know, our premier
always says that, you know,
there are elitists out there
and that Liberals are, you know,
elitist.
And you know,
he's there for the people.
And I don't know if--
I think there's a huge contrast.
I think I'm the exact opposite
of Doug Ford.
You know?
I grew up poor.
Put myself through, you know,
post-secondary education.
And I built something, like,
by myself.
I think I have a very different
background than Doug Ford,
and I think just people who feel
like they've been forgotten
and that people
don't pay attention to them,
people who feel left out,
I think I would represent
more of that
than just being, like,
the first black premier.
I think I'd be the first premier
from the other side
of the street, right?
JOHN MICHAEL:
So, Steve, let's clear the air
for those listening
in Kapuskasing.
What do you have
against Kapuskasing?
STEVE:
I got nothing against
Kapuskasing. Are you kidding?
No. I love Kapuskasing.
In fact, I think we took
our program on the road
to Kapuskasing a year or two ago
and we had a grand time
up there.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I believe you did.
STEVE:
Yeah, yeah.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I haven't been to Kapuskasing
myself.
I've been to Timmins, Cochrane
and the ice roads
up to Moosonee.
STEVE:
Okay.
Well, you're almost there, then.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Almost.
STEVE:
Yeah. That's not bad.
As you sit there listening
to that,
handicapping Michael Coteau's
chances
for winning
the Liberal leadership,
what comes to mind?
JOHN MICHAEL:
One of the things he said
that stuck with me,
he said a line about
not knowing Queen's Park
above the second floor
or something like that.
STEVE:
Yes, yes.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And I think that's something
that a lot of people
might not understand:
that not only were the Liberals
reduced to seven seats
in the Legislature,
but only one of them remembers
what it's like to be
in opposition.
Six of the seven MPPs have only
ever served in government,
where you've got all sorts
of resources and frankly,
everything is much, much easier.
Now, not only are they not
an official party,
but they have
none of the resources
that they used to have
from the government benches.
STEVE:
They have kind of been evicted
to the boonies
of the legislative assembly,
haven't they?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Very much,
and basic stuff like
who in the public service
answers your phone calls--
As an opposition MPP in the
far corner of the Legislature,
it's a lot harder
to get people's ears.
STEVE:
Mm-hmm.
You think his candidacy
can ignite
some members
of the Liberal Party?
JOHN MICHAEL:
What's the
Game of Thrones
line?
"Chaos is a ladder."
The Liberal Party
is in chaos right now,
and I think Coteau
is on everybody's shortlist
in terms of who the next leader
could be.
STEVE:
He's been the party a long time.
A lot of people like him.
He's had a lot of tough files
to negotiate.
There will be people in Ontario
who will see themselves
reflected in his candidacy.
And furthermore, we don't know
who's going to get in right now.
You know?
It could be a big field.
It could be
a small field.
If it's a small field, you know,
he's got a good shot.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I think there are definitely
people
who are looking for a--
As he says,
an alternative to Doug Ford
and very much his
opposite number in so many ways.
Especially in the Liberal Party,
obviously.
I think there are a lot
of people who want to see
a minority candidate
who wants to have a more
progressive view of the party
that I think he's talking about.
STEVE:
I don't think Michael Coteau
wants to be known as,
quote unquote,
the black candidate.
In the same way, 25 years ago,
Greg Sorbara
didn't want to be known as,
quote, unquote,
the Italian candidate.
As 10 years before that,
Larry Grossman for the Tories
didn't want to be known as
the Jewish candidate.
They obviously want to have
a broader appeal.
Now, that is--
Let's not deny it.
That is a significant part of
whether the base of his support
would come from.
But if that's all you got,
you're not going to win.
So, it's a great place to start,
but in terms of Michael Coteau's
wanting to appeal to
a much broader base of the
Liberal Party and beyond that,
to the province of Ontario,
obviously he's got a lot of work
to do.
JOHN MICHAEL:
For whatever reason, you know,
Doug Ford never has to
reassure people
that he's not
the Toronto candidate
the way that Kathleen Wynne
explicitly had to do
when she was
a Liberal leadership candidate
and then again as premier.
It's just one of those things
about Ontario politics:
that some people
have to reassure voters
about what they are
talking about
and what
they're not talking about.
STEVE:
I don't know how much
we should read into this.
It may be more coincidence
than anything.
But there is a great tradition
in the province of Ontario
to hate Toronto.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yes.
STEVE:
And you know,
the last premier who was
from Toronto, Kathleen Wynne,
had one term and out.
The previous premier from
Toronto before her was Bob Rae,
who had one term and out.
And before that,
I can't think of any premiers
who were actually
holding ridings in Toronto.
I guess George Drew did
for a little while,
and he was one term and out,
and this is in the 1940s.
So, you know, being from Toronto
does come with its baggage.
And you really do have to,
on the one hand--
I think you're right,
John Michael.
It's something Doug Ford
doesn't have to worry about
because he's got such a base
of support outside of Toronto.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yeah.
STEVE:
In the 905,
and in rural Ontario
by virtue of being leader
of the Progressive Conservative
Party.
He doesn't have to worry
about this as much.
But it's something
Michael Coteau
clearly will have to deal with
if he's going to be a serious
contender for the leadership.
Okay. Having said all that,
just a reminder:
be sure to stick around
to the end of the credits
for our adorable questionnaire,
as we do every week.
What did you think of the show
you just heard?
Do let us know. E-mail us at
onpolitics@tvo.org.
Or tweet at us.
I'm at @spaikin.
S-P-A-I-K-I-N.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And I'm @jm_mcgrath,
or (Jumbling syllables together)
"jmmcgrath."
(Steve laughing)
STEVE:
And if you like what you heard,
rate and review us
on Apple Podcasts.
I'm going to be
reading them all;
so is John Michael.
Tell us what you thought.
JOHN MICHAEL:
If you haven't already,
subscribe to the
#onpoli
podcast
on Apple Podcasts, Google Play,
Spotify
or your favourite podcast app,
and share it with your friends.
STEVE:
Today's episode was produced by
Eric Bombicino.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Audio and editing
by Matthew O'Mara.
STEVE:
The
#onpoli
team is rounded out
by Daniel Kitts,
Harrison Lowman, and Cara Stern.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Hannah Sung is manager
of digital video and podcasts
here at TVO.
STEVE:
And remember,
politics comes at you fast,
so we're here to give you
the bigger picture.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Thanks for listening.

STEVE:
We have a tradition
on this
#onpoli
podcast.
MICHAEL:
Okay.
STEVE:
This is a questionnaire
that was first developed
by a guy named Bernard Pivot,
and then made more famous
by James Lipton
on another program.
And I liked it so much I
thought, let's do it here, too.
So, I'm going to ask you
a bunch of questions here, okay?
And just say the first thing
that pops into your head.
What's your favourite word?
MICHAEL:
Phrase, maybe?
I like "thank you."
I like it when people say
"thank you" to each other.
STEVE:
What's your
least favourite word?
MICHAEL:
My least favourite word?
You know what? I can't--
I'm sorry.
I don't know
what my least favourite word is.
There's some derogatory words
I hear.
Like, you know, words like--
Some crude swear words
that just make me go crazy
when I hear them.
I'd never even tell you
what those words are,
'cause they just make me--
But, um--
STEVE:
What's your favourite
curse word?
MICHAEL:
I'll tell you
the funniest curse word.
It's from
The Wire.
It's one of the characters.
He says, "Shiiit."
(Laughing)
From
The Wire.
And when I hear that,
it cracks me up.
"Shiiit."
So, there you go.
STEVE:
What sound or noise do you love?
MICHAEL:
I like the birds
outside my house.
There's one that sounds like
it says my brother's name.
It sounds like "Stephen."
It goes--
(Imitating bird call)
I don't know what bird it is,
but when I hear that sound
or the birch tree
outside my house,
when it starts to blow
it creates
this most beautiful sound of
the leaves hitting each other.
It's like something
is just falling from the sky.
Like, you know, pieces of
small tin hitting each other.
It's the most beautiful sound.
That with the birds and kids
playing in the background,
that's my favourite combination
of sounds.
STEVE:
What sound or noise do you hate?
MICHAEL:
People grinding their teeth.
STEVE:
What profession other than your
own would you like to attempt?
MICHAEL:
I'd like to be a professor
one day
when I'm an old man,
teaching Roman history
or something like that.
STEVE:
What profession
would you not like to do?
MICHAEL:
I wouldn't like to be in a job
where I'm doing the same thing
over and over all day,
like at a call centre.
It would make me go crazy.
STEVE:
Finally, if heaven exists,
what would you like
to hear God say
when you arrive at
the pearly gates?
MICHAEL:
"All of your friends and family
are just behind that wall."
STEVE:
Nice.
Michael Coteau,
thanks for the time.
MICHAEL:
Thank you.

Watch: Michael Coteau: The Candidate