Transcript: Peter Bethlenfalvy: The Money Man | May 13, 2019

♪
STEVE:
Welcome to the #onpoli podcast,
a show all about-- yep, you
guessed it-- Ontario politics.
I'm Steve Paikin.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And I'm John Michael McGrath.
STEVE:
Well, here we are,
John Michael, episode five.
We've been spending
a lot of time
down here in our cozy
recording bunker at TVO.
And since we're
now BFFs-- the bracelets
are currently being made,
incidentally--
I want to know your
deepest, darkest secret
or something that we
wouldn't know about you.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, the peril of living
so much of my life on Twitter
is that if you follow me online,
you probably know a lot
about my life. (Laughing)
STEVE:
One thing people may not
know about you, John Michael,
is that your wife
writes romance novels.
And of course, the obvious
question that I would have is,
are you the source of
her inspiration
for these romance novels?
JOHN MICHAEL:
(Laughing) Not for
the way you mean it.
(Both laughing)
But she has, in
fact, written books
where she needed my expertise
on municipal policy.
STEVE:
In a romance novel?
JOHN MICHAEL:
I swear to God it is true. Yes.
STEVE:
I can't believe that.
JOHN MICHAEL:
But one of her--
STEVE:
But actually, with
you, I might believe that.
(John Michael laughing)
Okay. Keep going.
JOHN MICHAEL:
One of her books featured--
The story involved a woman
living in a small town,
and the landmark theatre
in the small town
is being redeveloped.
And so municipal zoning
was part of the story,
and I was an extensive
consultant on that book.
(Laughing)
STEVE:
So, the scenes
where the romance happens
you are clueless about,
but on the municipal
zoning stuff,
she comes to you for research.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yes, exactly.
STEVE:
I got it. That
makes a lot of sense.
Have you read any of her books?
JOHN MICHAEL:
I have not. I'm a
bad husband on that score.
STEVE:
Are you kidding? You
haven't read one of them?
JOHN MICHAEL:
No. I have not.
The agreement we have
is that I don't read
any of her books
and then when I inevitably
write an incredibly dull tome
about municipal policy,
she doesn't have to
read that one, either.
STEVE:
Seems fair.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yeah.
(Both laughing)
STEVE:
Good. Well,
what else is up today?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Steve, we're not
letting you get away with this.
STEVE:
Oh, boy.
JOHN MICHAEL:
What is something that
our listeners would not know
about you, Steve?
STEVE:
I'm sure they don't know
that I'm a huge fan
of the Boston Red Sox.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Everybody knows
that, Steve. Come on.
STEVE:
Really? People know that?
(John Michael laughing)
That's strange. Okay.
Well, maybe they don't know
that I'm a huge fan of
the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Maybe they don't know that.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Try again.
(Both laughing)
STEVE:
That I'm a huge fan
of provincial politics?
(John Michael laughing)
These are all things about me
I'm sure people don't know,
so I'm filling in the gaps here,
as you can tell.
(John Michael laughing)
JOHN MICHAEL:
Uh...
(Steve laughing)
STEVE:
Okay. We've done it.
Moving along. Moving along.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, okay. I don't know
some basic things about you.
You know, a lot of reporters,
they start working in Toronto.
Or you know, they come to
Toronto for school,
and then they have to
go find work elsewhere,
either elsewhere in
the province,
elsewhere in the country.
STEVE:
Mm-hmm.
JOHN MICHAEL:
You never did?
STEVE:
I tried to.
I couldn't get a job.
I tried to find work
in far-flung locations
away from the
provincial capital,
and no one would hire me.
Now, in fairness to me,
it was in the teeth
of the worst recession
since the Great
Depression at the time.
This is the early 1980s.
And the only people who would
hire me were in Toronto!
So I started at CHFI
and what was then called
CFTR, now 680 News.
I started there in 1982
as a city hall reporter.
That was my first job.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Hmm.
STEVE:
So, there you go. You
know something about me now
you didn't know before.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Now, I've learned something.
(Steve laughing)
STEVE:
Okay. The last two episodes,
we've talked about who is
the bigger #onpoli nerd
and why we're such nerds.
JOHN MICHAEL:
It's you, for the record.
STEVE:
Well, we are nerds of
different stripes, John Michael.
You are a dyed-in-the-wool wonk
that loves the smell of a
fresh land-planning assessment
in the morning.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And you, Steve, have
a depth of institutional and
historical knowledge
that, if I stare at it for
too long, stares back at me.
It's an abyss, and
it's terrifying.
STEVE:
I think we are never
going to resolve this.
So, please, dear listener,
weigh in online and on Twitter
and resolve it for us.
JOHN MICHAEL:
So, we've been doing
these personal interviews
with politicians for
five episodes now.
We always tell people at
the end of the episode
that we read the reviews
on iTunes and elsewhere.
And we mean it.
We got one this week that we
wanted to respond to.
STEVE:
Yes. This guy comes in
with the name A Critical Mind.
And he's not a fan
of the format of the interviews
that we've been doing.
Critical Mind writes,
"Politicians
are not celebrities,
and their personal
background is irrelevant."
That's his view.
Okay. I'm going to agree
with half of that,
and I'm going to disagree
with half of that.
I agree, politicians are
not celebrities.
They're people with
important jobs.
And they do these jobs, and
we're supposed to oversee
and criticize and report on
and analyze, etc., etc., etc.
The notion that their personal
background is irrelevant,
though, I think, is
way off base.
Sorry, Critical Mind.
I'm pushing back on that.
So much, I think, of their
personal backgrounds
informs why they
get into politics,
what they want to
do in politics,
what kind of politicians
they're going to be,
how long they last,
how effective they can be.
So much of that comes out of
their personal background.
So the notion that it's
somehow irrelevant
I disagree with,
which is why I hope
these long-form interviews
that we're doing here
are hitting the mark.
Sorry, but we're not of--
The Critical Mind can
be a critical mind,
but we are not of the same mind
on this one, Critical Mind.
(John Michael laughing)
JOHN MICHAEL:
I think of somebody like--
or the difference between
somebody like Dalton McGuinty
and Kathleen Wynne,
both premiers,
both leaders of the same party.
STEVE:
Mm-hmm.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Had very different
approaches to politics,
in large part because
of where they came from,
their personal histories.
Dalton McGuinty, you know,
came from a political family.
His father had been an MPP.
And Kathleen Wynne came
from a different background.
She had come to politics
in reaction to
the Mike Harris years.
Their personal stories
absolutely influence
the kind of decisions they
then made in politics.
I don't think there's
a bright line--
Well, there can be a bright line
between the personal
and the political
and the personal and the policy.
But there's also
a lot of crossover.
STEVE:
I like your example
of McGuinty in particular,
because he got into politics
purely for personal reasons.
His father the MPP was
shoveling the snow one night,
had a heart attack, and died.
And that created a vacancy.
And the 10 kids
then got together
and had to make a decision
about which one was going to
follow in Dad's footsteps.
The story goes that
Dalton Jr. said,
"Well, there's a garage full
of signs with my name on them,
so I guess I ought
to be the candidate."
And that's what happened.
It doesn't get much
more personal than that
if you want to talk about why
somebody gets into public life.
There was an agenda of a
father's to continue.
There was an agenda of a son's
that had been percolating
all that time as well.
There was a family agenda.
Public service was in
the DNA of that family.
And into politics he went.
Now, if people want to say
that those kinds of background
details are irrelevant
to a person getting
into public life,
sorry, I'm not buying. I think
the personal details
in that case
were absolutely crucial
to Dalton McGuinty's ultimately
getting into politics.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, and of course,
the current premier,
his father was an
MPP, and his brother,
his late brother,
was the mayor of Toronto.
This is a political family
whose legacy he is
very public about continuing.
STEVE:
It's interesting, eh? I mean,
you wouldn't think Dalton
McGuinty and Doug Ford
had anything in common.
(John Michael laughing)
They're from very different
ends of the political spectrum.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yes.
STEVE:
Very different
styles of governing.
But they both got into
politics, in a way,
because of the example set
by their fathers,
both of whom were members
of the Ontario legislature.
So they do have that in common.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Okay. So, tell us
about today's interview
with Peter Bethlenfalvy.
STEVE:
Well done. You
said his name well.
Here we go. This week,
we're going to get
to know the guy who,
after the premier and
the minister of finance,
is the third most powerful
person in cabinet
but with the first most
difficult name to pronounce.
He is the president of
the treasury board of cabinet,
so he's in charge of
approving and directing
every dollar spent.
And his name is
Peter Bethlenfalvy.
And I'll say it again,
because I've heard numerous
people butcher his name,
including some of his
cabinet colleagues
on the election hustings.
It's Peter Bethlenfalvy.
When we caught up with him in
the north wing of Queen's Park,
he'd actually just listened
to our first episode
of the #onpoli podcast
with his friend, the minister
of finance, Vic Fedeli.
PETER:
I learned so much about the guy,
and I sit beside him every day.
STEVE:
But this is not
the kind of conversation
you'd have with him in
the House, right?
PETER:
Yeah. But I'm like you,
a bit of a policy--
can we say it?-- geek.
STEVE:
Yeah.
PETER:
Wonk.
JOHN MICHAEL:
He can definitely say it.
STEVE:
Yes, he can.
Now, before becoming
the rookie Conservative MPP
for Pickering-Uxbridge
in Durham Region,
Bethlenfalvy spent
more than two decades
working in the banking sector
both in Canada and the US.
He is, in his own
words, a numbers guy.
He was working on Wall Street
during 9/11 and the
financial collapse in 2008.
He eventually came home
and entered public life.
Shall we tell a little bit
of the Peter Bethlenfalvy story?
PETER:
Sure. Happy to.
STEVE:
And let's start
with that last name,
because I can't tell
you how many times I heard,
in the election campaign,
people refer to you and
totally butcher your last name,
including-- dare I say it--
the man who is now the
premier of Ontario.
Nobody can say or
spell your last name.
So, what's the derivation
of Bethlenfalvy?
PETER:
Bethlenfalvy is from Hungary.
It's an old Hungarian name.
And that's where my
family roots are, on both sides.
And my father's side
is in the old part of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire
which is now part of Slovakia.
But they kept their Hungarian
minority roots there
for hundreds of years.
And the family
didn't move there--
stayed there
for about 300 years.
So the line goes back about 300
years of Bethlenfalvys.
STEVE:
And Bethlenfalvy was the
short version of your name?
PETER:
That was the short version,
yeah.
STEVE:
What's the long version?
PETER:
It was Goldberger
von Bethlenfalvy.
STEVE:
You've got to be kidding.
PETER:
Yeah. Yeah. So, my dad's cousin,
whose name is Peter--
If you can believe this,
there's three Peter
Bethlenfalvys on the planet.
There's maybe 16 Bethlenfalvys.
Three of them are named Peter.
And I actually got a photo
a couple of years ago
of the three of us in Budapest.
STEVE:
How did your
folks end up over here?
PETER:
Well, you know, and
that's a lot of who I am,
how they ended up here.
My mother left during the '40s,
during World War II, in '44,
during World War II.
And her father decided
to get the family--
And her mother's brother.
Both decided, "Time to get out."
I wouldn't say they
were on the resistance,
but pretty close to it.
So they decided it
was high time to get out.
And so they fled and got out.
My father, he left a little bit
later, a couple years later,
after the war, at the age of 19.
And then the Berlin Wall
went up, the Iron Curtain.
And he never saw
his parents again,
even though they lived
quite some time.
His father was supposed
to come in 1967
and died two weeks before he
was supposed to come over here.
He got a visa to come out.
You know, so, that
was the history.
And my dad took
our whole family--
it was maybe 30 of us,
extended family--
to go back to the old town
where he grew up.
And when we got to
his parents' graves,
I mean, the whole place
just was sobbing,
except for him.
He didn't shed a tear,
because I think he had just
dealt with their death
a long time before.
STEVE:
He had mourned the loss
of them in his life earlier.
PETER:
Yeah, that's right.
STEVE:
So you would not have
known your grandparents.
PETER:
No, not at all,
on my father's side.
My mother's side,
on the other hand,
I met three of my
great-grandparents.
So, my parents met
here in Toronto.
And then my dad got
a job with Alcan,
and they brought the whole
family to Montreal.
And I got to meet three of
my great-grandparents
on my mother's side.
And that kind of shaped me.
I do want to say one thing
about why I'm in politics
and get in that a little bit.
And I've said this story before,
often in some of my speeches.
But my mother's best friend,
they also fled Hungary in '44.
And their family--
My mother's best friend is
my godmother, Judith.
And her family
went to Venezuela.
STEVE:
Oh, you told us
this on election night.
Excuse me. On budget night.
PETER:
Yeah, on budget night.
That's right. On your show.
And you know,
we always try to convince
her to come to Canada,
because we love Canada,
how great Canada--
But you know,
she stuck to her guns.
But Venezuela
got worse and worse.
And today, her pension
that she worked as a
university professor for--
just like if you worked
as a teacher here;
you'd have a pension--
is today virtually worthless.
And so, these decisions
that we make today
and previous generations and
future generations,
I do believe they matter.
STEVE:
Is that to say that you feared
that the province was
heading down a slippery slope
that someday could end up
making us look like Venezuela?
PETER:
I think that these
incremental steps that you take,
it's like that frog
in the pot, you know.
You don't notice
it getting hotter.
And at some point,
it gets just too hot.
You know, it's not a boiling
pot that a frog is jumping in.
And I do worry. I mean,
if you look at
the fiscal situation--
And I guess I spent
my whole career
in financial markets--
STEVE:
You're a numbers guy.
PETER:
--and know the
numbers really well.
And I know how
capital markets react
when you lose your way.
And it's easy to lose your way,
because politics is tough.
STEVE:
Okay. We'll get back to that,
because I don't want to
get off the path--
PETER:
Sure.
STEVE:
--of figuring
out where you grew up
and what kind of kid
you were and all that.
So, where did you grow up?
PETER:
So, I grew up in Montreal,
because my father went to Alcan.
And so my roots are deep there.
And was right across
the river from Jim Flaherty.
So his roots are there, too.
And I remember asking
him one time, in 2009--
Canadiens were
having a great run
against Pittsburgh
and Washington.
They knocked them off, and they
went up against the Flyers.
And I asked him, you know,
"You're minister here."
He was minister of
finance at the time.
"And whole career in politics,
in business in Ontario.
Leafs or Habs fan?"
And he said,
"Peter, die-hard Habs fan."
STEVE:
Really?
PETER:
And I would say
that publicly as well.
STEVE:
You represent a
Toronto-area riding,
and you're a die-hard Habs fan.
PETER:
Well, I may lose a few votes,
but I got to tell you, you know,
I think it's important
to be authentic.
And I am a die-hard
Canadiens fan.
But even more so, I went to
game five with my son
for the baseball, Blue Jays,
with the Bautista flip.
STEVE:
Oh. Against Texas.
PETER:
And I mortgaged the house
and got some seats,
I think on the fourth,
fifth row, first base line,
with my son.
And I wore my
Montreal Expos hat.
STEVE:
(Laughing) Well, Expos is okay.
PETER:
Yeah, yeah.
STEVE:
They're no longer around.
PETER:
Canadiens might be-- This
might be a one-term wonder.
(Steve laughing)
STEVE:
Mind you, you know, the former
mayor of New York Mike Bloomberg
was a big Red Sox fan, and
he became mayor of New York.
So crazier things have happened.
PETER:
Well, there is a
story where Hillary Clinton
grew up in Chicago and
was a Chicago--
and then ran in New York
and became a Yankees fan.
I think it's important
to stick true to your roots.
STEVE:
Indeed.
You mentioned you're
a numbers guy.
Where did that come from?
PETER:
Well, early on in my career,
I was always going
to be a dentist.
And I took all kinds of
science courses.
I went to CEGEP in Montreal
and focused on health sciences
and then went to McGill
in biochemistry and
then physiology.
And halfway through, I said,
"Actually, I'm quite squeamish
when it comes to blood.
I actually faint."
(Steve laughing)
It's true. And I thought,
"You know, maybe,
whether I'm a
dentist or a doctor,
maybe I've taken the wrong path.
So I started taking courses in
accounting and other things.
And I found out I loved it.
And you know, banking, which--
I worked at TD for a long time--
you know, is about numbers,
but it's also about money.
I like money, and I like people.
It's a people business.
I like money in the sense
of, you know, creating value.
And I certainly believe
in the capital markets
and our democratic system.
So it just was a perfect fit.
STEVE:
You ended up in New York.
What took you there?
PETER:
Well, I moved with TD.
So, I joined TD here in Toronto,
moved from Montreal
and started a career at TD,
and was fortunate enough,
at a pretty early age,
to be asked to
be president and COO
of TD Securities in the US
and ultimately ran all
the businesses down there
and lived there for
almost 15 years, so--
STEVE:
Whereabouts?
PETER:
Well, we
started on the west side.
Then we moved to the east side.
So we were in the east
side in Manhattan.
Kids grew up there.
STEVE:
What the heck is it like to
raise kids on Manhattan Island?
PETER:
You know, Central Park
is the best playground
on the planet.
And New York is
a fascinating place,
and it's very children-friendly.
So it was a great experience.
STEVE:
You were in New York on 9/11?
PETER:
I was.
STEVE:
What do you
remember from that day?
PETER:
It's still the most surreal
and life-impacting moment
in my life.
MAN:
Good morning, everybody.
There is a new sense of what it
means to be an American.
WOMAN:
Twenty-four hours
after the worst terrorist attack
in our country's history,
it is now time to look ahead.
Channel 3's Scot Haney
is live in New York City now,
where residents there
are picking up the pieces
on a new day.
Good morning, Scot.
SCOT:
Good morning, David.
Good morning, Ellie.
I'm joined by Tasha Jamerson.
We've been here all morning.
People are starting to come out.
And it looks
like it's a clear day
with some partly cloudy skies.
TASHA:
Yeah, with a big
old cloud up there.
SCOT:
Exactly.
TASHA:
But that's smoke. Unbelievable.
SCOT:
That's smoke.
The debris of what once was
the financial
institution of America
where everything happens.
And now, it's gone.
I mean, we have postcards with
the World Trade tower on it.
Gone. It's surreal.
PETER:
TD had the offices
in midtown Manhattan,
so we weren't directly affected.
But I knew friends and
people that lost their lives
in the tragedy.
And you felt a little
bit helpless, too.
STEVE:
Was there any
part of you, after 9/11,
that said, "We got
to get out of here"?
PETER:
No, no. We lived there
for another seven years.
But I can tell you, taking
the plane from LaGuardia
and flying over Shea Stadium and
Yankee Stadium and thinking--
I caught myself thinking,
you know, "Could this plane
veer and turn, fly
right into the stadium?"
Or I'd get on the subway.
I took the subway downtown.
I moved to DBRS after TD,
and they were down
on Wall Street.
And you think about it,
but not enough to ever
want to leave right away.
STEVE:
But something obviously pulled
you back to Canada. What was it?
PETER:
It's called
the financial crisis.
And I was working for
Dominion Bond Rating Service,
which is a credit rating agency.
And I had a lot of
experience in New York,
and they wanted
someone back in Toronto
to help them navigate DBRS
through the financial crisis.
STEVE:
Now, your wife's
from New York, right?
PETER:
That's right.
STEVE:
What did she
think about that idea?
PETER:
Of coming from
New York to Toronto?
STEVE:
She born and raised in New York?
PETER:
Born and raised in New York.
STEVE:
Moving from there to Toronto,
what did she think of that idea?
PETER:
I guess she really loves me.
(Steve laughing)
But she loves Canada,
and she's been great.
You know, she's been involved
in a lot of things
here in the community.
So, she's taken to Toronto,
and Toronto's taken to her.
STEVE:
How many times do
people joke with you,
"Why didn't your
wife vote for you?"
(Peter laughing)
PETER:
It's a great question,
but I have a great answer.
STEVE:
Go ahead.
PETER:
Because she can't.
STEVE:
She's an American citizen.
PETER:
A US citizen.
STEVE:
Yeah. Does she plan to
take out Canadian citizenship?
PETER:
Yes.
STEVE:
She does. Okay.
At what point did you kind of
make the decision that,
"I have a wonderful, probably
well-remunerated position
with DBRS, and I'm
doing what I love to do,
and I'm going to try
to take probably
a 90-percent pay cut
and run for office"?
How'd that happen?
PETER:
You know, I never thought
about it in terms of money.
Not once. I mean, this
place, this country,
this province was fantastic
to my mom and my dad,
who I talked about
at the outset.
You know, they came here,
along with my
great-grandparents and others,
not asking for a handout,
not asking for anything
but just a chance.
And this country
and this province
gave them a shot.
And I think that you can't
take that for granted.
What really got me was the
fiscal situation in Ontario.
Having worked at DBRS,
downgrading the credit rating
of the province in 2009,
I really did know the numbers.
And contrasting against
other provinces,
who were starting to
take tough action,
to look down the
road a little bit--
And those aren't easy
decisions that you make
to get to the path of balance.
The outlier was Ontario.
Ontario just didn't seem to
think that that was necessary.
And I've often said, you know,
in 1990, when Bob Rae took over,
the debt to GDP, which is
kind of your fiscal health,
your heartbeat, was 13 percent,
which would be,
like, a triple A.
And Ontario was
triple A back then.
STEVE:
We're over 40 now.
PETER:
We're over 40.
STEVE:
I don't have to
tell you, though,
it's a very short list of people
who are doing well at
their chosen profession
who then decide to give it up
and put their name on a ballot.
Why do that? First of all,
the odds on winning
are not necessarily great.
The odds on then winning and
ending up in cabinet
are another thing. The odds on--
I mean, there's a lot of space
between wanting to run and
then being in a position
where you actually get
to do something
about the stuff you cared about.
So why risk it?
PETER:
You know, I'll go
back in time a little bit.
So, when I moved
to Toronto with TD
back in '85--
so, I'm dating myself--
I met Michael Wilson.
He was in Etobicoke Centre.
That's where my parents
eventually moved to.
And he's been my political
mentor ever since.
STEVE:
Brian Mulroney's
finance minister.
PETER:
Brian Mulroney's
finance minister
and a tremendous giver
back to society.
And we stayed
in very close touch
for all those years.
And when the kids
kind of moved on
and my wife was
saying, you know,
"We need you out of the
house a little bit more"--
I don't know what
she meant by that, but--
I sat down with him.
He was the first
person I sat down with
and said, "What do you think?"
And he was a role model
who went from private
sector to public sector.
And he was very supportive
and adamant that I
should do this.
STEVE:
He just died.
How hard did that hit you?
PETER:
Very hard.
Very hard, because he
gave so much to society.
People don't see that.
I don't think they see
how hard politicians work.
You know, we get into that
theatre of the House.
And they maybe see that,
and the media plays that up.
But behind that are
some people who--
everybody who works really hard
24/7 for their constituents.
And he never asked for
anything back.
And he had such high integrity.
And I loved when,
you know, Brian Mulroney--
another sort of reason I
got into politics--
he always said, you know,
"Michael Wilson made the
tough decision on the GST."
And you know, even
Paul Martin and others
just chastised him
for years and years.
And after 300 speeches,
Paul Martin said,
"It was the right thing to do."
But he didn't even see
it at the time.
And Michael Wilson and
Brian Mulroney
thought a little bit longer down
the road, as did Jim Flaherty.
And I think that's one
of the things
that, as my political mentor,
kind of instilled in me,
that you're not doing
this for yourself.
So, your question about
the money--
it's not why you're doing it.
Or a pay cut. You don't
think in those terms.
You think, "How
do you give back?
How do you look down the
road a little bit
so that you can hand
off the province
in maybe a little bit better
shape than you found it?"
STEVE:
One of Michael Wilson's kids
was lost to suicide
along the way.
And you knew him at
that point, obviously.
PETER:
Yes.
STEVE:
So, he had a
rough go for a while.
PETER:
A rough go.
Cameron he lost in 1995.
So, Michael and I met, I
think, in '87, 1987.
And I worked on
his campaign team,
and I knocked on doors with him.
He worked harder
than anybody, you know.
He asked me to pick
him up at 7:30,
and I wasn't even awake at 7:30.
So I wouldn't even shower.
I'd just scramble
and get in the car.
You know, he was a
champion for mental health
as a result of that.
And that was back at a time
when people really
didn't talk about that.
And I've seen how he's
advocated quietly,
not looking for any celebration,
on behalf of people with
mental health and addiction,
played a leadership role
on many levels.
And if I can connect
a dot to 9/11, you know,
I supported us going and
getting those guys who did it.
But these are kids who--
Canadians who went
to Afghanistan.
And when they came back,
a lot of them suffered from
post-traumatic stress disorder.
We've now lost-- I think
we're closing in on or past
how many that
we lost over there.
STEVE:
Yeah.
PETER:
And it's not just
the individual, obviously.
It's the family and
everyone around.
So, I used, again,
some of the learning
from Michael Wilson, and
I joined True Patriot Love.
And I went on an expedition to
the magnetic North Pole in 2014.
STEVE:
You skied up there.
PETER:
Skied up there, froze my butt.
Even though I grew
up in Montreal,
I can't stand the cold.
STEVE:
How far did you ski?
PETER:
Well, we went to
the 78th parallel.
But let me tell you, it's--
you know, even though it's not
the full, true North Pole--
STEVE:
It's up there.
PETER:
Minus 30, minus 40 every day
with 12 soldiers
who suffered from PTSD.
STEVE:
I notice a red bracelet, red
and white bracelet on your arm.
What's the story with that?
PETER:
Well, 40 percent of Pickering
is multicultural.
And I go a lot to the
Devi Mandir Temple.
And so, this is
a protection thread
that the Hindu
community gives you.
The one they gave me there
at the temple fell off.
And I was knocking on a
door during the campaign,
and the priest from the--
I think it was
the 427 Finch temple--
happened to live there.
And he took my into his little--
He had a little ceremony
and put it on me.
And I think this
protection thread is--
You're not supposed to
take it off, so--
(Laughing)
It's lasted almost a year.
STEVE:
And it's not going anywhere.
PETER:
And it's not going
anywhere till it falls off.
STEVE:
Okay. June 7th, 2018,
election night. Your
first election, I assume?
PETER:
Yes.
STEVE:
So, you win the first time out.
What was that night like?
PETER:
Surreal. Very surreal.
I remember distinctly,
we had a few people in
the hotel room,
as I guess politicians do,
to watch the results.
And I think within 13 minutes,
it said a PC government,
and then a few minutes later,
a PC majority.
And then you wait
for your own results.
And my own results didn't
come in for an hour.
But I had a feeling I
was going to get past there.
But it's obviously
a tremendous feeling.
STEVE:
You are one of those
guys who was attracted to come
or, I guess, courted
to come into public life
by the previous
leader, Patrick Brown.
And in fact, shall we tell a
tale out of school here?
PETER:
Sure.
STEVE:
The night that the world
exploded for Patrick Brown,
you and I were at
an event somewhere.
And we were sitting there
blissfully ignorant
about the fact that a
press conference
was about to be held and the
leader was about to step down.
And then Doug Ford,
of course, came in and won
the leadership
and then the election.
And that's not what you signed
up for. I mean, obviously,
you're making the best
of an awkward situation.
But you signed up to be
somebody who was going to
help Patrick Brown
become the next
premier of Ontario.
How difficult was it
to sort of navigate all of
those choppy waters?
PETER:
Well, first, that
was a fascinating night.
Even rolling back the tape,
I was a little late
for that dinner
because the party had asked me
to sub for Patrick at a speech.
It happened to be
downtown at the Sheraton.
I was close by.
And so I said, "Sure. When
do you want me there?"
And they said, "In 10 minutes."
(Steve laughing)
So, I gave a speech to 75 people
and answered questions
for a while.
So, that was kind of strange,
because he never missed
an event. Tireless worker.
And then you and
I had the discipline
of not looking at our cellphones
until about nine o'clock.
I was not recruited
by the party.
I went to the party.
I put my hand up and said,
"Look, my heart says
I should get involved.
My head says I
should get involved."
And so, it wasn't as
difficult as you might think.
For me, it was very easy,
because I supported the party.
I support the leader.
And I thought it was time
for a change in the province.
Now, it meant that we had to go
through a leadership contest.
I supported Christine Elliott.
I didn't know Doug very well.
But knowing Christine
and certainly her
husband, Jim Flaherty--
Had known him before.
And I thought, with
all the tumult,
that someone with
a safe pair of hands
would be Christine.
Doug was elected,
and I went to work right away.
And I actually met him at
the Pickering Easter parade.
And he's been terrific
to work with.
People just don't understand
how big his heart is,
how good his instincts are,
and how much he cares.
I drove with him
the night that GM announced
the Oshawa plant was closing.
We went out there
right away that night.
We talked to everybody, the
leaders in the community.
This is around eight o'clock.
And on the drive home,
back into Toronto for
him, and I was with him--
he took personal phone
calls for an hour
from individuals who
had just got the news.
And they were GM workers.
I think Jerry Dias may have
given them the cellphone number.
(Laughing)
STEVE:
He gives his
number out to everybody.
PETER:
He gives it out anyway.
So, I thought, you
know, "Here I am
with the premier of Ontario.
And he's taking phone
call after phone call."
Let me tell you,
some of the phone calls
were really emotional
and difficult.
And he listened, and he said,
"I'm going to
do whatever I can."
That doesn't get on the front
page of the Toronto Star.
But I find it so impactful
that this is a guy who
actually takes the time.
And he continues to do that.
STEVE:
Hmm. Did you wonder, though,
that given that
your relationship
had been with his predecessor
and not with him--
And you've just told me you
didn't know him all that well.
Did you wonder whether,
when it came time to
handing out cabinet jobs,
you know, he might lose
your number?
(Peter laughing)
PETER:
Yeah. Well, yeah.
I forgot to give him my
cellphone number.
So I guess he's smarter than me.
You know, I went into this
offering my experiences
and my capabilities
to the party, to the province.
STEVE:
But you knew with
Brown, you'd be in.
You didn't necessarily know
that with Doug on the--
PETER:
Well, no. The thing is
that you can't go in
with any sort of--
I didn't cut any
deals with anybody,
certainly not with Doug
and certainly not with Patrick.
You know, these
are things that you do
because you're doing
them. You want to help.
And let the chips
fall where they fall.
STEVE:
How did you get the call that
you were going to be in cabinet?
PETER:
Got a phone call one night.
Like Vic Fedeli, I won't say
who made that call.
I don't want to betray
any sort of confidences.
But I was thrilled.
I think treasury board--
And most people don't know
what treasury board does.
Really, all the money goes
through treasury board,
all the program spending
and all the capital.
STEVE:
You get to review.
PETER:
We go through it line by line,
and we get to say yes or no and
challenge all the ministers.
And Vic, the minister of
finance, is my vice chair.
There's eight cabinet
ministers on the board.
I'm the chair.
And let me tell you, we go
through line by line.
And so, people are actually
very nice to me now in cabinet.
STEVE:
They want you to
approve their program.
PETER:
They want me to approve it.
So it's actually-- People say,
"Oh, it must be a
tough job." And I said, "No.
I don't get stressed.
I give out stress."
(Steve laughing)
STEVE:
Well, you know, this is
a bit of an exaggeration,
but there's two kind of
cabinet jobs, right?
There's inside jobs
and outside jobs.
And the minister of finance is
very much an outside job.
You run around, and
you give a lot of speeches.
And you're on TV a lot.
And the president
of the treasury board,
which is who you are, is much
more an inside job, right?
It's a lot of meetings inside
this building, and it is
extremely important
but much less high-profile.
So I'm going to ask you a real--
Like, I'm just going to
come at you directly.
When they called you
and said, "We want you
to be president of
the treasury board,"
didn't you wish
they were saying,
"Would you please be the
minister of finance?"
PETER:
I would have done
whatever they asked me to do.
STEVE:
But your first choice
would have been finance.
PETER:
(Laughing) Actually, well,
I would have really done
whatever they asked me to do,
because if you put yourself
in front of the party,
I don't think that's winning.
This is all about strategy.
This is all about team.
In Montreal, where I grew up,
I started
playing hockey at seven.
In Quebec, you're born
with your skates on.
And you become a
Montreal Canadiens fan.
STEVE:
Boo.
PETER:
Yeah. There you go.
I'm looking at
your Boston Red Sox bag.
STEVE:
There were no Blue Jays
when I became a Red Sox fan.
PETER:
Fair enough. Fair enough.
STEVE:
That's my out.
PETER:
Yeah.
STEVE:
The Leafs existed.
PETER:
Yeah. Well, when
you grow up in Montreal--
STEVE:
I know. You have no choice.
PETER:
You have no choice.
But you know, it's
about the team.
This doesn't work,
our democratic system
doesn't work in a party system
without the team.
STEVE:
There are so many people
who may be listening
to this right now
who think politics is a
giant waste of time.
And they disrespect politicians,
and they have no idea
why anybody would want to go
into this miserable line
of work, which you've been in
for a whopping, what,
eight months now?
PETER:
Yeah, yeah. Maybe nine.
STEVE:
How would you respond to that?
PETER:
Well, I'd look at-- You know,
I mentioned Michael
Wilson before.
Here's a guy who did
more than just chancellor
of University of
Toronto and Trinity.
I mean, he gave in
the education space.
He obviously gave
on the political space,
as finance minister
but also in free trade,
where he was an
active participant.
He gave on the mental health.
So I think there are--
If I walk away one day and
the one thing that people say
is that "He came from
the private sector
and he was a bit of a role model
to go in the public sector,
like Michael"
and that helps others do that,
then I'll say that would have
been a successful career.
STEVE:
Hmm. I'm trying to remember.
When you were in New York,
did you not play in a
rock and roll group
or something like that?
PETER:
I did.
STEVE:
You played in a band?
PETER:
Yeah.
STEVE:
What'd you play?
PETER:
Guitar, electric guitar.
STEVE:
Who did you
model yourself after?
PETER:
Well, sometimes, I tried
to sing really high
like Neil Young,
but my favourite band was Cream.
So, I'm really dating myself.
Eric Clapton--
STEVE:
Stop saying
you're dating yourself.
You're younger than me.
(Both laughing)
PETER:
Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.
And I actually got them to see--
I think Jack Bruce passed away.
So, I got to see them at
Madison Square Garden.
So, we would play in
little pubs, etc.
And those were the
tunes that we played.
STEVE:
Are you in a band now?
PETER:
No. No. No time. No time.
STEVE:
It's not happening.
PETER:
No.
STEVE:
What do you do to sort
of get away from all of this?
PETER:
Well, I haven't been able
to get away from all of this.
This is really a 24/7-type job.
But I love to play golf.
I love to fish.
And I love history.
In fact, when I went away
a couple of spring breaks ago,
I reached out to you
and said, you know,
"What are some books
that you'd recommend?"
Of course, they were, like,
these 1,000-page books
on politics. But I
plowed through them.
STEVE:
Was I presumptuous enough
to recommend one of my own?
PETER:
You started there, but then
you were humble enough to say,
"But you probably-- That wasn't
what you were asking about."
STEVE:
Okay. Good. Good.
PETER:
But I did read
your book on Bill Davis,
and it was a great book.
And we had a nice
dinner together
with some of the
participants on that.
And I think that--
you know, I think
getting people to write, like
you do, about political figures
is a really valuable function,
because for students of history,
students of political science
and democracy,
it's important to read about the
good, bad, and the ugly.
And you do very well at that.
STEVE:
Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy,
the guy who's got
an impossible to spell
and pronounce last name,
even for the premier of Ontario.
It's good of you to give us so
much time at Queen's Park today.
Thanks so much.
PETER:
My pleasure, Steve.

JOHN MICHAEL:
So, Steve, do you
start squirming when somebody
starts complimenting
you like that?
STEVE:
Could you tell?
(John Michael laughing)
Yeah.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I could hear it.
STEVE:
I was a little squirmy.
No. He said some very nice
things, but yeah. Yeah.
I should have said, "Thank you."
I should have said, "Thank
you for the compliment."
But you're right. I was feeling
kind of awkward about
the whole thing.
We talked earlier, at
the beginning of this thing,
about whether
or not the personal
is important to find out
in terms of why it motivates
people to get into public life.
And I think the answer
he gave right off the top
about his ancestors, you know,
some of whom came to Canada
and some of whom
went to Venezuela--
and the ones who came to
Canada did way better
than the ones who
went to Venezuela--
I mean, if that isn't a personal
detail which helps explain
his motive for getting
into public life right now,
I don't know what is.
So, yeah, I think all those
kinds of details are pretty key.
I have to tell you, I was also--
I was quite taken with
his reverence
for Michael Wilson, the former
federal finance minister,
the former chancellor at
University of Toronto,
who had just died
not too long before we
did that interview.
And clearly. Mr. Wilson's
influence on Mr. Bethlenfalvy
was still significant.
And he misses him,
and that was clear to hear.
JOHN MICHAEL:
When we did the
interview with Vic Fedeli,
it clearly came through
that there's a lawsuit
going on right now.
Vic Fedeli and Patrick Brown
are probably not on each
other's Christmas card lists.
STEVE:
Correct.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And at least
the way he tells the story,
it didn't sound to me
like Peter Bethlenfalvy
is quite as angry at
Patrick Brown.
STEVE:
No. Peter Bethlenfalvy
doesn't have, I think,
a terrible relationship
with Patrick Brown
in the same way that Vic
Fedeli does right now,
because I don't think
there are any, you know,
big, revealing references
in Patrick Brown's book
about Mr. Bethlenfalvy.
So it's a different
situation altogether.
I mean, I think you can
hear it in his voice.
He got into public life
to do a job,
and he is not going to
be, you know, blown off course
by whatever drama there was
in the leadership fight
or in other, you know,
relationships in Queen's Park.
He's got his head down, and
he's going to do his job
in the way he thinks
is the best way to do it.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, and he mentioned,
you know, he did not support
Doug Ford for the leadership.
And still, he's ended up with
one of the real plum jobs
in terms of the power
he has at cabinet.
I mean, being able to
approve or not
every single dollar that
gets spent at Queen's Park,
that's a pretty big deal.
STEVE:
Well, Premier Ford needs him.
I don't think it's an
exaggeration to say that.
You know, in any government--
And I don't think this is
telling tales out of school.
In any government, there are
a relatively small number of
superstars in cabinet.
There are a lot of people
who get into cabinet
because they represent a
particular area of the province.
There are a small number
of people who get into cabinet
because they really
have the goods.
And you know, by all accounts,
by, you know,
those who know him,
by those who have
learned to respect him,
Peter Bethlenfalvy
is one of those guys.
As he says, he's a numbers guy.
He's good on the numbers.
And he's in cabinet to try to
get the books balanced.
JOHN MICHAEL:
He would have been in a
Progressive Conservative cabinet
no matter who had won
the leadership race last year.
STEVE:
Correct. Regardless.
Okay. A reminder:
Be sure to stick around
to the end of the credits for
our adorable questionnaire.
What did you think of
the show you just heard?
Let us know.
Email us at onpolitics@tvo.org
or tweet at us. I'm @spaikin.
That's S-P-A-I-K-I-N.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And I'm @jm_mcgrath.
STEVE:
And if you like what you heard,
rate and review us on
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We'll read all your comments
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JOHN MICHAEL:
If you haven't already,
subscribe to the #onpoli podcast
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or your favourite podcast app
and share it with your friends.
STEVE:
Today's episode was produced
by Harrison Lowman.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Producer of the series
is Eric Bombicino.
Audio and editing
by Matthew O'Mara.
STEVE:
The #onpoli team is rounded out
by Daniel Kitts and Cara Stern.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Hannah Sung is manager
of digital video and podcasts
here at TVO.
STEVE:
And remember,
politics come at you fast,
so we're here to give
you the bigger picture.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Thanks for listening.

STEVE:
Minister, we have a
little tradition here.
We finish off our
interviews with a quiz,
a questionnaire
that was, I guess,
started by Bernard Pivot
many, many years ago
and then made famous by a
guy named James Lipton
on a TV show called
Inside the Actors Studio.
PETER:
(Laughing) I remember that.
STEVE:
So, we're going
to do it now, okay?
PETER:
Sure.
STEVE:
Here we go. What
is your favourite word?
PETER:
"Believe."
STEVE:
What is your
least favourite word?
PETER:
"Can't."
That's two words, actually.
STEVE:
What is your
favourite curse word?
PETER:
Bull-tucky.
STEVE:
What sound or noise do you love?
PETER:
Birds.
STEVE:
And what sound
or noise do you hate?
PETER:
Hmm. That's good.
What do I hate?
Those screeching subway tires or
whatever they have down there.
That's why we're going
to build light rail.
STEVE:
Get a little plug in there
for the new transit plan. Good.
What profession,
other than your own,
would you like to attempt?
PETER:
I wanted to be a
golf professional so badly,
but I can't putt.
STEVE:
What profession
would you not like to do?
PETER:
That's another
very good question.
What would I not like to do?
Golf professional.
(Steve laughing)
STEVE:
Finally, if heaven exists,
what would you like
to hear God say
when you arrive
at the pearly gates?
PETER:
That you had a good heart
and you did something good for
society and good for people.
So, if he says,
"You did a good job"
and he says, "And now,
meet Peter--"
(Steve laughing)
"--your namesake--"
STEVE:
I got it.
PETER:
--that would be pretty cool.
STEVE:
I got it.
(Music playing)
MAN:
That's great.
STEVE:
Are we on time?
MAN:
Perfect.
STEVE:
Good. Good.
PETER:
Oh, and I lost a few
pounds in this sauna, too.
(Steve laughing)
Whoa.
STEVE:
Yeah. It's warm in here, eh?
PETER:
It's warm.

Watch: Peter Bethlenfalvy: The Money Man