Deborah Coyne on her surprise bid for Liberal leadership

In this Q & A, Coyne explains that while her connection with Trudeau is inevitably part of her story, she sees his vision of federalism as part of a longer lineage of leaders


Deborah Coyne, the Toronto-based lawyer and policy consultant, and mother of the late Pierre Trudeau’s only daughter, launched a surprise bid for the federal Liberal leadership today. True to her reputation for not holding back when it comes to discussing policy, Coyne’s website features her positions on everything from the environment to foreign policy.

She told Maclean’s that her connection with Trudeau is inevitably part of her personal story, but that as a political influence she sees his vision of federalism as part of a longer lineage of Canadian leaders going back to Sir John A. Macdonald. At 57, she hasn’t ever won an election, although she ran in 2006 in Toronto-Danforth, losing to the NDP’s Jack Layton.

Her most memorable foray onto the national political stage came in opposing the Meech Lake Accord, alongside Trudeau, and then leading one of the committees that campaigned successfully against the subsequent Charlotteown Accord, in the 1992 referendum on the constitutional reform package.

She is not close to Montréal MP Justin Trudeau, Pierre Trudeau’s eldest son, who is also contemplating a run for the party leadership. Her daughter Sarah, Justin’s half-sister, is entering her final year of undergraduate studies at a U.S. university, and reportedly won’t be part of her mother’s campaign.

We spoke by phone this morning.

Q: When did you decide to have a run?

A: I’ve been thinking about it since the election in May, when the party really bottomed out. But it’s been clear for a long time that the party has lost it’s raison d’etre. It came together in the last few months.

Q: Do you have a team to support your campaign?

A: I certainly have a lot of supporters and so forth. But that’s what I’ll be spending the next weeks doing—putting together a more formal team and a plan of action.

Q: You have a thorough policy dossier up on your website. Could you comment on just one aspect of it, your focus on the Occupy movement?

A: I’m the kind of person that sees connections everywhere. Last fall you could sense the mood out there, this sense that we’ve lost this social contract, even here [in Canada], although obviously the movement was more successful in the U.S.

But what I find difficult in a federation like ours is that so many people might be interested in pensions, or about employment, but there’s more than one level of government involved. It’s very hard to focus. They should have transparency. We don’t we have EI that isn’t at loggerhead with social assistance.

A lot of what I’ve written about is how you can get more coherence, and accept that the national government has a role to play in all these areas that people are concerned about.

Q: Doesn’t that bring us back to some old fed-prov jurisdictional and constitutional disputes?

A: What I’m talking about is not disputes and tiresome old debates. It’s about collaboration, putting some more structures—not constitutional at all—so we can have more collaboration, such as the do down in Australia.

Q: You environmental policy ideas will remind some Liberals of the disastrous Stéphane Dion campaign of 2008.

A: You’re talking about the so-called “Green Shift” and the fact that I’m putting forward a national carbon tax. The difficulty with Mr. Dion’s tax, and indeed the NDP’s position now, is the criticism that it’s a redistribution of wealth. That’s not what I’m talking about at all. The consensus is amazing, from environmental groups to the corporations, around a carbon tax that is across the country, levied on producers and consumers, in which the revenues go back to the provinces in which they are generated. I’m proposing a more effective way to bring to bear the cost of using fossil fuels.

Q: So you feel you’ve inoculated yourself against the criticism that a carbon tax is just a revenue grab against Alberta and the other oil and gas producing provinces?

A: Well, exactly. The whole idea is not to make money or redistributing money but to bring to bear the cost of using fossil fuels, and the damage of climate change, to all our daily lives.

Q: You seem to be broadly for a strong central government, as opposed to provincial autonomy.

A: The role of the national government is to ensure that all Canadians have access to essential services of comparable quality. We send billions and billions of dollars from the federal government to the provinces to try to achieve this. And yet we keep seeing greater and greater disparities. We need to get back to looking at that fundamental role of the federal government, how it can work with the provinces, but with clear direction to establishing acceptable national standards, whether in heath care or a wide range of services, in a collaborative way.

Q: Why try to revive the Liberal party, rather than urge a merger with the NDP to give voters who are interested in a plausible centre-left alternative to the Conservatives a clear choice?

A: I don’t see that as the obvious solution. I’m in this race because I’m hearing from so many Canadians that they don’t like being polarized, they don’t think it has to be big government and high taxes or small government and low taxes. There’s clearly room for a third party, and I would like to see it be a party of principle that really governs for all Canadians.

Q: You have a lot of ideas, but no track record of winning in electoral politics. Why shouldn’t Liberals look for someone who has won somewhere, at some level?

A: That’s true, I haven’t been elected to Parliament yet. I’ve been in various national debates, if you go back to Meech and Charlottetown. I don’t think that’s a negative. This is about rebuilding the great institution of the Liberal Party of Canada. Eventually I will get elected, the fact that I haven’t found the time or place to do it is also part of politics.

In this video from her website, Coyne explains her motivations:!


Deborah Coyne on her surprise bid for Liberal leadership

  1. obviously the (Occupy) movement was more successful in the U.S.


  2. I’m holding out for Sacha’s inevitable campaign.

    • Let’s have an all-Trudeau cabinet. Not.

  3. “it’s raison d’etre”? Did you guys fire all your proofreaders/editors, or just keep the ones who are not worthy of the job?

    • And this one…You enviromental policy ideas…

  4. At least as well qualified as Celene’s baby brother or Iggy. This is going to be a joke from start to finish. LOL

  5. Well, at least she is one good Liberal woman who has the brains and chutzpah to lead the lugubrious Liberal party. Perhaps she is just throwing her name in the ring to pave the way for her daughter Sarah in Canadian politics.. after all …..

  6. Her candidacy is good news for the Liberals and the country as she has the talent, intelligence and convictions to make a big difference.

  7. Why did Geddes not indicate that the daughter of Coyne is the illegitimate daughter of Pierre Trudeau. That more accurately describes the situation and no sugar coating is going to change the facts and the sordid history of Coyne/Trudeau.
    Having said this here we have another academic elitist wanting to lead the Liberal party. More of the same it could be said. As for her carbon tax. It will never be accepted by Canadians as it is a cash grab. Where does the money from the carbon tax go? Into federal coffers. It will lead to higher inflation with increased interest rates, job layoffs and slowing of the economy. To suggest otherwise is an outright lie, spin, fabrication whatever you want to call it.
    I doubt Coyne has a chance but let her run and further convince Canadians that the Liberal party continues to be arrogant and out of touch with mainstreet Canada.

    • What ‘mainstreet’ are you living on hollinm?

      A lawyer and professor isn’t good enough for you….she is somehow ‘sordid’?

      You’ve gone absurdly over the top with your partisanship, and need your mouth washed out with soap.

      • And your a** kicked repeatedly.

    • I think you should re-read her proposal for the carbon tax.
      The lady will not win but she is a serious person deserving
      of respect.

      • That’s a rather large assumption you’re making…
        ..that he read it in the first place.

    • “illegitimate”. heh.

      • If only Trudeau had fathered another son they could drag out bastard.

        • Bastard can be used correctly in this case as well. It does not need to be a boy.

          • There you go, fill your boots, it will look good on you. All you guys need is a little rope.

          • What issue do you have with the english language?

          • I love it, can’t get enough of it. By the way it’s English, not english.

          • Ooooo, you got me. Bask in that feeling. . . .

          • I think the issue is your ad hominem approach. It would be one thing to use such a tactic against Deborah Coyne (that “thing” being sexism or misogyny), but you are using derogatory language to attack a child who by all accounts was very much loved and recognized by her late father as legitimate.

          • That the child was or was not loved is not an issue here.
            “2. Born out of wedlock.”

            The use here is correct.

          • Wedlock – you’re killing me now. What are thoughts on dowries – gold or livestock?

          • I have no opinion at all. I don’t try to argue what the words mean, however.

          • Definitions may remain the same but there are cultural changes in the use of them that occur over time.

          • Sure, and at the time of that childs conception, it was an appropriate uase of the word, and it still is. What word would you use?

          • Christ. Grow up. You know as well as anybody else that words have connotation as well as meaning, and Tony calling for a word with a particular negative connotation has *nothing* to do with its meaning or with wanting to be clearer.

            It’s like me calling you an anal-retentive grammar nazi. The use here is correct, but it’s the connotation that is problematic.

          • @thwim – first of all – relax.
            Secondly, you are wrong – please check the definition of the words you use. Not correct at all.
            Lastly, until this point in time, I had no idea that this lady had not been married to Trudeau, and I assumed that she was, as I read the article. That was cleared up for me by the word illegitimate. The usage was good, you just don’t like what it means, and what it says about the folks involved. We can agree to disagree about having kids outside of marriage, but we can agree that the English language is what it is.

          • We can also agree that words have meaning beyond the semantic. Illegitimate has implications that there was something wrong done. That’s one of the meanings of the word after all.

          • Yup – we can agree on that. That is why I said that we can use the word, and then argue about its appropriatness. We shouldn’t, however, argue about what the word means, or that it isn’t true. I personally think that it only talks about the parents, not the child. And what this lady has done in the past is relevant if she wants to run the Liberal,party.

          • Only a complete idiot would use the word anal when complaining about the words illegitimate and bastard.

          • How else but anal could you describe someone who insists on using Edwardian terminology to describe a child born – what 20 years ago?

          • As usual, you completely, totally and hopelessly miss the point entirely (even though it could not be more obvious). You seem to live in your own bubble. To compensate, you occasionally utter random blurts to bystanders outside it.

          • Actually, your use of the word “illegitimate” is not correct in these circumstances and PET’s feelings for his child are relevant. He recognized his daughter as his lawful (ie legitimate) offspring. At common law, a child may be “legitimized” by operation of law if the parents marry or if the father acknowledges the child as his child. A legitimated child has the same inheritance rights as any other child of the parent (inheritance being a circumstance in which legitimacy was relevant). In many jurisdictions, however, including Ontario, legislation has been enacted so the terms “legitimate” and “illegitimate” no longer apply: there is no longer a legal difference between children whose parents are married and those whose parents are not. In Quebec, the concept of illegitimacy was abolished from the Civil Code in 1982.

            Next time, ditch the ad hominem and leave the children out of it.

          • @8c855918d8a3bf5f6d61fc1660b9d7ae:disqus : Actually, it was correct (and I didn’t use the word, I am just saying that is was used correctly). The definition that is used in this case is ‘Born out of wedlock’. That is true in this case. That Trudeau acknowledged her birth, and thus has given her rights under common law is not the point. The point is that he and the mother were not married at the time of the birth, therefore the child is illegitimate, or if you want to use a harsher word, a bastard. (Rights being granted to a child does not mean that they were born in wedlock).

            That these words, and their meanings, seem objectionable to you is irrelevant. Feel free to argue all you want the the original poster was being mean or saying something that was besides the point, but don’t try to change the definition of words in the English language.

            A child born to parents who are not married is, by definition, illegitimate, or a bastard. It might sound harsh, and the words are not used anymore in polite circles, but it is accurate and true all the same.

            To say that the reporter let us all know the status of the relationship by writing, “mother of the late Pierre Trudeau’s only daughter” is not true. Just because the word ‘wife’ was not used does not mean we can assume that the child was illegitimate. Saying illegitimate removes all doubt. Now once it is out there, we can all argue if it makes a difference or if it doesn’t.

            It is actually silly that you are all arguing against the definition of a word that anyone can google and see.

          • Wtf – please try to have a point and meaning to a post.

    • You have no evidence to support your assertions regarding the effects of a carbon tax, so what you said is an outright lie, spin, fabrication whatever you want to call it.

      If you read what she said more carefully, she made it clear that the carbon tax revenues would go to provinces. In my book, the revenues should be used to reduce other less efficient taxes, which net/net ought to be beneficial to the economy.

      • The very conservative American Enterprise Institute favours a carbon tax over cap and trade. Of course, Harper prefers doing absolutely nothing.

    • Illegitimate – God that’s hilarious to hear in 2012.

      • Why – has the definition been changed?

        • It’s up there with chaste and harlot.

          • Has their definition changed as well?

          • Yeah. The definition of all three of those words now means that the writer is stuck in the 19th century.

          • Sure, but that doesn’t mean that the word changes meaning. . .

          • Please define harlot for me – I need a few laughs.

    • Indeed, the commoners must know of the wandering eye of our late King? A queen born out of wedlock? Shall we dine also on rain-bows of magick? Shall we not flay those born of midnight pigments? Of course not! Nay, my friend, we true defenders of the Kingdom know that only a legitimate heir shall govern true. For only Prince Justin hath the blood, and the divine right!

      • hilarious – too funny

    • “and mother of the late Pierre Trudeau’s only daughter,” Geebus, Hollinm, it was ON THE FIRST LINE! Do you think that’s how most wives are introduced these days? Plus, being the only daughter, one doesn’t have to tack on “illegitimate” to differentiate this one from the others. And of course, there’s the little matter of how we no longer tar the offspring with that brush.

      • Perhaps because Geddes didn’t include illegitimate in his description the entire sentence failed to register.

      • @2Jenn:disqus – I think that it says something about the parents, and nothing about the child. Can’t see why anyone would see that as having anything to do with how they should view the child. It only says something about the parents.

    • Where does the money from a carbon tax go?
      The green shift suggested it go into an equivalent amount of income tax reductions. That would not lead to higher inflation, increased interest rates, job layoffs or an economic slowdown.
      To suggest otherwise is an outright lie, spin, fabrication whatever you want to call it.

      I dare you respond and rebut this. You won’t. You know you’re wrong.

  8. She sounds like she is a good contender. At least she has a vision, and is transparent about it; unlike our current Harperites!

    • IMHO, tacking on “unlike our current Harperites” cuts into your credibility.

  9. “The sleep of reason produces monsters” – Goya. Is anyone thinking straight, anywhere? Common sense, please come forward.

  10. Her national profile comes from having one of PETS children enough said

  11. When did the “Liberal” party morph into the Manson Family? Who could be better to lead the cult of Trudopians disguised as Liberals then some screeching hag that at some point had sex with the old gargoyle Trudeau Sr. producing another spawn… how very tribal. Whats next for the Trudopian party, a petrified Trudeau turd with a rose stuck in it? If it all wasn’t so pathetic and creepy it would be funny. Yet another example of how the “Liberal” party are not a political party at all, but rather a cultish entity of worship of all things Pierre. Creepy!

  12. It will be interesting to have her in the race — because the one thing that she clearly is, and always has been, is an unabashed Trudeau centralist federalist. That’s why she and PET bonded so intensely on an intellectual level. Her fierce opposition to Meech and Charlottetown were all about that. One of the interesting questions for me is whether, in an era in which (a) Western Canadian power is more of a factor economically and at the voting booth than in PET’s time and (b) the LPC cannot expect to reap vast numbers of seats from Quebec, such staunch centralism can be a political winner.

    • Nice comment…thanks. :-)

  13. I don’t know any more about her than what I read in this article, but who knows. Maybe she would be good for the Liberals. Some new blood certainly couldn’t hurt, and it doesn’t seem like they have a huge slot of potential leaders. . .

    It would have to be awkward for Justin – I don’t care what anyone else says.