Shelly Glover was in a terrible position: 18 and pregnant, she had to leave her Winnipeg home. Raised Catholic, she couldn’t bring herself to tell her parents. They eventually found out from her doctor, while she went off to a school for pregnant teens and found an apartment where she lived on her own.
Years later, she ran into some of her old schoolmates. Glover was a police officer by then, doing undercover duty posing as a sex-trade worker. Her old classmates were prostitutes. Her cover was blown. “I came from some pretty humble beginnings,” she told the Globe and Mail in an interview this week.
That said, nothing could mask the excitement in her voice this week after being named to one of the country’s top political jobs. “When I look back and think about where I’ve come from and where I’ve been and where I’m going, it’s been just an incredible, incredible experience,” she said. “Only in Canada.”
Glover, 46, was sworn into the federal cabinet on Tuesday, named Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. She has parachuted into a role that includes responsibility for the arts, culture, the CBC and sports. Her dedication to sport – she played and coached soccer – is well established. She is bilingual and committed to safeguarding minority language rights.
The arts – dance in particular – figured prominently in her upbringing, she says. But when asked during a brief interview about her recent cultural calendar, Glover didn’t have much to offer.
She inherits the portfolio at a critical juncture, and has big shoes to fill. Budget cuts implemented last year, to be phased in over three years, include a 10 per cent cut to the CBC and a substantial reduction to the department itself. So the arts community – which received a reprieve last year when Canada Council for the Arts funding was maintained (it was cut slightly this year) – is watching nervously to see if Glover has the right stuff for the job. Her predecessor, James Moore, now the Industry Minister, set a high bar: he had considerable clout at the cabinet table, and earned the grudging respect of Conservative-wary cultural types.
Glover was born in Saskatoon and moved to Winnipeg at the age of four. She is of Metis origin, and participated in an early French immersion program. With English speaking parents, her homework included listening to French radio – Radio-Canada’s CKSB.
Things were not good at home. Alcohol was a “big problem,” and she witnessed “many, many physical altercations” between her parents, she told CBC Radio’s DNTO in an interview last year. She recounted a story where, at 15, she came home and saw what she thought was red Kool-Aid in the snow on the driveway. It was in fact a pool of blood – her mother had stabbed her father. In that same interview, Glover disclosed that her sister became addicted to crack. By 18, Glover was pregnant. She ultimately raised five kids – three biological children and two stepchildren with her second husband, Bruce, but she goes out of her way not to make a distinction among the kids. They range in age from 21 to 32.
“To think a pregnant teenager can work hard and commit to serving the public and eventually think big and dream big and get to positively make change in her country through this kind of a role, I’m pretty proud.”
Glover studied justice and law enforcement at the University of Winnipeg but did not graduate. She joined the Winnipeg Police Service, where assignments included undercover work. That night where she met up with her old friends from the home for pregnant teens was a real eye-opener.
“I realized I could have gone down another track,” she told the CBC. “I could have just as easily been them, were it not for my drive to succeed in school and go on to become a police officer.”
In her almost 19 years of active duty on the force, she also worked on child-abuse investigations, youth crime and gang investigations, general patrol. She ultimately became a media spokesperson for the WPS.
So when she decided in 2006 to take a leave of absence to run for the Conservative Party nomination in the Winnipeg riding of St. Boniface, she was already a familiar face (she is still on leave). She was elected in 2008 and again in 2011, and has served as parliamentary secretary, and a member of the Heritage Committee.
She raised some eyebrows during the 2011 campaign when she told a reporter that the Liberal incumbent in another Winnipeg riding, then 68, had “passed her expiry date.” There were cries of ageism. Glover said she was not referring to Anita Neville’s age, but to her performance as an MP.