Kellie Leitch already had a lot on her plate.
The woman who is now the federal Labour Minister and Minister for the Status of Women has been pulling double duty since being elected to Parliament in 2011.
In addition to her job as MP, a profession that can be all-encompassing, Dr. Leitch, 43, has been keeping up her credentials as a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. Once every seven days she is on-call from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Ottawa-area kids who need an orthopedic consultation or emergency surgery between those hours could find themselves in the care of Dr. Leitch.
And even though she now has a portfolio in the Harper cabinet – albeit a junior one – she has no plans to give up the hospital duty. Dr. Leitch said this week that she will return to the operating room as soon as she gets the go-ahead from the federal Ethics Commissioner.
Medicine is her calling. But then, so is politics.
“My parents were both involved significantly in the Kinsmen and Kinettes as well as the YMCA rebuilding our local swimming pool,” Dr. Leitch said. “So community and public service was something that was ingrained in me as a child.”
But it was a call from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in 2006 asking her to chair a three-person panel to create the child fitness tax credit that really started her thinking about running for office.
“It was the first time that I was able to take my professional career and apply what I knew to good public policy and it made me start to reflect and think about what I could do in the future,” Dr. Leitch said.
“I am very privileged as a pediatric orthopedic surgeon,” she said. “I get to see kids in clinic and get them from my office back on the playground. Which is amazing. But even though my clinic’s really busy, you only see so many kids.”
In politics, Dr. Leitch said, you can affect the lives of millions.
On the other hand, in medicine, the principles of science are applied to finding a cure for an ailing body. In politics, principles are not always so readily defined and often give way to gamesmanship.
As a member of a Conservative government that has often clashed with unions – and, indeed, seems to relish those confrontations – Dr. Leitch will undoubtedly find herself in the hot seat more than once over the next two years.
To this point, her life has been more steeped in science than controversy.
Born in Winnipeg, her family moved to Fort McMurray, Alta., when she was four years old.
She became a doctor at the age of 23, but then went off to get an MBA while completing her residency in orthopedic surgery. In 2002, Dr. Leitch started practice at the University of Western Ontario/London Health Sciences Centre in London, Ont., where she was named chief of pediatric surgery and assistant dean of the school of medicine. She became chair of the centre for health innovation at the Richard Ivey School of Business in 2009.
Once she decided to make the plunge into politics, there was no question about her allegiances. Her parents were strong Conservatives and she has been active in the party since she was 14.
“I was very comfortable running for the Conservative party because of the ideas that they put forward,” Dr. Leitch said. “By making sure that Canadians have jobs and the opportunity to grow their own businesses – my father runs a small construction company and my brother participates in that now – you then are able to take care of those who are disadvantaged.”
Her coming out as a star candidate for the Tories in the riding of Simcoe-Grey – a riding in which she ran against Helena Guergis, the former Conservative minister for the status of women who had been booted from the party after a string of controversies – was attended by the likes of former premier Bill Davis. Despite Ms. Guergis’s name on the ballot, Dr. Leitch won the seat with nearly 50 per cent of the vote.
Now she has leaped over many backbenchers with far more tenure to take a spot at the cabinet table.
NDP labour critic Alexandre Boulerice said that, over the past two years, all of the government’s “dirty work” against labour organizations was done by backbenchers, and not former Labour Minister Lisa Raitt.
“I would ask Madame Leitch to get control of the caucus. This is her file, and unlike Madame Raitt, she should be leading.”
Dr. Leitch said she has already started conversations with organizations like the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Auto Workers and thinks she has found some common priorities – issues that are important to her as a doctor.
“Everyone wants to make sure that it is a productive workplace, whether it be focusing on mental health or making sure that we prevent injuries in the workplace,” Dr. Leitch said. “The best-case scenario for Canadians is they come to work, they know it’s safe, they know there’s no harassment, they can be productive on the job. That only helps the Canadian economy. And it means they go home to their families.”