On perception: We’re always seen as taking away something. Oddly enough, I think in many instances, we’re actually providing stuff: choice, quality news, kids’ programming. But human nature, you complain when you don’t get [something].
On choice: When I was executive director, every week I would get a letter from a charming elderly woman I’ve never met. I tell you she had a watchful eye – any time a breast would show up on Fashion Television, I would get a letter. I kept explaining to her we don’t have rules. There’s not sexual context. At one point, I finally said “Why don’t you change the channel? Just move on. There’s some good stuff on the other channels.”
On work: I tend to be a bit of an extrovert when brainstorming, and people assume that whenever I throw an idea out on the table, that it’s a decision. No, it’s an idea, and they need to tell me why it’s bad.
On public service: In the private sector at the time in Montreal, [law firms] were trying to do mergers with Toronto firms and working hard at increasing billable hours. … We went from 1,400 billable house when I joined out of school to close to 2,200 hours. It was brutal. And you were supposed to do business development in the meantime. I love the law, but it got to the point you had to show up on Saturday just to be seen. I was quite efficient at doing work and didn’t necessarily need to put the hours in – which is not necessarily good for a business model built on billable hours. When I got here, I fell in love with the public service. There are much better files and they are taking the time.
On television: I’m on the treadmill in the morning with a screen up, and I’ll flip between the morning shows. I’ll also do DVDs in the morning. I just watched Mad Men a few episodes at a time. I got caught up on Amazing Race Canada. Evenings are a bit different – I tend to find it more efficient to PVR because then I can watch two hours in an hour and a half.
On the news: My most productive hours to learn are in the morning. I know some people like breakfast meetings; I don’t do any of that. For me, I’m reading in the morning. So starting early, I’ll read papers and clippings. I get La Presse at home; the rest I do online.
On social media: If we’re going to be on social media and be instantaneous, let’s start answering [questions]. Not in an aggressive tone, just explaining. There are a lot of myths out there. … I don’t mind being accountable for what we do. But I’m not going to be accountable for things we’re not even involved in. It is interesting that some people have in their heads that we are the cause of all the problems of the world. That’s not how it is. You also wonder from a communications perspective if you’re actually feeding the story or not, but most people just say “Oh, I didn’t know that.”
On being a francophone in Toronto: My dad was transferred to Toronto when I was nine and, I can tell you, at that time we were living in Agincourt, and it’s not by accident they called it that – it was to commemorate the loss by the French to the British. There were a few French schools downtown but no way I’d go down there. They did what parents do – they sent us to the local Catholic school. My mom who was a teacher always insisted that at home [we spoke] French. To this day, when I have friends over and we’re doing things around the kitchen, I have no vocabulary in English for the things in the house. Colander – it’s a silly word I’ve learned.
On swimming: It was hard quitting – I quit [competitive swimming] quite late at 19. My coach told me not to come back, and it’s true – I smell chlorinated water and my heart starts beating fast again. I’m like a race horse.
On water polo: I don’t have the physique, the typical big shoulders that water polo guys have. But there were pickup games once a week for fun. We had fun, but I got an elbow in my eye. Next morning, I show up to the commission with a horrible black eye – it’s the old joke: You should see the other guy. But the second time, I got knocked out. You don’t want to be unconscious under water.
On flying: I don’t actually believe planes can fly – I’m a nervous flier. Every time I’ve managed to deal with fear, an event occurs. When I was at Heritage [Canada], I was flying from London to Vancouver and an hour out from London, they said we have to turn around. They didn’t tell us the problem, but apparently it was a massive hydraulics failure. We got to Heathrow [airport], and there were emergency vehicles on both sides. They braked with the wings, because the brakes were not working. They rebooked us – said they could fix [the plane] and take off. … I said I don’t care, I’m getting off.
On leisure: I like to go to dinner and go see a play. I like to golf during the summer. I love gardening. There’s nothing that relaxes me more than mowing my lawn. It’s quick impact. Frankly, if I have the time, I will cross mow it, because it is pretty. I like to go see my parents – my dad retired on a lake. It’s not a cottage, it’s a house we built together. I built my own deck with my dad, beautiful red cedar.
On socks: I have very loud socks on today. They are good, aren’t they? The funny thing about socks – you’re expected to dress in a certain way at a function. With socks, most of the time they are under the table and hidden. You can have a bit of fun and nobody knows. I probably have more socks than anything.
On casual dress: I’ve been wearing a tie since I was 14. … And I love cufflinks. They are all over, if you know what you are looking for – I was in London, the land of Paul Smith, and you actually have to control yourself.
Comments have been edited and condensed.