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Liberal Heritage Minister puts partisanship aside to learn from Tory predecessor

They are politicians with different styles, from different parties. But new Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly made a pilgrimage to Winnipeg on Wednesday to talk over the portfolio with her Conservative predecessor, Shelley Glover.

That's unusual in Canada, where outgoing ministers from defeated governments typically shred documents and pack up, leaving transition to a new party in the hands of civil servants. Occasionally, a departing minister leaves a letter behind. But in this case, Ms. Joly and Ms. Glover met face to face.

"It was very open, human and she was very generous," Ms. Joly said after the meeting, adding that she hopes it will encourage others in politics to do the same. "I wanted to take a non-partisan approach. As a woman in politics, I wanted to benefit from her experience."

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It's not as though Ms. Joly and her predecessor would see eye to eye on everything, or that this marked the end of partisanship. Ms. Joly told The Globe and Mail last week that she sees her department as the "ministry of symbols," and believes that the Conservatives shifted some of the symbolism in ways that were out of line with Canadian values. There are clearly cultural differences on the country's cultural policy.

But Ms. Joly is trying to show she wants to do politics in a different way. She issued a statement saying she wanted to meet with Ms. Glover "as women engaged in the advancement of culture," and that it is "part of an approach based on listening and respect for past experience."

But it took two, and it's notable that Ms. Glover was willing to meet. The former police officer has complained about the hyper-partisan, scorched-earth nature of politics, once telling the Ottawa Citizen, "when there are partisan lines, boy, the respect really does stop at those partisan lines and that's unfortunate."

Ms. Joly said she thinks Ms. Glover met her because she values public service, but also because some of the files she left behind are close to her heart, such as Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations. Ms. Joly said she'll have to make some early decisions about those issues, so she wanted to hear Ms. Glover's views.

The two ministers have very different public images. Ms. Glover, 48, was a Winnipeg police sergeant who served on the force for 19 years, working undercover, investigating child-abuse cases and serving as the police press spokesperson before she entered politics as the MP for Saint Boniface. Ms. Joly, 36, is a lawyer who studied at Oxford, ran a PR firm and made a nearly successful longshot bid for Montreal's mayoralty in 2013.

And Ms. Joly is clearly interested in changing things, beyond Liberal promises to increase funding in cultural institutions such as the CBC, the Canada Council and the National Film Board.

Last week, Ms. Joly told The Globe that the Conservatives "didn't have the same vision and values as Canadians" and changed some national symbols in ways that were out of touch.

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On Wednesday, she pointed to Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion's decision to order the removal of the portrait of the Queen installed by former Conservative minister John Baird in the foyer of the Foreign Affairs department – and to have the Alfred Pellan paintings that once graced that wall remounted – and noted her agreement.

"It's clear that the symbols of progressiveness are important," she said.

Ms. Joly said she didn't discuss that with Ms. Glover, but obviously they wouldn't agree on everything. "There are decisions that are based on our political opinions, and decisions based on our values … but there are also decisions that are beyond politics," she said.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More


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