Peter Kent reflects on journalism, politics
Sean Chase/Daily Observer Former Conservative environment minister Peter Kent (second from right) addressed party faithful at a dinner Friday night at the Germania Club. Joining Kent, who had an accomplished career in journalism before entering politics, are Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant and her husband, Jamie, and Conservative riding president Steve Carson (right).
When people hear the name Peter Kent they immediately think back to when the accomplished journalist anchored “The National” and the evening Global News broadcasts.
Since 2008, Kent has lived a second life as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Thornhill, Ontario becoming one of the very politicians he once grilled as a dedicated television reporter. The former environment minister brought his unique perspective from both sides of the fence to a dinner hosted by the Renfrew Nipissing Pembroke Conservative riding association Friday night at the Germania Club in Pembroke.
“I am a late-in-life politician but not a late-in-life Conservative,” Kent said after shaking hands with party faithful prior to the dinner’s formalities beginning.
Kent was born in a Canadian Army hospital in Sussex, England during the Second World War. Both his parents were serving with the Canadian Army. The family moved to Canada and settled in Medicine Hat, Alberta. The media was something that was in the family’s blood as Kent’s father was employed as an associate editor of the Calgary Herald. His younger brother, Arthur, covered the 1991 Gulf War for NBC earning the nickname “scud stud.”
The 74-year-old began his career as a radio journalist in the early 1960s. He then moved to television, joining Calgary station CFCN-TV in 1965 and subsequently worked for CBC Television, CTV, Global, NBC and The Christian Science Monitor's television newscast. A member of the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame, he has garnered several awards including four Emmy nominations. In 2006, he ran for Parliament placing second in the Toronto riding of St. Paul’s. Two years later, he defeated Liberal incumbent Susan Kadis in Thornhill.
“Journalism was a great career,” explained Kent. “I met my wife that way and saw the world that way, but even a bad day in opposition as a politician trying to make public policy is more satisfying than just talking about it.”
He contended that the golden age of journalism has long past noting that social media has rapidly changed the institution and not for the better. Sometimes Kent receives gentle teasing from former colleagues now in the House of Commons press gallery including Julie Van Dusen. While he wouldn’t have changed his decision, Kent conceded it was a harder transition than he anticipated. That was certainly the warning he received from Liberal MP Ken Dryden, the former NHL hall-of-famer.
“He’s a really thoughtful guy and he was in office before I got there,” recounted Kent. “His riding was right next door to mine and he said ‘it’s not going to be as easy as you think’ and he was right.”
While the House of Commons is currently engulfed in some of the fiercest partisan fighting in years, over conflict-of-interest allegations against finance minister Bill Morneau or the Liberal plan to re-integrate ISIS terrorists trying to return to Canada, Kent said behind-the-scenes is a different story.
“There are some folks who don’t get along but in committee work I have found we can be very collegial and get things done and still raise our voices at each other in Question Period,” he said.
Thanking the riding association for their hospitality, Kent lauded Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant as a “great caucus colleague and a great Conservative.” Federal riding president Steve Carson said it was important to have someone of Kent’s calibre come to speak to the membership.
“It’s an honour to have Mr. Kent here,” said Carson. “He’s been around the world and seen a lot of things.”
Although the next general election isn’t until 2019, the feeling in the room is that the Trudeau Liberals have given their opponents lots of ammunition when they go to the polls. However, while it has been a Tory stronghold since 2000, Carson said they can never take this riding for granted.
“We can’t let our guard down,” he said. “We have to keep working at it.”