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‘Plane Talk’ with Jason Kenney: Leadership ambitions and regrets

Watch: Employment Minister Jason Kenney heads up into the clouds with Tom Clark for a little ‘Plane Talk’.

Away from his employment and social development file, Employment Minister Jason Kenney took to the Ottawa skies for a little ‘plane talk,’ where he opened up about his liberal past, his regrets and — that burning question — whether he wants to be prime minister.

Here are some highlights from the interview, which can be read in full below:

On changing political affiliations:

“When I got to university, I started to read more broadly, both in terms of political philosophy but also contemporary politics and I started to realize that, actually, my thinking lined up broadly with conservative thinking.”

Gunning for top office? 

“I don’t get fixated on those long-term things. I think the politicians that do, do a terrible disservice to themselves.”  

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Regret in personal life:

“I had a phenomenal grandfather who was like a mentor to me …  I wish I had spent more time with him.”

Alternate career: Teaching

 

A full transcript of the interview is pasted below:

Tom Clark:

Jason Kenney, good to have you in the plane.

Jason Kenney:

Great to be here, Tom.

Tom Clark:

I’ve got a few questions for you that we’ve got to go through.  Who is your biggest political hero?

Jason Kenney:

Living hero or at any time?

Tom Clark:

At any time.

Jason Kenney:

My biggest hero, I’ve got his picture on my wall, is a guy called William Wilberforce.  He was a British parliamentarian for 40 years, most of his life actually in the British Westminster Parliament and he’s the guy who led the campaign that ended slavery in the British Empire.

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Tom Clark:

You used to be a Liberal.

Jason Kenney:

Yes, I did.

Tom Clark:

What changed?

Jason Kenney:

I was brushed by reality.  You know what, the Canada that I grew up in, in the ‘70’s and ‘80s, it seemed to me that when I look back on it, the political debate ranged all the way from the left to the centre left.  I mean there was not a lot of diversity of thought in the Canadian political culture at the time. And when I got to university, I started to read more broadly, both in terms of political philosophy but also contemporary politics and I started to realize that actually my thinking lined up broadly with Conservative thinking.

Tom Clark:

Do you ever want to be prime minister?

Jason Kenney:

Tom, you know, I don’t get fixated on those long-term things.  I think the politicians that do, do a terrible disservice to themselves. I’m running the largest department of the Government of Canada and I’ve got two or three full-time jobs.

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Tom Clark:

You’ve never thought about it.

Jason Kenney:

I’ll tell you this, if I were fixated on it, I wouldn’t be able to do my job properly.

Tom Clark:

Under what circumstances do you lie?

Jason Kenney:

Well, I got some training from the Jesuits at university.  You know they know how to parse words, but I would say probably like a lot of people, probably if I lie, it’s probably to myself generally, like I’m going to get up a couple of hours earlier than expected tomorrow.  Tomorrow, I’m going to start my exercise and diet regime.  Those are probably my fibs.

Tom Clark:

If you had one regret in your professional life, what would that be?

Jason Kenney:

In my professional life?

Tom Clark:

Professional and personal life.

Jason Kenney:

Well, the personal regret, one comes to mind, I had a phenomenal grandfather who was like a mentor to me.  Mark Kenney was his name.  He was the biggest big band dance band leader in Canada in the 1930s and ‘40s.  He was a superstar in his time and he was also a really passionate Canadian nationalist, a lifetime member of the Liberal party, I should add.  And he had so much wisdom, such a gentle and wise man.  I wish I had spent more time with him.  I think when you get to a certain age, those are the kinds of regrets you start to have.  Professionally, yeah I guess if I have a regret it’s that sometimes I’ve allowed myself to get caught up in the fray too much.  I try to … if you watch me in question period, you’re generally going to find me quietly working at my desk and actually not getting into the hooting and hollering and cat calling.

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Tom Clark:

That’s true.

Jason Kenney:

And I think I need to be even a little bit more disciplined about that.

Tom Clark:

If you weren’t doing politics, what would you want to do next?

Jason Kenney:

Honestly, when I was younger, I always had this idea about going out to the third world and doing development work but I don’t think they’d find me very useful. One thing that I absolutely love, I may perhaps take after my father, who was an educator, a teacher, is I love going into school classrooms, be it elementary, secondary or even university classes, and I just love connecting with young people. I’m very passionate about transmitting ideas. So I’d also love perhaps something in the teaching vocation.

Tom Clark:

Look, I asked this question to Justin Trudeau when he was in the plane and just so I’m completely balanced, I’ll ask you the same question. What product do you use in your hair?

Jason Kenney:

Oh, come on. You know, that’s the most absurd comparison, comparing my hair to Justin’s.  Now come on, I know why you asked Justin, but whatever I pick out of the shoe box that is filled with those little hotel shampoo containers. Call me a cheapskate.

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Tom Clark:

What’s the nicest thing you could say about Justin Trudeau?

Jason Kenney:

He’s a nice guy. He’s obviously passionate about this country and his family. And obviously growing up as he did, had a pretty unique perspective on Canada that most of us will never have.

Tom Clark:

Tom Mulcair?

Jason Kenney:

He is obviously super smart. He is a very effective parliamentarian in the sense of orator and rhetorician and he knows his issues. I do think he’s a great performer in question period. I think he’s…I mean don’t quote me on this…

Tom Clark:

Oh no, I won’t, it’ll stay between you and me.

Jason Kenney:

Ha ha, but I think he’s a strong leader of the Opposition in the sense of opposing. I think the other side of … I mean in the sense of holding the government to account, I think he does a good job.

Tom Clark:

Listen, I wanted to give you the opportunity to fly the plane. Have you ever flown a small plane before?

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Jason Kenney:

I have not.

Tom Clark:

Well let’s give it a shot. You ready?

Jason Kenney:

Sure.

Tom Clark:

OK, so put your feet on the pedals.

Jason Kenney:

All right.

Tom Clark:

Okay, now I’ll just take you through a couple of manoeuvres. So, if we push on this pedal here, the right pedal, it just sort of yaws over.

Jason Kenney:

Sorry, the right pedal is?

Tom Clark:

The right pedal takes us to the right.

Jason Kenney:

OK, that’s where I tend to go.

Tom Clark:

Ha ha, well let’s do a full left turn then. If you want to go up, just pull back a little bit.  Sit and pull back with me.

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Jason Kenney:

Woah.

Tom Clark:

And if you want to do down…

Jason Kenney:

Woah…ha ha.

Tom Clark:

You OK?

Jason Kenney:

That’s great.

Tom Clark:

Not too high because now we’re in the clouds.

Jason Kenney:

Oh yeah, now we’re in the clouds.

Tom Clark:

It’s foggy enough in the business that you and I are in, we don’t need any more.

Jason Kenney:

This reminds me, my dad was a fighter pilot in the RCAF and he always talked about the kind of mystical experience of flying, especially by himself you know. And I now have a little taste, touch of what he was referring to. Yeah, I’m getting a little more self-confident here at the wheel.

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Tom Clark:

I’m getting worried. I may not get the plane back from you now. It is a great sight isn’t it?

Jason Kenney:

Yeah, it’s brilliant.