Almost two decades ago, I wrote a book about why so many otherwise sensible people are attracted to entering politics. What was this seductive call to which so many people felt the need to respond?
I talked to about 100 politicians from coast to coast to coast, from all levels of government, and one of them was a guy who was turning heads all over the place. He was the mayor of Winnipeg, and in fact the first openly gay chief magistrate of any large city in North American history.
That alone made him worth talking to. But it quickly became apparent during our conversation in the mayor’s office that Glen Murray was different. He had a level of passion for the job and a kind of commitment to improving the lives of his constituents that you don’t often see in public life. He could wax on with great specificity about intricate details of, say, the latest public housing deal just signed with the senior levels of government. You could see the genuine excitement he felt about how these new housing units were going to change the lives of Winnipeggers.
He also almost never stopped talking.
As long as I’ve known Glen Murray, he’s always featured that mix of seeming to be so excited to share the newest details of his latest triumph that he just can’t help himself. No one else gets a word in edgewise.
When he was Ontario’s minister of colleges and universities, he began his first meeting with the province’s university presidents by saying how excited he was to meet them and that he had come to listen to their ideas and suggestions since they were the experts in the sector.
Murray continued to talk for almost an hour. Then he looked at his watch and son of a gun, how did the time get away from us? He left, barely letting any of the presidents ever get a word in.
That kind of thing happened frequently, giving Murray a reputation as a brilliant but flaky partner in government.
When Dalton McGuinty resigned the premiership, Murray threw his hat into ring to replace him as Liberal Party leader.
That leadership campaign may have been Murray’s finest moment in politics. Debate after debate, he demonstrated he was head and shoulders better than all the other candidates when it came to knowing his stuff and presenting it in a passionate way. But Murray dropped out and endorsed the eventual winner, Kathleen Wynne, the day after our interview, realizing that being the smartest (and sometimes most annoying) guy in the room doesn’t necessarily translate into delegate votes at a convention.
Still, after Wynne won the leadership, she included him in her cabinet from Day One and eventually made him her minister for the newly christened ministry of the environment and climate change, giving Murray the ultimate political mission of his lifetime. When the Liberals implemented a cap-and-trade plan, Murray’s fingerprints were all over it. As with most things in politics, it’ll probably take a decade to determine how transformational the policy truly is. In the short run, the government sold out its first allotment of carbon permits under the plan. When that happened, I never saw Murray prouder or happier.
But politics is filled with constant ironies, and even though he almost certainly had nothing to do with it, Hydro One did purchase the Avista energy company, thus giving it partial ownership of a coal plant in Montana. If Murray’s influence has any coattails, Hydro One will figure out how to shut down or convert that plant to something greener as soon as possible.
Without making any comment on his policy decisions, I would say Glen Murray was the kind of politician I enjoyed covering. The combination of his big brain, mixed with the numerous comments of his cabinet colleagues who thought he was slightly nuts, made him genuinely interesting.
And at the end of the day, how many politicians can we really say that about?
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