A Profile on Patty Hajdu

(3rd draft)

When my cell phone rang at the stroke of 3:30 p.m., I was pleasantly surprised to hear Patty Hajdu’s voice on the other end. I had assumed that the call would begin with her Public Affairs Officer, Léonie Roux; the one I had set up our telephone interview with. After a minute of exchanged pleasantries, I requested that we get on with the interview. I only had fifteen minutes. The initial half hour face-to-face interview I had landed had been switched to a fifteen minute telephone call. Patty Hajdu is one busy woman.

As I launched into my interview questions, I felt an immediate connection with Ms. Hajdu. Her serious matter-of-fact answers were laced with spikes of passion especially when my questions touched on the subjects of the plight of women and the challenges of marginalized people in our society. If ever someone’s image matched their energy it was Patty Hajdu; the spunky, no nonsense haircut she sports reflects the attitude of this capable woman. I picked up on something else during that phone call — a sense of urgency; she understood that she had a lot of work ahead of her, and the clock was ticking.

I thought back to November 4, 2015, a day on which Hajdu’s face bore the raw emotions she struggled to hold back as she stepped forward to be sworn in as the Member of Parliament Thunder Bay-Superior North, and Minister of Status of Women. As I sat at home watching, I unleashed the tears she held back. She had made it. Though I had never met her, I felt proud of her; she was realizing her destiny. During our telephone conversation, she recalled how as she crossed the floor of Rideau Hall her thoughts strayed to her partner, her two sons, and step-daughter who sat looking on in the audience. “I felt fortunate for their presence — for the democratic system they were witnessing — and for the achievement I had reached through hard work and a little luck,” she states.

Patty Hajdu has secured a place at the table in Ottawa. Her trademark rants as an advocate have a new audience — perhaps a more adversarial and intimidating audience than before, but she admits, “I am learning to adapt while maintaining my standards of communication.”

Her-story begins in a doorway at work in Thunder Bay in 2014. She stood with a colleague discussing an issue — voicing her concerns — advocating as usual. As Executive Director of Shelter House Thunder Bay, this was an everyday occurrence. As her colleague listened to Patty express support for the issue being discussed, she suggested that Patti consider running for office. It was the affirmation Hajdu needed to make the decision to proceed. In the past she had come to the brink of this decision to be pulled back by familial obligations as a single mother with young sons; the timing wasn’t right. But, now it was. She was now able to commit to what it would take to pursue her goal. She set out to choose a party that would best fit with her ideologies. She did her homework; she read communications, and followed party leaders in the news and on social media. She met with local representatives. All the information gathered led her to the decision of the Liberal Party of Canada — the party Hajdu describes as pragmatic. A characteristic she easily recognizes as she looks in the mirror.

The decision to run meant that Hajdu would have to step away from her position as Executive Director of Shelter House Thunder Bay. Her grassroots fight in Thunder Bay would now take on a broader, political, battle cry on behalf of those in our society who scream in silence. The challenges that life had dealt her personally would become the armor that she would wear into battle. She had literally pulled herself up by the boot straps; fighting her way out of poverty through education and perseverance.

And so it began. Her campaign was underway. A youthful vibe was building throughout her campaign as was reflected in the social media platforms, public appearances, and interviews calling for change. I was intrigued. I made a point to watch her interviews. I listened carefully as she debated against the other candidates. I came to the realization that this woman was the real deal. If anyone could make a difference in Ottawa, she would. So, along with the other voters of Thunder Bay-Superior North I heeded the call. Taking 45% of the vote in her riding, Patricia A. Hajdu became the first female Member of Parliament from Thunder Bay-Superior North.

Is it a coincidence? Is it serendipity? Or is it good politics? In 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau appointed the first Minister responsible for the Status of Women. His choice hailed from the riding of Thunder Bay-Nipigon — Robert Andras, PC. On November 4, 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Patty Hajdu, PC, and Minister of Status of Women from the riding of Thunder Bay-Superior North. Patty Hajdu recognized this parallel, and paid homage to Mr. Andras in her maiden speech to the House of Commons on January 25, 2016. She has picked up the baton, and as she said, “will continue this tradition with pride and commitment to her constituency.”

On February 12, 2016 the Liberal Party of Canada will mark 100 days in office. My reminder of this was superfluous. Minister Hajdu describes the journey thus far as being in the middle of a huge learning curve. She credits the vast amount of support available to new members in the way of orientation, and policy direction as instrumental to the transition into her new position(s). The party’s whip is a valued source of advice for the new Member of Parliament and Minister. She agrees that if needed she could approach Prime Minister Trudeau for guidance as he does personify a boss with an open door policy. That need has not arisen — yet.

Eight minutes into our conversation we were interrupted. I heard a muffled voice ask something of Minister Hajdu. She quickly asked for a moment to deal with the situation and put me on hold. Upon returning to our phone call, I could sense by the tone of her voice that she was clearly agitated with the interruption. She apologized to me. I assured her it was more than okay but was grateful for the validation her annoyance provided me. I continued with my interview. I asked if she would be assisting with the Ministry of Canadian Heritage as the Orders in Council initially indicated, she reiterated that Prime Minister Trudeau has made the Ministry of Status of Women a full ministry. Hajdu stated, “The Ministry of Canadian Heritage is like an umbrella to which my ministry falls under”. Hajdu deems Minister Mélanie Jolie a colleague; “we do not work in silos” she added.

Patty Hajdu may not be a well-known name yet in this new playing field, but her role as one of the lead Ministers on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry will certainly change that. She is sure to bring her experiences in the trenches of working with women that were just seeking protection and a glimmer of hope for a better life. Their voices will undoubtedly be the ones she hears in her head during the inquiry.

The challenges facing women that are new Canadians is another reality for Minister Hajdu. They may have varying social locations but one common need — economic security. Minister Hajdu states, “They need to be able to provide, and to be independent.” They come here to be safe, and to be able to raise a family. “What they need is the ability to generate an income.” For new immigrants, housing, and language are challenges, but mostly employment; “Working 2–3 part-time jobs because they do not have the education, means they have less time for their families — children that need them.”

In 2016, Social Media provides a soapbox for anyone to be heard — but is it an accurate pulse of our nation? Minister Hajdu cautions that it is “A” pulse, but as with any media coverage it can be distorted, and at times it is, “the loudest voice that gets heard.” From a perspective of reaching people that may not utilize newspapers or radio for information it is good. “It doesn’t necessarily reflect the majority of people.” Throughout her campaign, and presently she has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She credits her 21 year old assistant for urging her to branch out. “I have less freedom to comment now”, she openly remarks, “We use it to post photos of events.”

In her new position, travel has understandably increased. With this comes many hours to catch up on reading. Having completed her Masters of Public Administration from the University of Victoria in 2015 (via correspondence) Patty is now able to squeeze in some pleasure reading. When I asked her what types of books fell into this category, she identified Margaret Atwood as a longtime favorite, adding she recently has spent some time reading, Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis over Christmas break, and is currently occupying her spare time with a Paul Clancy novel about a neurosurgeon. She went on to describe herself as a “voracious reader.” Her reading prowess accounts for her word choice and ease of tongue when speaking.

Patty Hajdu moved to Thunder Bay at the age of 13. She was living on her own by age 16. She completed high school with the support of the teachers at Port Arthur Collegiate Institute, and went on to receive Bachelor of Arts at Lakehead University. The 35+ years that she has called Thunder Bay home, makes it easy for her to identify area of growth, and challenge she has witnessed. “Our culture was so mono-tone when I was a girl — there was not the vibrant youth there is today.” She adds that the arts & culture is now reflected in the many different types of restaurants, reading material, and food now available. The focus on employment is also diversified. “Resource extraction will remain a big part, but we are fostering innovation a lot better.” The challenge she indicates is, “The treatment of the most vulnerable in our community.” Her voice reflects her passion and frustration of this issue as she expounds on the fact it is still viewed as, “a problem we must manage”. She wants to, “pull together with municipal leaders to build a foundation.” In her previous roles she experienced division — people wanted to determine whose fault it was. “This problem has to be addressed head on.” In her matter of fact way she states, “We need to look at it as an economic driver of this country.”

“Canada has a long way to go. There is gender wage equality — and only 17% represented in boardrooms.” Minister Hajdu quips when asked about our treatment of women in this country. As for an existing model that she would like to see Canada follow, she refers to Iceland’s gender diversification. However quickly adding, “Our Prime Minister is for gender equity, and not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it drives a healthy economy.”

It is still early days for Minister Patty Hajdu. She has indeed earned her place at the table. She has hit the ground running, and is ready to take on Goliath. She did not need a campaign slogan to explain her reason why; she has experienced it firsthand. Matt Pascuzzo is Patty Hajdu’s Executive Assistant, and was her Campaign Director. When asked what three words describe Minister Hajdu, he stated without hesitation: “Dedicated-Strong-Advocate”

The three words that struck me during the fifteen minute interview with Minister Hajdu are: Intersection — Social Location — Gender Equality. Each of these words carries within them a heavy responsibility for our society to do better. Each of these words can be found interwoven with the names of countless women to make up a cape — a cape of social justice that flows from the shoulders of this inexorable woman.