CARLETON PLACE - Deborah Coyne arrived in Lanark County in as understated a way as her campaign.
Unlike fellow federal Liberal leadership contender Marc Garneau, who arrived at the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario in Smiths Falls a few days later, with a press attache and former federal cabinet minister-turned-campaign manager in tow, Coyne pulled in at the Thruway restaurant in Carleton Place on Tuesday, Feb. 12, having driven herself in from Ottawa, and racing home to be with her child.
As much as her children are front-of-mind to her, so too is her other, political, family.
"The Liberal Party will be back," is one of the first sentences out of her mouth as we begin, cutting right to the chase, as the words cascade out quickly, fluidly, decisively. "Talking to people (across the country) they don't like polarized politics. We are more and more a fragmented collection of regions and provinces."
Partially out of humility, partially out of an acknowledgement of reality, she echoes the sentiments of her fellow Grit candidates that there is much work left to do – not only removing Stephen Harper's Conservatives from office but first, for them, removing the New Democratic Party from the Official Opposition benches.
"It (the NDP) is very strong right now," said Coyne, though she is quick to pounce on them "playing games" with the Clarity Act, perhaps more a plea to maintain their new-found power base in Quebec than anything else.
Just as the NDP now, and the Mulroney-era Progressive Conservatives of old, walked a tight line between courting soft Quebec nationalists, without scaring off federalists, so too does Coyne want the Liberals to stay true to their goals of a strong federal government.
"The federal government is supposed to be involved in health care," said Coyne adamantly, bemoaning the absence of first ministers' conferences, and Harper, in essence, handing each province a cheque and telling them to do what they wish, within the law, for health care.
"In these inter-provincial bodies, you need to have federal leadership," said Coyne. "These are provincial premiers. They cannot look at the national picture."
While the federal government continues to run its ‘Canada's Action Plan’ ads, long after the program has ended, Coyne noted that infrastructure may well become a crisis problem that needs dealing with sooner rather than later, having been kicked down the road so often.
"We're going to be scrambling by the seat of our pants to scramble to get those billions of dollars" when the construction bills come due, she said.
She said she is "focused on ideas," and they certainly come out, running the gamut from stockpiling drugs, to Employment Insurance reform to overhauling the tax code.
"(There are) so many micro-credits going to people who don't need it," said Coyne. "Day care money is going to people who don't need it...I am not proposing a national childcare program. But we need to do something about it."
Coyne has written extensively about supply management, something fellow candidates like Garneau have since signed on to.
"Supply management is part of the bigger part economic union," said Coyne.
Since the mid-1990s, fellow Liberals like then-New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna have been making the case for easing, or removing, internal trade barriers in Canada. During the Paul Martin government, Ottawa-Vanier MP Mauril Belanger became Canada's first, and so far only, internal trade minister in an effort to bring down barriers.
There is still much to be done on supply management, including, according to Coyne, recognizing qualifications across the country.
"Right now, there is no federal leadership," said the Ottawa native, returning to a familiar refrain. She admits that some people may complain that, "Oh, it's not a bumper sticker issue," she says, sweeping her hand at the parking lot. "It is. It affects our competitive advantage" since there are more barriers to trade within Canada than within the European Union.
While she has plenty of new ideas, she also wants to dust off some other ideas that some Liberals, as recently as five years ago, no longer want to touch with a barge pole.
"It's the right thing to do," she said of the carbon tax, which was part of Stephane Dion's Green Shift in 2008. "It was the right idea... If you put a price on it, it does regulate behaviour. Over time it (the tax) will trend to zero. It is not redistributive. It goes back to the province it was raised in. I don't get any push back from the Flanagans of the world," she says, alluding to Harper's political godfather, University of Calgary political professor Tom Flanagan.
Coyne clearly comes across as a smart cookie - something that should stand a working mother seeking political office in good stead. But considering that the Liberal leadership of late has been drawn from the Harvard University faculty lounge (Michael Ignatieff) or held by an affable if absentminded professor-type (Dion), the intellectual moniker may actually prove counter productive these days, especially in Liberal circles.
"I'm not going to comment on that at all," said Coyne, a sudden flash in her eyes, before softening up again. "Sure, I guess I am an intellectual, but I am also practical. I believe in the sense and sensibility of Canadians. I'm here for the idea. I don't see anyone else making those points. (But) nothing bothers me - I have a thick skin."
Not only does Coyne join a crowded field of candidates – eight at last count after George Takash withdrew on Monday – but also a number of notable female challengers in her midst as well, including Joyce Murray, Martha Hall Findlay and Karen McCrimmon.
"There are still not enough women in parliament," she said, though she herself has plans to run in the new Toronto riding of Mt. Pleasant in 2015. "I don't think we women are good at networking. I see this (race) as a good advance. It is good that there are so many women in the race."
Speaking of elections, she wants to see Liberals nominate their candidates two years before every election, to allow candidates to get known in their ridings. While she is running against big name candidates like Garneau, Canada's first man in space, and Justin Trudeau, she has run for parliament before, again against a big name, running against the late NDP leader Jack Layton in Toronto-Danforth in 2006.
"I had fun running against Jack in 2006," she says with a smile one does not normally see when a politician speaks of a campaign against a rival. "I knew I wouldn't run a personal campaign. But I had fun."
If she becomes leader in April, she intends to maintain that composure against Layton's successor.
"I will not attack Mr. Mulcair personally," said Coyne.
Coyne, trained as a lawyer, worked in the Prime Minister's Office during the brief reign of John Turner in 1984, and served as a special assistant to then Newfoundland Premier Clyde Wells from 1989 to 1991. She also sat on the No committee during the 1992 national referendum on the Charlottetown Accord.
"That was a lot more exciting than working in the PMO," she said with a laugh. While she and Wells disagreed on how to vote on Charlottetown, they remained on good terms.
"I respect that, but I knew it had to be stopped," said Coyne.
Earlier this year Coyne published an autobiography entitled Unscripted: A Life Devoted to Building a Better Canada, in which she touches on her relationship to former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and the daughter she had with him.
"I know you have to ask these questions," Coyne said, getting quiet, closing her eyes, when asked about the book, before opening her eyes again and laughing out, "It's a tiny part of the book!
"This is the right time to write something. People should know where I come from. I was going to do something some day."
She has been asked during the course of the campaign if it is awkward campaigning against Justin Trudeau, who is technically her daughter's half-brother.
"No, no, we are not in contact," she said.
She straightens her back, before offering kindly that, "I am glad he is in the race. He is a great asset to the party."
She glances at her watch, finishes up her coffee, and after a few more minutes of polite chat, asks for clarification on directions to Toronto - Highway 7 or Highway 15 through Smiths Falls to get to Highway 401.
Finishing up a final point, she again smiles, and says, "everything is all about kids," not only in her life, but in her latest foray as a soldier of ideas.