Longtime NDP MLA Lenore Zann is quitting provincial politics to seek a federal seat in the riding of Cumberland-Colchester under the Liberal banner. Urban Halifax founder John Grant spoke with Lenore over the phone for a wide ranging interview that touched on politics, life and her new foray into the spotlight.
Q: What first led you into politics?
A: The thing that first got me involved happened during the financial crisis of 08′. I looked at the front page of the Globe and Mail and saw all the world leaders and noticed that with the exception of Angela Merkel, they were all men. I thought to myself, “it’s 2008, why are the decision makers still exclusively men”. I had thought that by that time things would have moved along and there would be more women at the table, but there were not. This stuck with me, and it pushed me to offer myself as a candidate.
Q: What is one interesting fact about you that not many people know?
A: That’s an Interesting question. One thing that not many people know is the fact that I am the voice of “Rogue” in the XMEN cartoon series, and I also voice “Starcatcher” on My Little Pony. Another character I played was Lorca on Dragon Tales. In total, I have played hundreds of characters on shows that kids from all around the world have grown up watching and loving.
Q: What led you seek the Liberal Nomination in Cumberland Colchester?
A: In the beginning, Bill Casey approached me on remembrance day last year during a wreath-laying ceremony. He asked me if I was thinking of running federally, and I explained to him that I was talking to the NDP about running on their ticket. He then asked me if I had considered running for the Liberals federally, to which I said: “no, I haven’t.” He then went on to say that I should think about it because it was going to be very hard to run for the NDP in Cumberland-Colchester. Bill explained to me that he was very worried about the prospect of a Conservative victory in the riding, and didn’t want Andrew Scheer to become Prime Minister, as sheer is very similar to Harper, who had kicked Casey out of caucus. After this chat, I went up to Ottawa around Christmas time and met with Prime Minister Trudeau. We had a lovely chat about issues that were important to me, such as mental health and addictions. Addictions are a very crucial issue to me, I’ve been sober for 23 years, but I suffered from alcoholism in the past, and know how hard it is to break the cycle of addiction. I personally know the struggles other people are going through with depression and anxiety, especially with young people but also with seniors. Another reason why I decided to run for the Liberals was looking at the polling information for the district and seeing that the Federal NDP is polling at around 3.8% in the riding. After speaking to my family and weighing the pros and cons, I decided to accept this challenge and run for the Liberals!
Q: What misconceptions do people have about you?
A: In the beginning, a lot of people thought that I was just a dumb actress who knew nothing about politics and was only in it for the glamour and theatrics. I believe that the last ten years I’ve spent at Province House have proved that to be a wrong assumption.
Q: What do you say to those who call you opportunistic?
A: When I first started hearing that, I noticed that it was coming mostly from very hardline NDP members, many of whom still worked for the party. I got the impression that much of this was part of a messaging strategy from the party offices, and not coming from my constituents. I was amazed at the amount of support I have received from my constituents and how enthusiastic they are for my new endeavour. Personally, I think that it’s kind of ridiculous to call someone who is running for a party that is struggling in the polls and may well lose Cumberland-Colchester “opportunistic”. The two main reasons I am doing this is to support Justin Trudeau and the Liberals and to ensure Andrew Scheer and his ilk never make it to the Prime Minister’s Office. Cumberland-Colchester has been a Conservative riding for 150 years, and I do not want those guys to take this seat back, and I am willing to put my job on the line to make sure this seat doesn’t flip, which would help to lift the Conservatives into majority government status.
Q: What attracted you to the federal Liberal Party?
A: As I said, I like Trudeau, and I love that he is a smart, civil, empathetic young man who makes me feel proud to be a Canadian. It takes more than four years to enact the kinds of changes that he wants, and he deserves another mandate to accomplish even more for Canada. Having been in a majority-NDP government for four years as a backbencher, I witnessed the struggle that progressive leaders face in terms of reversing the damage done by previous Conservative governments. I have also seen the challenge of dealing with lobbyists who seem to push the agenda and appear to have an outsized role in our politics.
Q: Given the recent Sackville-Cobequid results, Do you think Gary Burrill has been effective as the leader of the NSNDP?
A: A lot of people have asked me this question, and I have to say that it is up to the party. It’s not my business to judge Gary on his leadership, and I am not even a party member at this point. I resigned my NDP membership on June 9th, and it is up to the party to decide their future. One thing I will say is that I came in a close second to Gary during the NDP leadership convention, and had I won, I would have taken the party in a somewhat different direction. I imagine my style of leadership would have been fairly popular with Nova Scotians; however, hindsight is always 20/20. I wish Gary and the NDP caucus well, and I don’t wish ill on any of them. I am setting my sights squarely on Ottawa.
Q: Would the Provincial NDP benefit from a new leader?
A: I have little doubt that Gary will lead the provincial NDP into the next general election. The results of that election will determine whether or not Gary will stay on as leader, because at that point, a leadership review will be necessary.
Q: Trudeau just approved the Trans-mountain pipeline expansion. Do you approve of this decision?
A: I have never been in favour of increasing our reliance on pipelines and fossil fuels. I believe that we need to get off our addiction to fossil fuels as quickly as possible; however, I do understand that governing an entire country is very complex and requires compromise. It is very hard to balance these competing interests, and no matter what you do, people are going to be mad. Many Canadians don’t really understand that green energy and green jobs are the way to go and that we can make more money, have better jobs and more sustainable jobs if we don’t put all of our eggs into one basket. I also believe that we should introduce a “green new deal” for Canada.
Q: You are running for a Liberal nomination, so why are you sitting as an independent in the house and not a Nova Scotia Liberal?
A: Because the nomination meeting is in July, and the house will not be sitting until the fall, and possibly until after the election. I needed to do this ethically, and I felt it would not be possible to stay on as an NDP MLA while seeking a federal Liberal nomination. To me, that’s just not ethical.
Q: What are your plans if you don’t win the nomination?
A: If I don’t win the nomination, which is entirely possible, I will serve out my term in the legislature. Right now, I am thinking one step at a time. As an actor, I know that nothing is certain until it is, and I am putting everything into making sure I get this nomination. I learned this lesson at the age of 22.
Q: How did you keep an NDP seat in Truro for ten years?
A: If I could have the answer to that, I would bottle it and sell that to anyone who wants to run in any election. I’d probably become pretty rich. I don’t know exactly how I did it, but I do suspect people voted for me, and not the party. I think that I am an example of how many Canadians are voing for people, and not parties. Take Bill Casey as another example. He won as a Conservative for 22 years, and then as an independent, and then as a Liberal. During the last election, Bill Casey won every single poll in Cumberland-Colchester with the exception of one. People want representatives who they trust and who they can conncet with on a personal level.
Q: What is your favourite colour?
A: Purple. Every single bedroom I ever had was purple. My first car was a little purple beetle bug. I had it for like 20 years, and took it all across Canada. To be specific, it was a 1974 Beetle bug, and I bought it in Bible Hill for $5,000. I drove it for like 20 years.