We want Candy!
Newly minted CBC Radio host Candy Palmater is loud, proud and crushing First Nations stereotypes
CANDY PALMATER host of The Candy Show on CBC Radio 1, weekdays 1 to 3 pm. cbc.ca.
CBC’s newly minted radio host knows how to seize the moment. She’d been on the job for just two weeks and then had to go on air barely a day after the Orlando shootings.
Listen to her June 13 message on The Candy Show (the podcast is available at cbc.ca/radio). It’s vintage Palmater – passionate, pointed and still relentlessly positive.
She did acknowledge the immense tragedy but reminded her audience that the little things hurt, too – like the way a small East Coast rag tweeted that she got the job because she and her producer were “lesbos.”
“I thought about young people who want a career in broadcasting who’d see that tweet and say to themselves, ‘Oh, I can’t do that because I don’t want to be bullied as an adult,’ she says, in her husky voice – perfect for the airwaves – over the phone from Toronto’s CBC building. “And then that person is silenced. So we have to call out the thin-edge-of-the-wedge events because that’s where the hate seeds start.
“So I told listeners, ‘What thrills me is that this country is filled with open-hearted people who love radio. We have a shared curiosity, and you don’t care who I love and you and I are going to let love rule.’ And then I spun Lenny Kravitz’s Let Love Rule.”
Palmater insists that over her nearly 20-year career as a comic and motivational speaker – and now on her afternoon broadcast – her message has been consistently one of “love and kindness – and try to find a way to accept yourselves.”
She learned early what a difference love can make. She was born when her parents were in their 40s and had already had six kids, after her father finally got sober.
“He was 46 and she was 43, and they wanted one more chance at a baby. She wanted to spoil a child, and my father wanted to do one right.
“People often ask me how it is that as an Indigenous person I’ve broken down all these barriers, and I can tell you 100 per cent how: It’s because from the first moment I can remember, I was told that I was smart and beautiful and that I mattered. I was loved and I believed it.”
But don’t let all that positivity fool you into thinking she’s a soft touch. She’s been pushing for equality and fairness since she was – get this – 10. The New Brunswick-born star fought for the right to serve mass in her Catholic church.
“I did not understand why I had to have a penis to ring the bell and wash the priest’s hands,” she recalls, an edge sneaking into her tone. “And I made a big stink about how I was going to Sunday school every Sunday and the boys who were serving mass didn’t. And they let me serve mass.
“Afterwards, when the priest said, ‘ See you next week,’ I said, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want to do this every week. I just wanted to make a point.’”
At that tender age, she had the makings of a decent lawyer and decided that was the career path she wanted to take. While she was in law school, she worked at Tim Hortons and helped organize a union drive there. (She still remembers the regulars’ orders 20 years later.)
“It never crossed my mind that people have the kind of money to bulldoze the store down. I was a little naive. I kept telling my colleagues – some of them raising kids on $4.35 an hour, then the minimum wage – ‘They can’t fire us. I know. I’m in law school.’ And then they shut down the store and bulldozed it.”
After she got her law degree, she figured out pretty early on that she wasn’t cut out for that profession.
“It fit me like a bad suit. I always describe it as if I drank the Kool-aid at law school. I kept thinking I had to work at a firm. If I’d started working at legal aid or the Elizabeth Fry Society, maybe I would have been more into that. But I was pushing paper around and working for rich people. And so I jumped. People told me I was crazy, but at this stage in my life I realize that if people are not telling me I’m crazy, then I’m on the wrong path.”
Six months later, she met the love of her life, a woman who helped her leap into a whole new identity.
“I left the law and I left a man at exactly that same time. And then I met my wife [Denise Tompkins]. It was a low time for me and I cried daily. A lot of lesbians would be, like, ‘Crying over a man? What the hell?’ But she nursed me, and I started my comeback as an entertainer.”
Tompkins also became her manager and has collaborated with Palmater for more than 16 years.
“I lost friends when I came out, but look at what we’ve built. I’m an Indigenous, queer, menopausal, plus-sized woman and I get to do a two-hour show every day on national radio. None of that would have happened without her. So when people make offhand judgments about queer love, I say, ‘God almighty, you have no idea the strength of it and what it can build.’”
“To people making offhand judgments about queer love, I say, ‘God almighty, you have no idea the strength of it.’ ”