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Anand committed to life of public service
Kentville native has a steadfast sense of community instilled by her parents
Anita Anand packed her newly fitted Treasury Board hat, a commitment to public service and an enduring affinity for Nova Scotia and its people for a recent working trip to Halifax.
“I got into government to serve,” Anand said in dismissing the notion expounded by some that she was demoted during the recent cabinet shuffle that moved her from the National Defence portfolio to the presidency of the Treasury Board.
“After 25 years of academic life, I wanted to try to make a difference in our country and I wanted to do it in a way that showed that anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or cultural background, can serve in elected positions,” Anand said.
“My goal is to continue to serve. I serve at the pleasure of the governor general and the prime minister and I am so happy to be able to continue to step up wherever I can. Visibility is not the reason I’m in this job at all. I am just so happy that I will be able to use my experience as a corporate law professor and as an expert in corporate governance in this new portfolio.”
Anand said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked her to be a “core member of his economic team” and she is honoured to do so.
attention “I’m not really paying to what other people are calling this. Remember for me, it is all about the service.”
Anand, 56, was born and raised in Kentville and earned a law degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax, part of
resumé an impressive academic that includes a political science degree from Queen’s University, an honours jurisprudence degree from the University of Oxford, and a master of laws from the University of Toronto.
Anand took particular exception to a comment by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre that shuffling her out of National Defence is “more disrespect for women,” and a continuation of Trudeau’s history of firing strong women from cabinet.
“I was elected in October 2019 as a brand new member of Parliament (Oakville, Ont.) and within weeks the prime minister had appointed me to be the minister of Public Works and Procurement and I led the country’s vaccine efforts during COVID-19,” Anand said.
“Then the prime minister
minister appointed me to be the of National Defence (in 2021). I don’t believe that he has disregard for women when I look at the posts that he has nominated me for and I would say that president of the Treasury Board, as chief operating officer of government, a person who sees every single policy before it goes out the door, we shouldn’t underestimate that position.”
Anand said the Treasury Board president functions like a chief operating officer of government, overseeing the expenditure of public funds.
“The minister of finance primarily allocates the funds but programs, before they get out the door, need to be
ensuring overseen in terms of that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and there is no wastage."
That’s the job of the Treasury Board president.
Anand is also aware of the commentary that she did not complete the task of modernizing and cleaning up the Canadian Armed Forces before she was asked to turn the job over to Bill Blair, who formerly held the safety and emergency preparedness portfolio.
“Within five days of being
National appointed minister of Defence, I accepted the interim recommendation of Madame (Louise) Arbour and moved cases from the military justice system to the civilian justice system,” Anand said.
Arbour, a former Supreme Court of Canada justice, was tasked May 20, 2021, to conduct a review of policies, procedures, programs, practices, and culture within the Canadian Forces.
Five months later, Anand was named to head the National Defence Department.
“So I said we are accepting this recommendation and now all new cases will be tried in the civilian justice system if they relate to sexual harassment, sexual misconduct under the Criminal Code,” Anand said.
“That was the first difference I made in the first week.”
Anand said she accepted and laid out a roadmap for the implementation of all 48 recommendations from Arbour’s final report in May 2022.
“Already we see change happening,” she said. “For example, I appointed an external monitor, an independent overseer of cultural change in the Canadian Armed Forces to ensure that the minister is implementing Madame Arbour’s recommendations, financial support to the sexual misconduct response centre and additional benefits and supports for the Canadian Armed Forces.
“I would say yes that I made a difference.”
But Anand said the work to reform the Forces is by no means done.
“This is large-scale systemic change. It cannot happen in one year and then it’s over. It has to be every day of every year across all levels of the Canadian Armed Forces. Right after I was sworn in as the president of the Treasury Board, I spoke with Minister Blair … and told him that this file is of the utmost importance for the longevity of the Canadian Armed Forces, not just because it is morally right but because it is operationally necessary. We need to grow by 10,000 people and we need to be able to attract people to the Forces and, in order to attract people, we need to be able to say that if you join the Forces, you will be protected and respected and empowered when you put on a uniform to serve this country.”
Anand said the cabinet shuffle was not so much a response to the Conservatives overtaking the Liberals in an early July poll, but a postpandemic shift in governance.
“Coming out of the pandemic, when our government put on the table supports across the board, we needed as a government to move from pandemic-type spending to spending that addresses the reality that Canadians are facing now, which is that life is less affordable. The new
unveiled cabinet that the minister is a response to ensure that we have the economic team on the ground to ensure the best response.”
‘FEELING THE PINCH'
She said it’s difficult to balance criticisms that the federal government is spending too much money while Canadians are calling out for more support in tough economic times.
“Big picture is that Canada has the lowest inflation rate in the G7 at 2.8 per cent, we have a low unemployment rate and we have a Triple-A credit rating and by those markers, the Canadian economy is performing well but Canadians are feeling the pinch at the grocery store, at the gas pump and when they are trying to rent or buy homes,” Anand said.
“Our government needs to continue to have its eye on how we can continue to make life more affordable for Canadians in all of those areas and more, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do and that’s the purpose of the prime minister’s new cabinet.”
While working long hours at the Blanchard-Fraser Memorial Hospital in Kentville, Anand’s parents, both immigrant doctors from India scant years before Anand’s birth, instilled in their three daughters a call to public service and a steadfast sense of community.
“The childhood that I had in Kentville, a town of 5,000 people, was second to none,” Anand said. “Our neighbours and our friends and our community embraced us with open arms. We didn’t lock our doors at night, no one did. We were at our neighbours’ house, the Clevelands, until our parents got home from work. … That bond is never broken . ...
“It was Kentville that taught me that people in this country are incredible and they are warm-hearted and that’s really the story of towns and cities across Canada.”
Both her father and mother passed away during the past decade, but Anand said the sense of community is always refreshed when visiting her home province. When she talks of the tragedies that have afflicted Nova Scotia, including the mass killings in 2020, hurricanes and the recent wildfires and deadly rainfall and flooding, Anand’s measured and intellectual interview demeanour turns pensive and empathetic.
“It tugs at my heartstrings,” she said. “I am very close with the Nova Scotia (Liberal) caucus and they include me in their group chats as an honorary member. I feel the pain that they feel when Nova Scotians are hurting. The floods in particular, the deaths that resulted because of natural disasters, it brings us all closer together.
“When you watch Nova Scotians and the way they survive, it’s inspiring.”