Premier Health: A Personal Chat with Dalton McGuinty
By Carol Crenna
Being Premier is a demanding job. Juggling the province’s unique challenges and needs in today’s world can seem like an overwhelming task. Premiers are people, too, who need to unwind and take care of their health and their family life.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty knows well the all-consuming role that he plays from the moment he wakes up in the morning. I spoke with Premier McGuinty about his lifestyle on and off the job.
CAROL: What do you do in your “spare time” with your family?
PREMIER MCGUINTY: My most important time is with my family. I may be a Premier, but my greatest responsibility is as a father and husband. Terry and I have four kids who are all in their 20s.
My daughter and I like to ski together, and my three sons and I like to play golf as a foursome. They’re better than me so I have given up at being competitive.
We also like to go camping as a family. We have also been to Northern Ontario on a canoe trip. Terry and my daughter refuse to come camping unless I portage a dishwasher, which I’m not prepared to do, so we also rent a cottage for a couple of weeks in Quebec each summer. It has become more of a challenge to get them all together for a family trip now.
Our second recreational home is the great outdoors. When we get spare time we like to spend it with the kids; only one lives with us in Toronto, and another lives in our home in Ottawa.
CAROL: Your time is probably not usually your own, even when you’re not working. What do you do to give yourself your own down time?
PREMIER MCGUINTY: I try to be disciplined about shutting off. You can never completely shut off from the job. There is always a part of your mind that is devoted to responsibilities and concerns, but I try as much as possible to stay in the moment and focus and enjoy and appreciate those times.
CAROL: You like to read. What types of books do you enjoy most?
PREMIER MCGUINTY: I read everything from politics to history to fiction. I’ve been reading a lot of Louis L’Amour, the American western fiction writer (1908-1988) who is a wonderful distraction from, and contrast to, the job.
CAROL: You say you like to putter and fix things — what exactly?
PREMIER MCGUINTY: You name it; if it’s broken I’ll try to fix it even if I am preeminently unqualified to do so. I like to putter around the yard with gardening and landscaping. I find it very relaxing to do physical things.
I enjoy house painting; I have painted the outside and the inside, including the kitchen and den most recently. I’m good at taking orders on colours and number of coats. I might be responsible for the province, but Terry is responsible for me.
CAROL: You enjoy golfing. What other exercise do you get a chance to participate in to stay fit?
If I have to go anywhere to do it, I’m in trouble because I don’t have time to get there. I have whatever I need at home, and when I’m on the road I bring some rubber exercise bands. I’m in not bad shape.
CAROL: Are you a fairly healthy eater? Do you avoid any food in particular?
PREMIER MCGUINTY: I am a pretty healthy eater, and watch what I eat. I don’t drink soft drinks or coffee. I drink lots of water. Terry is a fabulous cook, and she makes sure that we eat healthily.
I enjoy fish, although I do also eat meat. I have a daughter who is vegetarian so she has introduced us to various types of no-meat meals, but I must say that I still love a good hamburger.
My downfall is potato chips. Give me a family-size bag and I will gladly wolf it down while watching a movie on a Friday night. A bag a week isn’t going to hurt you, I figure.
CAROL: You must eat a lot of your meals out – at meetings, at events, on airplanes, on the road – how do you manage not to eat too much decadent, high-calorie fare?
PREMIER MCGUINTY: I try to be disciplined. I’ve been in politics for 19 years, and I’ve noticed that there has been an evolution in the quality of food served at events — it is becoming healthier. Therefore, I feel freer to munch a little here and there. And I try to avoid desserts.
If I’m out, I’m working, and for me that means talking. So you can’t really eat and talk at the same time. One of my unhealthier habits is to just have a little bite here or there when out, and then when I get home, I have a bigger meal later at night when I feel more relaxed to eat.
CAROL: How many hours of sleep do you get?
PREMIER MCGUINTY: I am getting a little less sleep lately, about six hours. Sometimes I wake up and can’t get back to sleep. Especially in a challenging time like this one, you keep wondering what more you should be doing here, and how you might help there; what’s coming around the corner, and how you can better prepare for it to beat challenges and find opportunities.
CAROL: Have you ever tried complementary therapies like acupuncture, naturopathy or massage?
PREMIER MCGUINTY: No, that would take time.
CAROL: What are two things that your parents taught you about living with others, and working with others, that you try to abide by today?
PREMIER MCGUINTY: I grew up in a family of 12. We were taught that we are at our best when we work together. If 10 children pulled in separate directions, we accomplished nothing, but if we pulled together, we felt like there were 20.
That was a good lesson for me, as the oldest boy. We are a very close family. I have a brother who is also a member of parliament, and four of us became lawyers.
My father was a university professor of romantic poetry, and after 10 kids, my mother said that would be enough romance. Though he first studied business he then decided to follow his passion.
And that’s another lesson that I learned — to follow your passion. He wrote poetry books under the same name Dalton McGuinty.
CAROL: Talking romance, you married your high school sweetheart, so she has seen a lot of changes in your relationship since the beginning. Any advice for others to keep a marriage together through changes and challenges?
PREMIER MCGUINTY: It’s a bit difficult at times, but it is also my foundation; it’s something that I invest in because we are only as strong as the foundation on which we stand.
Terry and I started dating when we were 18, and we married seven years later, and then had four kids in five years. We have been married 31 years. I don’t pretend to be an expert since I have only known my wife.
But I got some good advice from my mother on our wedding day. She said, “Whatever happens, keep talking.” So Terry and I keep communicating, and she’s got a lot of things she can complain about with me, so as long as she is honest and open, that is the best thing.
I also think we have to keep trying to understand each other, because we change and grow and develop, and we’re not the same people that we use to be, But the great thing is that we have grown together.
CAROL: You are very lucky. What province do you like to spend time in other than your own?
PREMIER MCGUINTY: Quebec. I grew up in Ottawa, and we had a cottage in Quebec while growing up. We skied there, and we now rent a cottage there.
CAROL: What is the most difficult part about being Premier?
PREMIER MCGUINTY: Time – it takes a lot; and pressure – there is a lot.
CAROL: And the best part?
PREMIER MCGUINTY: It’s a huge privilege. I absolutely feel that way. I have the honour of serving 13 million people. My father impressed upon us to make a contribution in public service. He used to say that the ultimate reward in public service is found in the service itself.