Anne McLellan: From Dal to Parliament, a leader of distinction
A profile of the Dalhousie Advisory Council's chair
Ryan McNutt - May 1, 2012
From the Winter 2012 issue of Dalhousie magazine
In January 2006, after more than a decade as a federal cabinet minister, Anne McLellan (BA’71, LLB’74) found herself in the classic ‘what now?’ position – preparing to move onto something new, but not wanting to rush the decision.
“I gave myself six months,” she remembers. “I think you shouldn’t make decisions too quickly after such an intense environment; you need to give yourself some time to think about what’s next. But you also need to have a deadline by which to make that decision, because otherwise I think you might find yourself sitting at home after a year saying, ‘What am I going to do next?’ And that would not be good for someone like me.”
Five years later, the third stage of Ms. McLellan’s professional life – following 17 years as a legal academic and 13 years in government – is plenty busy. She’s a public policy advisor with the national law firm Bennett Jones and a distinguished scholar-in-residence at the Alberta Institute for American Studies at the University of Alberta. She does extensive board and philanthropic work, and last year agreed to serve as chair of the Dalhousie Advisory Council (DAC).
“We’re provided with the opportunity to learn more about Dalhousie and the role it plays not only in the surrounding region but throughout the Maritimes and beyond,” she says, explaining the council’s mandate. “We offer our views on how we think the university can sustain itself and grow, continuing to be a place offering outstanding education but also of world-class research and wealth creation.”
Read also: Dalhousie Advisory Council embodies spirit of engagement
Every member of the DAC comes to the task from a slightly different perspective. In Ms. McLellan’s case, she’s not only a Dal graduate twice over, but has spent a good portion of her professional career in academia, serving as both associate dean and acting dean of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law. She also has valuable insight into the relationship between universities and government, particularly at the federal level.
“When we were discussing who would be an ideal chair for the Dalhousie Advisory Council, Anne quickly jumped to the top of our list,” explains Floyd Dykeman, Dalhousie Vice-President External. “She brings national and international leadership to the DAC, but also has deep family roots in Nova Scotia and, of course, strong ties with Dalhousie because of her time here as a student. She's a creative thinker and a wonderful leader to guide the DAC.”
Leadership in action
Ms. McLellan grew up in Hants County, N.S., and completed both her Bachelor of Arts and Law degrees at Dalhousie. She then became a law professor, first at the University of New Brunswick and later at the University of Alberta. She ran for office as a Liberal candidate in the 1993 federal election, winning her riding of Edmonton Northwest by a heart-stopping 11 votes, inspiring the ironic nickname that stuck with her through four close elections: “Landslide Annie.”
She quickly became an invaluable member of the Liberal government. A cabinet minister from the get-go, she ended up serving as minister of natural resources, minister of justice, minister of health, minister of public safety and deputy prime minister over the course of her political career.
These are hardly easy portfolios – in her time as minister of justice she oversaw controversial pieces of legislation, including new anti-terror and security laws enacted following the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
“A lot of people felt [the post 9/11 security legislation] went too far; there were some people who felt it didn’t go far enough. But I think overall we got the balance right,” she says. “I think it’s served the country well. But getting the balance right between Canadians’ collective security and individual rights and liberties: these are important challenges, and you hope that you get it right.”
In 2003, she became deputy prime minister, a role that placed her in the centre of the day-to-day complications and challenges of a minority Parliament following the 2004 election.
“There’s an intensity at that level which is not easily duplicated or replicated anywhere else. When you’re a cabinet minister, you have issues coming at you all the time. When you’re deputy prime minister, you have colleagues with a host of issues from all the departments of government who are looking for advice, guidance and problem solving. I think even the most intense jobs in the private sector probably aren’t as intense, day-in and day-out, as that kind of job in the Government of Canada.”
The role may have been intense, but former prime minister Paul Martin says Ms. McLellan brought exactly the right skills and was ideal for the position.
“The role of deputy prime minister is not an easy one. In addition to their other ministerial responsibilities, the deputy prime minister quickly becomes the government’s trouble shooter,” he says. “Anne McLellan’s leadership, her ability to get to the heart of an issue and her capacity to build a team around her meant quite simply that she was superb in the job.”
Considering Dalhousie's future
Though Ms. McLellan’s life may have quieted down slightly, she relishes opportunities like the Dalhousie Advisory Council – a chance to learn about how her alma mater has changed and grown in the past 35 years, and to contribute her expertise in discussions about its future.
“I have a great affection for Dalhousie, and I think I owe a lot to this institution, in terms of the education and the friends it gave me,” she says. "Now, my colleagues and I [on the DAC] get to share what we’re hearing from outside about the university. Then, the more we learn about what’s happening at Dalhousie, we can spread the word when we talk to our friends, colleagues and associates about Dalhousie and its high quality of education and research in so many areas.”
And when it comes to what’s happening at Dalhousie, she sees the university’s growing reputation as the real conversation-starter.
“I’m excited about the fact that Dalhousie is marketing itself around the world and sees a big part of its future as providing high-quality education and a unique cultural experience to students from places all around the globe,” she says, adding that she’s seeing Dalhousie’s reputation hitting home in Alberta.
“You’re starting to see a growing number of students from where I live and elsewhere in Canada coming [to Dal] because of that reputation. They’ve heard about Halifax from their parents, grandparents or friends, and they know that the environment in the university here, in this region, in this city, is something special.”