Candy Palmater (LLB'99)

A day in the life

Candy Palmater (LLB'99)

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You don't get to graduation alone. Many people are part of the process.

Respect and love

Candy Palmater: “recovered” lawyer, comedian, public speaker, director of the Mi’kmaq Liason Office in the Department of Education, student in a Master of Education (MEd) program, and host of her own variety show on APTN, The Candy Show. Is there anything this woman can’t do?

Well, maybe one thing: back flips. Candy explains, laughing: “A guy who does parkour was on The Candy Show. He demonstrated this flip I was supposed to do, too—but we cut to commercial before I jumped into the air.”

Candy’s wide-ranging successes can be attributed to her quick wit—both her humour and intelligence. But she also believes in having a support network. “In my law school valedictory speech, I acknowledged that you don’t get to graduation alone,” she says. “Many people are part of the process.”

During her law studies, Candy found support from her family, the late Innis Christie, a Dal law professor, and Jane Abram, a teacher from Millbrook First Nation and student advisor.

“Some people thought Christie was picking on me—but I saw him as pushing me because he believed I was capable of doing more,” Candy says. “Often, aboriginal people are not believed to be capable of more, so that meant a lot to me. He was an incredible man.”

Jane Abram was “a wonderful student advisor,” Candy says. “Almost every day, I told her I was going to quit! She’d say, ‘Let’s have a cup of tea before you quit.’ And I’d vent, and she’d say, ‘Why don’t you wait one more day.’ And one more day was strung out to three years.”

After graduating, Candy spent two years at a Halifax law firm. “I went to law school because of a desire to do advocacy work,” she says. “But like everyone, I got swept up in the idea of being hired by a big corporate firm. Plus, I was the first Mi’kmaq person hired back by a Nova Scotia firm.”

But Candy had the presence of mind to realize it wasn’t the right career for her. Still, “I’d never give my law degree away,” she says. “People ask me why I worked so hard to get it if I’m not using it. But I use it in my day job, doing policy work.”

Her law expertise also helps her on The Candy Show. “I review my own contracts before signing them. And,” Candy says, “being an activist, an aboriginal, a woman, and gay, having LL.B. after my name garners a certain amount of respect.”

Respect and love are two things Candy aims to create on the set of The Candy Show, which is a bright pink replica of her teenage bedroom. During the taping of season two, she saw “guys with tattoos and piercings chatting with this old couple! The show draws a diversity of people—it does so much for me.”

Now, her support network includes her wife, Denise Tompkins. “Three years ago, she also became my manager. I get home from my day job, and Denise has my itinerary for the week,” Candy says. “I couldn’t have three careers if I had to manage the household.”

With such support, both past and present, Candy doesn’t let anything get her down. As she was finishing law school, a local politician made a disparaging comment about the Indigenous Black and Mi-kmaq program. At the time, Candy found strength in Jane Abram’s advice. “She told me, ‘In life, you’ll find a lot of unhappy people who are constantly trying to get you to carry their baggage. But don’t do it.’

“Since then,” Candy says, “whenever someone says something negative, I ask myself, ‘is it about me, or is it about them?’ I’ve realized those people are really saying they’re miserable and scared to make the moves I’ve made, to do what they want to in life.”

Wise words for anyone working toward their dreams. “Don’t let other people’s anger or disappointment stop you. If not for that philosophy,” Candy adds, “I’d still be in my little pink high-school bedroom.”

Photo: Sarah DeVenne Photography