John Godfrey's politics

Why Godfrey built a career before becoming a politician

Though he won’t be participating in the upcoming federal election, a word or two needs to be said about John Godfrey. The outgoing MP for Don Valley West in Toronto, Godfrey will be ceding his position as Liberal shoe-in to Rob Oliphant in this multi-ethnic and multi-income-bracket riding, bridging the great urban/suburban divide.

We interviewed Godfrey two years ago for our book and the then-minister of state for infrastructure and communities gave us two and a half hours of his time at the Marriott cafe on Bay Street. Here’s a little of his story: Godfrey came from a well-to-do family from Toronto’s leafy Rosedale neighbourhood. Growing up after the Second World War, he watched his house become a meeting point for European immigrants fleeing that war-ravaged and partly-totalitarian continent. His parents found these newcomers enticing – and so did the young Godfrey. (I should note here, to throw all objective integrity out the window, that my own grandparents, coming over from Switzerland in 1945 were among this lot taken in by the Godfreys… but that’s another story entirely.)

Godfrey maintained an interest in politics throughout his academic career. He talks about one moment when the entire political structure shifted: the day John F. Kennedy was killed in 1963. From that point on, younger people turned from participants to activists, and the culture went from one of hope & progress to one of tension & disparity. Godfrey tried to incorporate many of the elements of this change – eventually bringing it to political life when first elected for Jean Chrétien’s Liberals in 1993 – but he always tried to build another career for himself before diving headfirst into that “game.” This is something for young people, perhaps inspired by such current lightning-rods as Barack Obama or Stephen Harper (ha!), to take note of. A life in the world of politics is a difficult one. You can either try to work your way up the ranks, as a staffer or an election foot soldier (going door-to-door, putting up posters on quiet street corners at 2:30 in the morning, etc.), from an early age or you can, like Godfrey, establish yourself in another career – the man was President of King’s College in Halifax and editor of the Financial Post (now reborn as the National Post) – before giving politics a try.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.