A Leader in Her Own Right
For many, our parents serve as mentors and are a source of inspiration and motivation. But imagine if one of your parents was a mentor to not only you but an entire nation.
This was the reality that Catherine Clark grew up with. Her father is former Canadian Prime Minister the Right Honourable Joe Clark. He served as the 16th Prime Minister of Canada from June 1979 to March 1980 and continued to be involved with the Progressive Conservative Party until his final term in Parliament, ending in 1993.
Today, we know Catherine Clark as the host of Beyond Politics on CPAC, or from her involvement in other political initiatives, particularly as an advocate for getting youth interested in politics.
Clark was a young girl when her father came into political power. For her, it was very normal as it was all she ever knew and yet, it actually did little to motivate her involvement.
Clark said she saw the effect it has on a family and on individuals and she felt like she grew up in the public eye. Usually it was an encouraging experience.
“We traveled a lot. Looking back, it was a very privileged way to grow up. I was able to see Canadian history first hand.”
And travelling abroad gave her even more of an appreciation for the country. The first time she really recognized this was when she was about nine and went with her family to Bangkok, Thailand. There she saw that children even younger than her were being put to work.
“We were there to work with a funded project. It was an effort to ensure children could go somewhere safe while their families were at work instead of having them hanging off the sides of boats picking barnacles off them,” she said.
Having seen the lengths her parents would go to in order to help those in need of it, she said that her parents were her main role models.
“They gave me a very different example of how to live your life,” Clark said. “Dad is an eternal optimist but not naïve. I always admired his approach. He treats things with grace and dignity. I strive to be like that but I don’t always succeed.”
Clark’s mother, Maureen McTeer, has been a great inspiration and was a trailblazer for so many women across the country on many issues touching the lives of women.
“Mom set a standard for a generation of women,” said Clark. “In keeping her last name, [which at the time was not the norm] she taught me to stand up for what you believe in and that perseverance is key.”
She added that given her parents’ line of work, “I haven’t ever been able to go anywhere with my parents where we haven’t been stopped,” she confessed. “But I’ve never resented it. It was always just the way it was.”
Of course, it couldn’t always be rosy but Clark remains positive about her years growing up.
“It wasn’t always pleasant at school when dad had to make tough decisions,” she admitted. “But it’s never been negative in my life.”
While growing up as political offspring “inspired the opposite of wanting to get involved in politics,” as she puts it, she also said “I don’t want to run … but I never say never.”
Now, on Beyond Politics, Clark shows the public what she has known all along: that there is more to politicians than their role in politics. Almost like creating a historical archive, she interviews politicians about their interests apart from politics and show other facets of who they are.
“We show Canadians that politicians have lives, responsibilities, challenges. And in the end they all just want to make this country better,” she said.
How she got involved in broadcast, Clark calls a “fluke”. After earning her degree in Art History from the University of Toronto, she was working in Toronto when she was approached by a producer who wanted her to host a show for a digital channel.
“When that didn’t work out I thought my broadcast career was over,” she said.
However, she moved back to Ottawa with her husband, Chad Schella, and here joined Rogers. Continuing with her broadcasting aspirations, she then joined CPAC in 2009 where she pitched the idea for Beyond Politics.
The show has since moved into a series format with one person being given the full interview time to really take a close look at who they are away from Parliament Hill. Clark personally really enjoys the long interview format when it seems that we are constantly living in a “sound bite world” where we only hear snippets of what anyone says.
The show is now beginning to expand to include interviews with other distinct Canadians who are politically aware and recognized but not necessarily politicians. Comedian and political satirist Rick Mercer has been included in the lineup.
Though she couldn’t pin down only one interview as her favourite, she did note that RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson was very down-toearth, Governor General David Johnson and his wife Sharon were incredibly warm and funny and that Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin was personable.
Clark manages to maintain a balance between her busy work life and her personal life.
“My two kids are now in school full time which allows me more time to be on projects that I had put on the backburner,” she explained.
She said she is fortunate with her schedule that she can plan ahead for when they are taping and she can work her other projects around it.
Clark is not only the host of Beyond Politics but is involved with the Ottawa chapter of the CARE Canada: I Am Powerful Councils which help to raise awareness of the campaigns CARE works on to help females living in poverty, an initiative Clark said is important to her as a mom.
For now, Clark plans to see where her career in broadcast leads her as she is very appreciative and humbled by her experiences.
“I get to reach out to all kinds of Canadians,” Clark said enthusiastically. “And I am tremendously privileged to get to do that.”