Up Close is an All Habs Hockey Magazine feature that gives readers a back-stage pass to athletes, management and community leaders via our exclusive interviews. This week, Amy Johnson spoke with unapologetic Habs fan and Member of Parliament, the Honorable Tony Clement.
MONTREAL, QC — It’s the start of the preseason and hockey experts, analysts, and fans are focused on the future of the Montreal Canadiens. “We’ve gotta work on our scoring ability, and our offensive rush, and our ability to translate those opportunities into the back of the net.”
That’s pretty sound insight from Tony, a Habs fan since the age of eight despite being raised in Hamilton, ON. “When I was growing up, nobody around me would cheer for a Toronto team. We cheered for the Detroit Tigers and we cheered, obviously, for the Tiger-Cats in the CFL and we wouldn’t cheer for the Maple Leafs. We just wouldn’t.” It was during the 1970’s – what he calls the “glory years” for the Habs – that Tony Clement solidified his affinity for the Montreal Canadiens. He now calls Parry Sound-Muskoka home, where he happily admits its commonplace to see hockey stars around every corner. “It’s not unusual to see NHL’ers in the summer months golfing in our golf courses or you might even bump into them at the corner shop.”
But the Georgian Bay area isn’t just home for Clement, it’s also his political riding. You see, Tony has worked in federal government for about ten years, serving as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Parry Sound-Muskoka since 2006. Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Clement served as the Minister of Health, Minister of Industry, and as the President of the Treasury Board. In November 2015, he was appointed Official Opposition Critic for Foreign Affairs.
Earlier this summer, Tony announced his bid for the Leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. “I think it’s important we have someone with experience at the helm and has got a lot of experience balancing budgets; in terms of tax policy – lowering taxes,” states Clement in a recent phone interview. “I believe in a strong military for our country as well, and I believe in fiscal probity.”
It’s typical to see many politicians donning a variety of sports jerseys to please their constituents, especially around election time. Clement calls himself “an unapologetic Habs fan”, sporting a Canadiens or Team Canada jersey on a regular basis – even when he’s on the job. What differs, he claims, is that it’s never a publicity stunt just for a photo op, but rather his way of showing support for his most-loved teams. “I think Canadians actually smell a rat if all of a sudden you’re saying ‘Well I’m for every Canadian team’ or ‘I’m for Team Canada’. That isn’t the way Canadians behave. We have our favourites for NHL hockey and I think that is legitimate,” he states.
You just need to spend some time perusing Tony’s social media accounts to discover how authentic his public persona really is. He’s active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. “When you’re a politician, you’re always looking for ways to make direct connections with people and become more multi-dimensional so I’m not just a cardboard cutout of a politician.” In fact his Instagram account illustrates a wide spectrum of life for Clement both on and off the job. “I have passions, whether it’s the outdoors, my constituency, or whether it’s following sports or playing my guitar,” he explains.
One way Clement spreads the “Go Habs Go!” enthusiasm is to post pictures of himself in all sorts of adventurous places around the world while wearing his Habs jersey – places like India, Marrakesh, the Hoover Dam and the Dead Sea. “It’s just kind of a fun thing to do and it’s become a bit of a tradition to bring the jersey along if I’m traveling somewhere out of the ordinary.” Connecting with fans close to home and all over the globe is just one reason Tony enjoys being so plugged in to social media. “Through social media, through the Habs fan sites, I can be very up on what’s happening game by game of the regular season,” he says. And All Habs Hockey Magazine just happens to be one of the sites Tony says he enjoys visiting and interacting with. “It’s fun to be part of the excitement that we’ve got fans all over the world.”
All over the world? Yes. Under his own roof? Not so much. Tony tells an endearing story of his daughter who didn’t share his passion for hockey when she was younger, but suddenly changed her mind in her high school years. “She just came home one day and said ‘Dad, I love hockey now!’ ‘Well that’s great! I love hockey, too, honey!'”, he explains. “Then she said, ‘And I’m gonna be a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs!’ And there was like this dead silence for me and I said, ‘Honey, you know, if you wanna save yourself years and decades of frustration, anxiety, and depression, you wouldn’t be a Leafs fan – you’d be a Habs fan just like your Dad!'” Clement fondly chuckles as he recounts this tale and admits that his daughter stuck to her wishes and continues to support the Maple Leafs to this day, and adds that it’s fun that they get to enjoy the sport together despite rooting for rival teams.
With Team Canada poised to be crowned champions of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Tony is reminded of another hockey story from the Vancouver Olympics when he serving under then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “He talked about going into the Team Canada dressing room [before the gold medal game] and just feeling the pressure that these guys were under,” he remembers. Clement believes the athletes representing Canada in large-scale tournaments like the Olympics and World Cup of Hockey fully understand the country’s expectations for them to win. “They have pride in their country and pride in their results and I also believe they’re under a lot of pressure, let’s not kid ourselves.”
With his Leadership campaign in full swing heading into the beginning of hockey season, Hon. Tony Clement has high hopes for his Habs and the next chapter of his political career. “I’ve got a passion for our country. I believe that we can do better, our people are hard-working people but they need a government that either gets out of the way, or to the extent that it delivers services, delivers them efficiently and with an eye to the taxpayers.” And with a lot of hard work and support, it’s possible that come next spring the Canadiens will be on a run for the Stanley Cup at the same time Tony is aiming to take the next step towards being elected Canada’s next Prime Minister.
You can listen to the full interview with Tony Clement in the audio player below.