Catherine McKenna, environment minister, turns off her phone for family

Canada's environment and climate change minister tells CBC's All In A Day why turning her smartphone off for two and a half hours, six days a week, is a smart choice.

Ottawa MP finds way to be 'effective at work but also be happy'

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna delivers the keynote address at the Canada 2020 conference in Ottawa in November. She has decided to spend two and a half hours, six days a week, unreachable by phone in order to spend quality time with her family. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

As Canada's minister of environment and climate change and MP for Ottawa Centre, Catherine McKenna has a lot of demands on her time.

But for two and a half hours a day, six days a week, her family comes first.

"I just decided that it was really important that I figure out a way that I could be effective at work but also be happy," McKenna said Thursday on CBC Radio's All In A Day.

Sometimes we just work harder, and we don't work better.- Catherine McKenna

"I had to figure out how I could carve out the time that was important to me."

Every day except Thursday — which explains the timing of her All In A Day interview — McKenna leaves the office at 5:30 p.m., turns off her phone and spends time with her family.

The phone remains off until 8 p.m., McKenna told radio host Alan Neal. The exceptions are when she's travelling or when the House of Commons sits late, she said.

'I think she's right'

"Catherine and a lot of the new ministers have new families. This is a tough thing, and I think she's right," said long-time Vancouver MP Hedy Fry, who was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993 and knows a few things about striking a work-life balance while serving in Parliament.

The travel-heavy ministerial life "puts a real strain on families," said Fry, Canada's former secretary of state for multiculturalism and status of women.

Hedy Fry, chair of the Standing Committee on the Satus of Women, says working long hours in Parliament Hill is hard on families and often breaks up relationships. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"This is not a women's issue. This is a family issue," Fry said. "I've watched marriages go belly up, I've watched people go home only to find that their spouses have picked up and left, and said, 'I can't deal with this anymore.'"

McKenna said she's particularly interested in finding better ways to incorporate technology into the "old-school" work regime on Parliament Hill.

On Thursday she visited Ottawa-based tech darlings Shopify — well-known for their innovative approach to office life — and said some of their approaches, like regular meditation sessions, could benefit over-worked, over-stressed MPs.

"They have hard metrics looking at performance, and they're seeing better performance. People are happier. People are healthier," McKenna said.

"I want good people to go into politics. I want good people to be staff. I want a happy public service. This is all part of it — rethinking how we do things," she added.

"Because sometimes we just work harder, and we don't work better."


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