Kellie Leitch does double-duty as doctor and MP

Patients at Ottawa's children's hospital can be forgiven if they do a double-take on the doctor tending to a broken arm or prepping for surgery. It may well be Kellie Leitch, the minister of labour and minister for the status of women, in her moonlighting role as a doctor.
MP and labour minister volunteers at a hospital to keep her medical credentials current 2:04

In a small examining room, the sound of a saw resonates loudly.

A teenaged girl looks down as a technician cuts into her plaster cast while Dr. Kellie Leitch looks on.

It's 8 a.m. and Leitch is on duty at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Leitch has already assured 13 year-old Arianne Jodouin that the process is noisy, but not painful.

"She will have a fibreglass cast that is lighter — and purple, her favourite colour," says Leitch smiling.

Leitch deals with kids a lot. She's a pediatric surgeon, and when she’s at the hospital she parks her partisan side at the door. Like most politicians, she has one. Leitch is a Conservative MP and cabinet minister.

If the Whip needs me ... for a vote in the House of Commons, every one of the other surgeons here is happy to step up and cover me so that I can sit in my seat and do my primary job.- Kellie Leitch, MP and doctor

She was elected MP for the Ontario riding of Simcoe-Grey in 2011, winning by 20,599 votes over Helena Guergis, who was kicked out of Stephen Harper’s caucus following a series of controversies.

Leitch, by contrast, was considered by her party to be a star candidate buttonholed back in 2006 by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to chair a panel on the child fitness tax credit. Once elected to Parliament, Leitch set about to find out if she could be both mp and continue working as a pediatric surgeon.

“It probably is a conversation I should have had before, but no I did not. Maybe naively I assumed that I would be able to do some minimum things to be able to maintain my practice, but it actually never crossed my mind."

She took her request to her boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the matter was referred to Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson. Leitch was given the green light and is delighted it worked out.

"I feel very passionately about being a pediatric surgeon, I trained for a long time to become it, and I love it.”

So is she a doctor or a politician?

"I'm both," she says. “I'm a parliamentarian and a physician. And I'm proud of it. I think that both provide me with experiences that benefit the other.”

Cabinet table and operating room

Leitch normally works at the hospital one week a month. She is on call for emergency surgery operating on children who have broken bones from playing sports or who’ve been injured in accidents. She doesn’t get paid, and she works just enough to maintain her credentials as a doctor.
Conservative MP and doctor Kellie Leitch, left, stands with Dr. Baxter Willis, chief of surgery at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in 2012. Leitch volunteers her time at the hospital to keep her credentials current, while holding down two federal cabinet posts. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

"They're exceptionally supportive here,“ she says. “If the [government] Whip needs me to be available for a vote in the House of Commons, every one of the other surgeons here is happy to step up and cover me so that I can sit in my seat and do my primary job, which is being a parliamentarian and representing the people of Simcoe-Grey.”

Dr. Baxter Willis is the chief of surgery and Leitch’s boss at the hospital.

“I'm sure some of the patients I see in followup that she's operated on have been a bit surprised and shocked that the minister of labour and the minister for the status of women is a surgeon, but it's been all good. We've enjoyed the relationship and hope it can continue," Baxter says.

Leitch was appointed to those cabinet positions five months ago. She says it can lead patients to do double-takes.

Recently she was explaining a procedure to a little girl's mother. The woman kept looking curiously at Leitch, who finally realized the woman had seen her on a TV in the waiting room on a political panel. "And I said, 'Yeah, that's me, but you can see it's pre-taped,'" she laughs.

'2 important jobs'

Asked about Leitch's medical moonlighting, her opposition NDP critic, Alexandre Boulerice, is full of praise, not partisanship.

"We need a lot of doctors in this country," he says "I don't want to lose any one of them. So if she can help people and children with her job, I have absolutely no problem with that and I thank her."
Kellie Leitch was named minister of labour and minister for the status of women in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet shuffle in July. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Arianne Jodouin’s father says "she's doing two important jobs at the same time. It's very special."

Leitch believes that more professionals would be attracted to politics if they knew there was a way to work part-time and maintain their credentials, a safeguard in the Russian roulette world of politics.

“We'll see for myself if I get re-elected, having the opportunity to be able to go back to my profession was something important to me."

Right now her priority is not the next election, but the proper fitting of Arianne's cast. Luckily, it matches the teenager's purple toenails.

In pediatrics as in politics, sometimes it's the little victories that count.