Mark Holland discusses personal trauma in plea to make politics more compassionate

Government House Leader Mark Holland made an emotional plea for more compassion in politics Tuesday.

Holland told a parliamentary committee that hybrid Parliament should remain an option for MPs

Government House Leader Mark Holland told a parliamentary committee Tuesday that politics has taken a deep personal toll on himself and his family. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

WARNING: This story contains discussion of suicide.

Government House Leader Mark Holland made an emotional plea for more compassion in politics Tuesday.

Appearing before the procedure and House affairs committee Tuesday to discuss the hybrid Parliament, Holland spoke about his traumatic relationship with his parents, his wife and children and his attempt to take his own life after losing his seat in the 2011 election.

"When I lost, because I had thrown my entire universe into this enterprise, to the expense of unfortunately a lot of other things I should have taken better care of. I was in a really desperate spot," Holland told the committee.

"I was told that I was toxic. The Conservatives hated me. No organization would hire me. My marriage failed. My space with my children was not in a good place and most particularly my passion — the thing I believed so ardently in ... the purpose of my life — was in ashes at my feet."

In an emotional speech before the committee, Holland discussed his own suicide attempt and his mother's suicide attempt.

"I'm not proud to say that I made an attempt on my life, at that moment in time. And that was the genesis of me starting to see my life very, very differently," Holland said.

"I had to reflect, in that moment, on my own mum through the course of the abuse she faced and her own attempt on her life and the impact that it had on me as a child.

"And so why do I say all of that? Because it took a lot in that moment to, I guess, understand … how I had to re-frame what I did. To understand the mistakes that I had made. And I came back to attempt to do things differently."

WATCH: Mark Holland on the toll of being an MP

Liberal house leader opens up about difficult times during his political career

5 months ago
Duration 1:40
During a committee debate on hybrid Parliament, Holland speaks about the pressures of being a politician and the toll it took on his personal life.

Holland touts merits of hybrid Parliament

Holland said he struggled growing up in a household with a lot of abuse, with a low sense of self worth and a "very poor" relationship with a father who was obsessed with becoming somebody important.

"I struggled to get his attention, or feel that he saw me," Holland said. "I struggled in a household where there was a lot of abuse."

Holland said he may have decided to go into politics to find purpose in his life — "a calling" that he took "extremely seriously."

Holland said he threw himself into his work by attending every event and trying to do everything that was asked of him. In the process, he said, he "failed his family."

"I was not the father that I should have been. I did not maintain my personal relationships in the way in which I should and that's something that I can't take back," he said.

Holland said it would be better to approach the business of politics by trying to accommodate the individual situations of MPs and staffers so they can be more productive and resilient.

"If we create a place where people give more than they take, people who take more responsibility than they give blame ... This place needs to be more human, it needs to be more compassionate. Hybrid isn't an answer, but I submit that it's a start," Holland said.

After his speech, MPs on the committee continued to debate how much longer hybrid sittings should continue and how Parliament could vary its rules to allow MPs to participate in ways unique to their situations. Holland urged the MPs to recommend continued hybrid sittings as a way of showing compassion for one another.

A spokesperson from Holland's office refused to add details to Holland's testimony, telling CBC News by email that his speech before committee was planned.

"He spoke in very personal terms about his own experiences to encourage open and honest conversation and to illustrate the need for these changes. He has nothing further to add at this time," the spokesperson said. 

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Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.

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