Last week was a big one for Marci Ien. On October 26th, she was elected the new MP for Toronto Centre, and on October 27th she released her first -and very personal – book, Off Script: Living Out Loud. Two days later, I caught up with Marci to get her thoughts on both.

When I first saw that you had announced your candidacy for the Liberal representative in Toronto Centre, I was surprised – I didn’t see that one coming! But once it had a chance to sink in, I thought, “That’s perfect.” It just made so much sense once I processed it…but how did it come about?

Well, I didn’t see it coming! It came about doing my job on The Social, because we were talking about issues that impacted Canadians on a daily basis, so whether it was Black Lives Mattering, BIPOC {Black, Indigenous, People of Colour} issues, very much including First Nations issues, whether it was talking about women in politics and the need for more women in politics, but diverse women – these are subjects we tackled every day. I had been, as you know, in news for most of my career and with news there’s a neutrality there, because frankly, you’re telling other people’s stories. You’re not telling your own. But all of a sudden on The Social I was telling my own, through that lens, looking at social issues. I could actually talk about life experiences, what it means as a Black woman in this country, as a mother of Black kids in this country, what the lack of diversity means, the fact that we’re still asking whether racism exists in Canada, if systemic racism exists in Canada, all of these things. As I was talking, I was hearing from a lot of people who said, “Please keep talking. Because you’re not just talking about your experience, you’re talking about us. So please keep talking.” And even though there were people who felt the opposite, and I would get a lot of hate online, as you know and you’ve seen, I thought that kind of vitriol is probably a good thing because I’ve hit a nerve. Because there were so many others saying, “Please keep talking. Please keep telling your truth.” And when this riding came up, I put my hat in the ring and I said, “You know what, I was born in this riding. I went to University in this riding. This riding is part of my lifeblood. It’s where my family’s journey started in this country. And I really think that I can try and make a difference and serve this community well.” So I put my hand up, and on a Wednesday I made the announcement, on a Thursday I was appointed, and on a Friday, the writ dropped. That’s how quickly it all happened.

Wow. And you know what I love about this story is sometimes it’s so hard to trust your path in life, but I’m thinking of how difficult it was for you when Canada AM ended {something Marci writes about in her book}, and imagine if you were still on that show, how things would be different and wouldn’t have played out this way. 

No, it wouldn’t have played out this way. And I do believe that having that microphone, being on The Social, was integral, because I was using my voice, my authentic voice. Talking about my opinions related to all the issues that we delved into. That is something I absolutely would not have been doing as a news reporter because it wasn’t my job to do it. This way, being at The Social, it was, and as I started to really dissect certain things that happened, I asked questions. I said on the show, “I’ve been in this business, a journalist for almost thirty years, and I’ve never had a boss of colour. What does that say about the state of our industry? What does that say about who’s leading? And that has to change.” These are the kinds of things. And allyship, what does that look like? It’s so many things. But if not for this particular microphone, absolutely this could not have happened.

Well, speaking of your voice, let’s talk about your book: I love it, which works out well, because when I want to interview someone and support someone but don’t like their book it’s awkward! But no, I love it! I think one of the best things is that it covers such a range, so whether people want to hear about your career and all those TV stories, or more about your marriage and family, or delve into your experience as a Black woman, it’s all there. So let’s start with a couple of lighter questions: Where was your favourite spot to write?

On the couch.{Laughs.} Curled up on the couch with my laptop. I sat on my little couch and wrote many, many days and nights there. It’s interesting, I didn’t even use my desk – I have a desk with a little chair, and I didn’t use that. I think because there’s a huge window, my couch is right next to a kind of walkout, and so looking at the trees, and just feeling that connection with nature, helped me.

And there’s something about a desk sometimes that feels like, “Oh now I’m sitting down to work.” Whereas psychologically, it’s nice to be somewhere else! 

Absolutely! It was that little couch in our living room. And it was our laptop, and I just sat there with my tea, looking out the window and I did my thing.

Next I was going to ask you what you couldn’t write without…would you say having your tea? 

Absolutely, a cup of tea.

What was the hardest section of the book to write? 

About our separation. That, and the police stop. You know what, that was really hard. Oh my gosh, yeah. I remember even doing the audiobook, I started to get very emotional with the police stop, so I think maybe that. I did, I had to stop a couple of times and reread.

And what do you think will be the most talked about, or controversial part of the book?

The police stop.

I think you’re probably right about that.

Next – tell us something that people don’t know about The Social. 

Well, I think people understand that we get along, I’m just not certain they understand the kind of sisterhood we have. That these are my sisters. These are, I mean, you see in the book that, on the night of that stop, I picked up the phone and called Lainey. This is not just a show where we go out and we laugh and smile, it’s a sisterhood that continues after we get off set, through the night, And this is why when I signed off this week, I said, “This is never the end.” Because it’s family, and I don’t know if people understand the level of that. The other thing is, how important our team behind the scenes is. People will say, “Oh, it’s easy, isn’t it? You’re on the air for an hour and that’s it!” But it’s the amount of work that goes into each and every one of those hours, that’s what people don’t see. They don’t see the producers who are trying to come up with the best story ideas. They don’t see the people toiling on their computers late at night to do the research. They don’t see all the imaginations behind the scenes that make that hour look seamless. It takes a heck of a lot of work, and a lot of people who are amazing at their jobs, to pull off one hour of good television. And they don’t see that we really just try to get better. After each show, there’s a postmortem, and nobody’s shy about what went right and what went wrong. Just knowing that, you know what? We may not have hit every single thing the way we wanted to today, but the one thing we know for certain is that tomorrow will be better, because we won’t make the same mistake twice. So, it’s the commitment of the team as a whole, people don’t see that, because people only see an hour, right? But it’s the work, and the consistency, of this amazing, amazing, team that makes it happen.

Now, getting a little more serious here: I am, as you know, a white woman. I’m just curious to know, for you, what does anti-racist allyship look like? Because sometimes I feel like I’m seeing conflicting messages, like, “White women should just listen, share the microphone, that sort of thing”, but then, “Why are white women being quiet and not speaking up?” So what does it look like to you?

What it looks like to me, and what it looks like with my friends: if I’m in a situation and I’m speaking about something, something important, I will have asked my friends in advance to back me up. And by that I mean, picture this, Kate: You’re in a meeting, you’ve got a Black colleague, that colleague pitches a story idea, okay? And, you know, whether that Black colleague is heard and has that voice at the table matters, but we know that it’s simply not the case sometimes. So allyship to me means somebody stepping forward and saying, “This is a great idea, and here’s how it can work.” I’ve had conversations with my friends before meetings and I’ve said, “This is what I’m thinking. This is what would matter to me. What do you think?” And it was like, “I like this, and we’ll completely support you.” What allyship means is support. It’s listening, but it’s also support. Because when we speak of privilege, when we speak of white privilege, it doesn’t have to do with money. I’ve had so many conversations where people say, “Listen, Marci. I grew up in very poor circumstances, and I’m white. How am I privileged?” And I’ve said, “What privilege means is that your skin colour will get you through the door. Opportunity will open to you, whereas it may close to me. My skin colour may be a detractor for me, but yours helps you. That’s what privilege is.” So support means backing that person up. Obviously there has to be agreement, but backing that person up, being a support, being a listener, yes, but the listening goes hand in hand with the support. Because it’s not just about listening right now, it’s about action. It’s not taking the back seat, it’s being beside.

I love that. Thank you. Along the same lines, when I asked my social media followers if anyone had a question for you, someone wanted me to ask: “How do you have difficult conversations with others who make off-script stereotypical or racist remarks?” 

I will call it out, and usually it’s like, “Okay so tell me what you meant by that, because just so you know, this is how I took it or I received it.” I think people, for the most part, have empathy, and they don’t understand that things sometimes can hurt. I really believe that, and instead of ignoring it, address how that landed, and how you felt, to really change things for people. Because then they understand – because humanity, hopefully, kicks in – why there was hurt. Why what they said wasn’t the right thing to say. And what I know for sure is that if you don’t speak out, then that kind of behavior continues. When you say, “Hey, you know what, that wasn’t right. This is why that hurt. This is why that impacted me the way it did,” and maybe throw out a personal story too, that can have impact, and that’s how we get better. Silence is never a good thing when it comes to a situation like that, ever.

Finally, what do you hope to accomplish in politics?

Service. I mean, that’s the bottom line, and it covers a lot. So, it isn’t even about achievement, I mean the level of success from me will be, do my constituents have what they need? They are telling me that they don’t feel they’re being heard. They’re telling me that they want affordable housing. Many of them are telling me that they’re so happy to see that someone who looks like them is going to be at the table. They’re telling me that they have issues of safety, but yet they want solutions for everyone. In my riding, homelessness is a huge issue, and it starts with youth homelessness, so if I can move the dial on any of those things, Kate, then I will have achieved success. Success will be measured by the level of security my constituents have. Are they doing better, are they feeling better about things? That’s the only level of success. It’s not even achievement for me, it’s achievement for them.


To give you a further sense of the kind of person Marci is, she even stayed on the line after this interview to answer a couple of off-the-record questions and share some great career advice with me. We may have been interrupted briefly when a call came in from “House of Commons” that she obviously needed to answer, but she was, as always, so kind and generous with her time – which she has been since 2010 when she agreed to be the very first Momterview for this site. In the years that followed, she invited me to go behind the scenes with her at Canada AM, helped me land my first national segment on that show, appeared on my podcast, and interviewed me several times on The Social. She will always hold a very special place in my heart and I’m so proud of her for her accomplishments.

Marci Ien’s fantastic new book, Off Script: Living Out Loud is available now.

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