From typewriters to Twitter: Marjory LeBreton on 50 years in politics

When Marjory LeBreton first entered the world of professional politics, she was a rarity.

OTTAWA — When Marjory LeBreton first entered the world of professional politics, she was a rarity.

Not because she was a woman — it was mostly women behind the manual typewriters at the Progressive Conservative party headquarters in 1962.

It’s because she was a working mother.

“I was the only working mom on my street,” said LeBreton, who retires from the Senate this week upon her 75th birthday.

“Women at that time — when they were working, people thought your husband was a laggard. I worked because I wanted to work. I couldn’t imagine not working outside the home.”

As LeBreton contemplates her next steps after more than five decades of work on and around Parliament Hill, she’s says she’s just leaving the Senate, not “checking out of life.”

There’s one thing she knows she won’t do — sign up for Twitter.

Technology has changed politics more than anything else and not necessarily for the better, LeBreton said in a wide-ranging interview with The Canadian Press.

The instantaneous nature of communication has seen politicians lose focus on their voters and on long-term planning, caught up instead by the flash-mob mentality a single social media post can create.

It’s a far cry from her days riding the campaign rails with John Diefenbaker and then Robert Stanfield, where people would come out to see the candidate in part because it was something to do.

“It’s taken away some of the personality of politics and the personal contact and the personal associations people come to have.”

Though LeBreton started out in the party’s secretarial pool, she climbed up the ladder of political power steadily — mindful always, she said, that such a climb could be treacherous for a woman.

Not much of a drinker, she’d turn down the invitations to head to the bar after work, instead leaving to pick up daughter Linda and son Michael from a neighbour who watched them every day after school until she could make it home.

Linda was killed in 1996 by a drunk driver. LeBreton has been active in the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving ever since.

During the parliamentary session that just ended, when allegations of sexual harassment surfaced between members of Parliament, LeBreton said she wasn’t entirely surprised, although she’d never had that kind of experience.

“Other than dealing with the fact that I always felt as a woman you had to work twice as hard to get half the credit, I never felt I was in a position where I was personally uncomfortable,” she said.

But she leaves office with her party in a position of political discomfort and knows she’s part of the reason why.

LeBreton was appointed to the Senate by Brian Mulroney in 1993, after serving as his deputy chief of staff.

She went on to become one of Stephen Harper’s most loyal soldiers, serving as leader of the government in the Senate from 2006 to 2013, when a series of Senate spending scandals began rocking government and she stepped aside.

LeBreton deflected questions about whether, in her position as leader in the Senate, she ought to bear some responsibility for the spending of caucus colleagues whose expense claims are being investigated by the RCMP.

That those investigations are underway at all is because she made the decision to toughen the rules, open the books and ultimately call in the auditor general, LeBreton countered.

The only thing she’d have done differently would have been to make sure people understood that more clearly — that the Conservative government is working hard to clean up its own mess.

“Now that all of this is out there, laid bare, we are going to be the ones that will go forward and fix the place.”