Isabel Bassett: “There are always rumours. I've lived with rumours all my life. As you know, most of them aren't true.”

"There are always rumours. I've lived
with rumours all my life. As you know, most of them
aren't true."

 

I grew up in a time of great uncertainty, with a father overseas and a mother who moved back home with her family to Halifax. Dad was a doctor. He was in England until Juno Beach, and then he moved to France and set up a medical hospital on the coast.

We went back a couple of years ago and I was there for the anniversary of Juno Beach. It was amazing because my father had been there. It was quite emotional.

I came up to Toronto immediately after the war in 1946 when all the troops came back and you couldn't get an apartment. We had friends who were Maritimers, and we moved into their house while our apartment was getting ready.

I had no plan. I thought I would go into social work or teaching, but teaching is what happened. Humberside was an amazing school. I taught high-school English and French, but the interesting thing was that there were lots of immigrants. Education was their key to the future, and a lot of them from that area did very, very well.

Then I moved on to the Toronto Telegram and later went back and took a master's in English at York University. When I was at York, my professor, Clara Thomas, said I should write my research paper up into a book, which I did. It was called The Parlour Rebellion, and it talked about outstanding women of the late-19th and early-20th century.

During the book tour, CBC phoned and asked me to audition for one of its shows, which I didn't get, but that put me into television. And so then I was in television doing documentaries at CFTO and a public affairs show for about 15 years.

My late husband was a big name in Toronto at that time. I think from that point of view the tendency was to think, “Oh well, she's not going to work.”

I remember when I married him, somebody said, “Oh, this is really going to hurt your career.” I suppose I had no idea that people–and they still do–tend to pick the most prominent figure in the family and then all the rest are secondary to the main person.

As minister of culture, I think it was known how much I cared about the cultural field. You need to have people who really fight hard for the cultural community–whether it's writers, artists or publishers–all of those communities that create the legacy.

I was defeated in 1999. The next day it's like waking up with a big hangover. You just sort of feel blah. You have to readjust.

I wasn't brought in to privatize TVOntario. The government made the decision to make it useful, to support the education system. Naturally, anytime someone's appointed, there's some criticism. I think most people now would think that I've done a good job.

I think my job is to ensure that we maintain the funding that we get–we get $45 million from the government–but I don't wake up in the morning and wonder if it's still going to be there.

Our goal is to reduce our reliance on government, and I think that's key because you never know with every government changing where are we going to be.

On the weekends I go up north–I have a place near Orangeville. I'm in my jeans, I garden and I do a lot of walking. I see my kids. My son is in Toronto. My daughter is an Ontario Provincial Police officer; my other daughter's a veterinarian. Ernie [Eves, Bassett's partner and former Ontario premier] has a daughter who's a vet also.

The nights I'm home, I watch [TV] from the second I get in. I've got the TV on until I go to bed, and it's mostly TVO.

I'm not going to retire. I may change jobs but I don't think I'm going to stop working. I feel absolutely filled with energy, totally focused, and I feel that I've got an amazing amount of knowledge and experience.

Isabel Bassett

Toronto

Born on Aug. 23, 1939, in Halifax.

Teacher, journalist, MPP and broadcasting exec.

1961: Graduates with a BA from Queen's University before attending teacher's college and completing her MA at York University.

1967: Marries media titan John Bassett Sr. in Toronto shortly after she begins working at the now defunct Toronto Telegram.

1995: Elected as a Conservative to the Ontario legislature and named minister of citizenship, culture and recreation in 1997.

1999: Loses her Ontario cabinet seat in a June provincial election to Liberal MPP and now Attorney General Michael Bryant.

2002: Reappointed for a second term as chair and CEO of public broadcaster TVOntario; her term is set to expire in December 2005.

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