Transcript – Episode 29: Chat with GCWCC champion and co-champions

John Hannaford: Hello, everyone. It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to be your host once again, for a conversation that is rather important to us as a community and as a department. I’m pleased to have three colleagues here as champions for the workplace charitable campaign [GCWCC] here at the department. First, we have Caroline Leclerc, our assistant deputy minister and an expert in the field of global development, Myriam Pineault-Latreille, who is co‑champion this year and is a former student of mine at the University of Ottawa and Harkiran Rajasansi, who is a book club aficionado.

Harkiran Rajasansi: So Trade Commissioner, then I was FPDS and I'm working in the development stream with Caroline.

Caroline Leclerc: Yeah, she's come to the light.

John Hannaford: Okay. So great to have that degree of fusion between the various streams too. In any case is real pleasure to get a chance to chat with you today. And this was an opportunity to talk a little bit about the campaign and your vision for it and some of the opportunities you see, and the importance of this to not only us but to the broader community that we serve in, in Ottawa, in various cities where we are located, in Canada generally. So, thank you very much for coming. Perhaps we can begin with Caroline and talk a bit about your vision for this year’s campaign.

Caroline Leclerc: Thank you, John. I’m so happy to be here with the campaign co‑champions. I admit that when I started, or when I took on the role of champion, I was enormously stressed, a lot of anxiety, because it’s really, it’s huge, it’s visible, it’s challenging.

John Hannaford: It’s important.

Caroline Leclerc: Yes, it’s important. It really forced me to think about what my involvement was in the campaign. Why, when I participated, why I was giving—I’ve been contributing through payroll deductions for 24 years, and some years I didn’t even think about it; I increased it a little, I decreased it a little. And then I began to think about it a bit. I remembered when I used to take my kids to school and I would see their little friends who had to go to the Breakfast Club because they didn’t have good lunches; and I thought about my friend, who was in a violent relationship, who needed help and needed to access a shelter for abused women. I thought about my nephew, when he was a teenager and was having challenges related to his sexual identity and needed support, he needed coaching on how to have difficult conversations. I thought about my mother, when she had cancer and it was my father who was taking care of her at home and needed help, he needed services to get to the treatments. And then, I realized that there’s this whole ecosystem of organizations that provide these services, and they’re worn out, and they’re always running out of money, and if the only thing I can do is make a donation, well then, I’m going to do it. So I came back really motivated, I was more enthusiastic than ever and I wanted our campaign—I wanted the campaign here at the department—I wanted it to be representative of the department. I wanted it to be inclusive, I wanted it to appeal to young people, and most of all I wanted us to have fun. But since I’m not the best organizer, I surrounded myself with my co‑champions, who are helping me a lot. But after that, we had to choose a theme. Everyone was telling me about the superheroes when Arun [Thangaraj, campaign champion at GAC in 2017] was champion, and I had nothing to match that, and I was trying to find something that might interest people. If there’s any one thing I like doing aside from sleeping, it’s weightlifting. I love to lift weights. So, I thought of the theme “Lift / Plus haut,” and we began to talk about it a bit, and we figured “lifting together,” “lifting our communities” could work. So that was our theme for what I wanted people to get out of the campaign. I’d like the campaign to remind us why it’s important for the community that people take the time to look at the people around them who have needs but also the organizations that are there. I’d like people to take the opportunity to network, I’d like us to have fun with each other, to get to know one another. And most of all, I want people to see how much pleasure they can get out of making a donation or doing an hour of volunteer work.

John Hannaford: Well, that's right, and extraordinarily important. And I guess one of the features that we've tried to emphasize in this year's campaign is just the breadth of participation by all members of the community. And Myriam, you've been very active in the sort of youth network in this place and have been a real leader in that regard. And it's wonderful that you're taking a leadership role in the campaign. But I’m wondering, what are your reasons for choosing to do this type of work for us?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: When Caroline came to me to ask whether I wanted to become co‑champion, I was really excited and I thought it was such a great honour, but most of all I thought it was a really good opportunity to really include youth, reimagine the campaign “at large” but also recognize the time and the money that everyone was investing. Just after the campaign launch, in fact, I got a whole bunch of emails from young people who were, like, “I have some ideas. I’ve got an idea for how to raise money. I also have some ideas on how we could spread the word about the campaign.” The young people here are really innovative and creative, so it was really fun to give them—to open the door for them and give them the opportunity to get involved in the campaign. It was much appreciated, and I also think the campaign brings a lot to the young people in the department because… As Caroline said, it’s really like community building, it’s really—for young people, they change teams often, from one contract to the next, and sometimes it’s hard to create "community" within the department. But having this time during the year when we can sort of put teams together and do the relay race, and then, suddenly, together we’re trying to raise money, and there’s a kind of team spirit that’s really created, and I think that it’s really fun for young people to get involved in the campaign. The campaign is about helping the community in Ottawa, but it’s also about helping the community in the department. Like Caroline said, there are a lot of people around us who come from poorer backgrounds, or who have people close to them who have—whose relative is ill. We’re also helping our own colleagues, you know?  
My mother has ALS, which is the same disease that Mauril Bélanger was diagnosed with. It’s a really rare disease and money really has—there’s not a lot of it, and it has an impact on research. A few weeks ago, I was looking at the whole breakdown of the e‑pledges that had been made in the department. I wanted to see which causes were close to the hearts of the department’s employees. So, I wanted to see, “Ah, is it environmental causes?”—for example—and I was surprised to see, in fact, that there were a dozen government employees who had donated to ALS, and that together, our dozen had managed to raise thousands of dollars. So all of a sudden, I was reminded of the beauty of the campaign. It was like, “Yes, I’m part of that community.” I didn’t know who those other employees were, but together we had managed to make an impact on a cause that has a huge impact on my life. I was like, “Oh, yeah, I’m really happy to be involved in the campaign,” just for that.

Caroline Leclerc: Bravo,

John Hannaford: …yes…

Caroline Leclerc: and what’s more, you were good, you’re really doing a good job. It’s really cool what you’ve brought to us. So, a big thank you.

John Hannaford: Harkiran, you're– I guess a couple of things: I'm interested in your motivations for why you're playing the leadership role that you're playing, but also anything you've been surprised by so far in, through the conduct in the campaign.

Harkiran Rajasansi: Sure. You know, I've worked in this department for 18 years now as a foreign service officer from - so I've gone from canvasser to co-champion, which is a great opportunity to see how we work with our senior management. But really for me, it's about community building and supporting from within our department as well as the community outside. So I used to live in the [ByWard] Market and every day, I'd walk past people who are in great need. You know, I was in very much in the ground zero of Ottawa's drug crisis, homelessness. You know, I lived two blocks from the Shepherds of Good Hope. So every day, every time I walked my daughter to preschool, I'd see people in need. And you realize there are so many people who are just at the edge of being homeless, at the edge of losing everything. And they need services. They need help. Like there's a huge gap in support for mental health issues in our country. And so that's something that's really concrete. And how many people that department live within a walking radius of this building and they see that every day. So I think it's really something that touches close to home. And we're so lucky that we get to work somewhere where we do really interesting work and we get well paid for it. So it's, it behooves us to contribute back to our communities and help those that are in need and in doing it in a way that is very practical, that that has low overhead costs, like there's all these practical reasons to do it and that have real concrete results.

And when you're on posting, you see the same needs wherever you are in the world, whether you're posted to Jakarta, like I was, or Seattle. You know, extremely wealthy city, yet high rates of homelessness and people really pull together to support their communities that they see every day. And I think that, that's really important. And for me, here in this department, it's a question of kind of being a good corporate citizen, being somebody who, who pulls the community together. How many people actually like to eat lunch at their desk? We don't. So it's great to get out and go to the bake sale and go down to the book sale. We are just over at 111 [Sussex] for the relay race this afternoon. It was amazing. People were so enthusiastic. The costumes, the fun that people were having. There's no reason - you never hear someone say "no, I don't want to have fun at work", and the campaign actually brings like, for a quarter of the year, you have an opportunity to come together as a community, to get to know your colleagues. I've you know, I've actually met a lot of people in the department working on this campaign, which is, you know, it kind of renews your spirit. It renews your enthusiasm for coming to work. You have fun. You break bread together. It's…it's a great opportunity to kind of continue your enthusiasm and happiness at being at work, you know?

John Hannaford: …yes…

Harkiran Rajasansi: And it's, you see, you see great results from it.

John Hannaford: I couldn't agree more. I mean, I think one of the wonderful things about this campaign, it's true, every year, is, it really is about community. It's about us as a working community. And as you say, you have the opportunity through participating in the campaign to kind of reinforce your relationships and a sense of identity in this place. And, you know, we used to have a we had a pickup ball hockey game at PCO [Privy Council Office], which was ridiculous because we weren't the most athletic crowd, I can tell you. But it was, it was incredibly fun and it was sort of a highlight of the year. And so it sort of reinforced those relationships. But more to the point, it kind of reminds you just how lucky we are. And you know this department, more than most, because we do have exposure to the entire world, you know, it kind of brings home just how fortunate we are to live in this country and to have the opportunities that we have. And, you know, the chance to give back a bit is something that is powerful. And, so, the work that you guys are doing is really, really important from that perspective, too. So, on behalf of the department, thank you for all the work you're doing. I guess the thing I wanted to just make sure that everyone knows those, you know, the various means that they can give, and any tips that you have for people who are who have not yet made a decision as to whether they're going to donate, any...

Caroline Leclerc: But can we take a moment to do a little myth busting? First myth, I think people think that we’re involved in the campaign because we feel obligated, but really, clearly, you are super inspiring, my co‑champions. A big thank you to you both. First myth: A few weeks ago, I heard that apparently one of the myths is that management is involved in it because there’s a bonus. People expect I'll get a bonus out of this? And at first I thought, wow, that's crazy. And I was like, hmm.. So I called Bruce [Christie] and Arun and I checked and they didn't get a bonus. And I'm just looking at your face. So for the people listening, The Deputy's face screams "you're not getting any money out of this." So that one's debunked, but I also want to take a moment to—because one of the questions people ask me all the time is “Why—I can donate to any organization whenever I want, I’m giving already—why should I donate through the charitable campaign?” I tell them, “If you’re already giving, great, keep it up and take part in the activities. But think a bit about this: charitable organizations are often organizations that are made up of volunteers. Imagine those people who are organizing fundraisers. It’s a whole lot of trouble to organize a spaghetti supper, a golf tournament, to recruit volunteers, make the rounds of companies to get prizes. Often, those people are going to put in 50 cents of effort to get one dollar. Often, the treasurer is a volunteer, in their basement, trying to do the books, trying to issue the charitable receipts for your tax return. When the cheque from the campaign arrives, it’s a real blessing for those people. They can take their 50 cents that they spent trying to put on those fundraisers and they can put all of it toward their program.” As far as I’m concerned, that’s the advantage of donating through the campaign. I don’t know whether you have any myths that you want to debunk?

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: One myth, which is pretty prevalent among young people, is that if you donate—if you make an e‑pledge—so, from each of your paycheques, there’s a sum that goes to a charity of your choice—that this is going to create problems with Phoenix. As someone who has had problems with Phoenix since joining the department, I can assure you that I made my e‑pledges and that no new problems suddenly cropped up with my e‑pledges. There’s also this perception that if you already have problems with Phoenix, you shouldn’t donate. They’re two pieces of software that are completely separate. The campaign guarantees that, since 2016, there has never been anyone who has made an e‑pledge that has created a problem with Phoenix. So I think that it’s—that has to stop and we have to talk about it, because it’s not connected at all.

Harkiran Rajasansi: And I would echo that. I'm somebody who - knock on wood - has not had Phoenix problems and I've had never any problems with payroll deduction or, you know, a single pledge through using your credit card. It's pretty seamless and I encourage people to use it. And I think it gets easier every year. You know, back from when we have to you paper forms and you can still do that or you can just - I think I counted there's about four clicks to get through and make your donation, which is…

John Hannaford: You're absolutely right. I did it last week. Very simple.

Harkiran Rajasansi: Very straightforward. So you know that if in all the other reasons from the overhead to the percentage of donations that actually go to the charity, and I think there's something like 85 000 charities you can pick, like there's an extremely high number, you can choose a charity of your choice. And there's lots of Canadian registered Canadian charities out there that are in need.

John Hannaford: Well, it's, it's a terrific initiative. I'm so grateful to you three for the roles that you've played and in promoting it. I just want to encourage everyone who's listening to us today to consider the possibility of making a donation here, because it really matters to our community and it's a way of expressing our gratitude for the situation in which we live. I'm sorry -

Harkiran Rajasansi: I just thought of one other thing I want to say was, you know, our missions. I'd just read today that one third of the donations collected by the department are from our missions, which is incredible. So it's important to remember that even if you're at post, you know, and your CBS, it's still dead easy just to do your e-pledge or your online deduction. And our communities and our missions abroad, they do amazing activities as well. You see the local needs and events are organized and people collect and donate to local charities as well, which is extremely valuable.

John Hannaford: To our community around the world.

Harkiran Rajasansi: Definitely.

John Hannaford: Good. Well, thank you so much again. It's been such a pleasure talking to you. And thanks for all your work.

Harkiran Rajasansi: Thank you.

Myriam Pineault-Latreille: Thank you.

Caroline Leclerc: Thank you.

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