From journalist to politician, beauty queen to board executive, Carole Taylor has had her share of first days on the job. And, as she’s experienced many times before in her long and multi-faceted career, Taylor is feeling the excitement build as she nears her first day as chancellor of Simon Fraser University.
It was announced last fall that she would be taking over the reins in June.
But for someone who has achieved such success in so many industries over the past 40-plus years, Taylor admits she didn’t have much of a career vision in her university days in Toronto. Truth be told, she simply fell into her first career due to a lack of other options.
“I had started doing television when I was in high school and then in university, but I never expected that I would stay in it – I always thought that I would end up doing something different,” the Miss Canada of 1964 says. “But at university, nothing really came to me that I would prefer to do, so after university I started daytime shows and public affairs.”
Taylor would go on to co-host both Canada AM when it premiered in 1972, as well as acclaimed news magazine series W5.
At a time when most women in the news industry held only secretarial roles, Taylor admits she was challenged to prove herself in a male-dominated industry.
“When I was co-hosting Canada AM, it was a battle for me to not just do the recipe section and to say I want to interview the prime minister,” she recalls. “It was a bit of a struggle to make sure that I was on equal footing with my male co-host.”
With the challenges, however, came opportunities. Women in her generation could become pioneers of sorts, something women a decade earlier would have had more difficulty achieving.
“I was lucky in a way, because I ended up coming through in a time when people were open to (women in journalism), so being the first woman host of W5, and the first woman this and first woman that – there were some, I suppose, advantages.”
It was an assignment in Vancouver in the mid-’70s that would set the course for the next chapter in Taylor’s life.
“I was sent out to interview the mayor of Vancouver (Art Phillips), and I ended up marrying him,” Taylor laughs, noting she had little choice but to move to the West Coast. “He couldn’t move his job.”
Over the next few years, Taylor gained behind-the-scenes exposure to the ins and outs of civic politics, and was “energized” by the possibilities. That excitement, combined with what she describes as a sense of public service, would lead to her election as an independent Vancouver councillor in 1986.
“As a journalist, I covered politics all the time, and I was always thinking, ‘why don’t we have better people running?’” she recalls. “At some point, you have to look in the mirror and say, ‘if you think people should be participating in politics as a public service, then you’ve got to do your bit, too.’”
After two terms on Vancouver council, followed by stints as chair of the boards of directors for CBC, Vancouver Board of Trade, Port of Vancouver and Canada Ports, Taylor returned to politics in 2005, when she ran for a seat with the BC Liberals. Shortly after she won the seat in Vancouver-Langara, then-premier Gordon Campbell named Taylor minister of finance, a challenge the rookie MLA quickly embraced.
Asked if the portfolio was intimidating, she responds: “I’ve got a very restless mind, so I like new challenges; I like change… I’m the opposite of someone who is comfortable sitting in the same position – I really do get energized by new situations.”
Taylor had plenty to keep herself busy with in the early days as finance minister – she took office less than a year before nearly all of the province’s union contracts were up for renewal, and says that completing the negotiations and renewals on time was one of her proudest accomplishments.
Taylor describes her political ventures as a “tremendous experience.” And although she chose not to seek re-election in 2009, her name was among several to surface in the media last fall when Campbell surprised many by announcing he would be stepping down as BC Liberal leader and premier.
Taylor, however, indicated not even a hint of interest in the province’s top job. In fact, she’s withheld comment on anything to do with the Liberal leadership race or the current state of politics in B.C.
Taylor stands by her decision to exit the political scene when she did.
“I believe very strongly that it is good for politics to have some people who come in for a short period of time and then leave, and are not committed to a lifetime of politics. You’ll always have the people who have devoted their lives to it – and I think that’s wonderful – but part of the mix should be these people who come in and out.
“I’m one of the lucky ones – I’ve come away from all of my politics feeling very good about the experience. It’s sad to me when I see some former politicians and they’re bitter or they’re unhappy or they feel that maybe they weren’t appreciated…. It is a public service and you’re putting yourself out there, and you would hope at the end of the day that you’ve accomplished something.”
Though her latest career endeavour won’t start officially until June, she’s already in close contact with SFU president (and former provincial minister under the NDP’s rule) Andrew Petter, and is offering her support and connections with the community.
Taylor describes her move to SFU as a “natural fit,” noting the long relationship she has had with the institution dating back to her days as a Vancouver city councillor. Finding ways to connect the university and the work that takes place there with the community is one of the things she hopes to accomplish as chancellor.
“Every university handles the position differently, and every chancellor within that university handles it differently. And that’s something that appeals to me, because you would like to put your stamp on it in some way.
“It represents, for me, the kind of higher education that I think is going to be necessary in the future, which is very much focused on the strength of the teaching, but also supporting the research the professors are doing… and feeding it back to the community.
“I’m very against the ivory tower notion of university, where all this brilliant thinking and work goes on, but it’s never used – it doesn’t get out into the community.”
As she looks ahead to her new role, the mother of two grown children – her son, Christopher, is a business writer in New York and her daughter, Samantha, is a doctor of emergency medicine in L.A. – has no regrets about any of her past career choices.
“I really enjoyed all of these career changes. It’s always something different in each one that I feel satisfied about,” she says, noting that the majority of the career paths came to her unexpectedly.
“They’ve all been surprises. If I sat there as a teenager working in television and said, ‘someday, you’re going to be on the board or someday you’ll be head of CBC,’ who would have believed it?”
Being open to opportunity, as well as flexible and accepting of change, is a message she tries to relay when speaking with the younger generation – especially women.
“I find these days, I guess it’s the pressure of having a job and being successful, young people very early on get locked down saying, ‘OK, I’m going to do this for three years, then I’ll take this course or get this promotion, then I do this…’ You don’t see the really interesting possibilities that are outside as sidebars.
“I think, unfortunately, my generation has put a lot of pressure on younger women, saying, ‘you can have it all.’ The more we say that, the more there’s this expectation that you must do it all, and that’s not fair to anybody. It’s tough being a mother and also having a career and looking after a marriage. Don’t get locked into the superwoman, you-have-to-be-perfect image. Nobody’s perfect. You can have it all eventually, but you can’t have it all at once.”