Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things


I started talking back to the computer pretty much from the jump during Episode Nine of Annette Verschuren’s never-ending podcast series, Bet On Me — this one bearing the catchy title: Leading and Living with Purpose: Exploring equity and inclusion with Deborah Gillis, CEO of CAMH Foundation.

Bet on Me, podcast, Annette VerschurenIt started when Verschuren referenced her guest’s “humble roots” in “Glencoe Station, Cape Breton.”

Read my lips: Glencoe Station may be a small place, but at the time of Gillis’ birth in the mid-20th century it was a small place in an advanced Western society. Enough already with the “humble” nonsense — especially since the first thing Gillis tells Verschuren is, “I was actually born in Toronto…I was a city kid.”

Her parents returned to their native Cape Breton when Gillis was in the third grade and they lived (by choice, not because Glencoe Station was bereft of mod cons) in an old farm house with a wood stove, no central heating and no bathtub or shower until they moved into a new house when she was in high school.

This gives Verschuren the opportunity to mention (again) that she was a farm girl and that her house was so cold in winter the woolen blankets would freeze to the wooden bedframes. I was rooting for Gillis to top this, “Four Yorkshiremen” style, with “Beds? You were lucky to have beds! The best we could do was lie on the floor under pictures of bedding cut out of the Sears catalog.” But alas, it was not to be.

Instead, the women pivot to discussing how growing up in such circumstances gives a person a “deep sense of family and community and connection” — the kind of connection that allows you to move to Toronto, climb the corporate ladder and eventually buy a beautiful second home here in which to record your vanity podcast series and marvel at how far you’ve come.

(I am seriously down to my last nerve with this thing, can you tell?)

Verschuren announces that she and Gillis are “sisters,” meaning, they both come from Cape Breton but they are also sisters in that they are both professional corporate executives.

Gillis is the former “Global CEO” of Catalyst, a non-profit that seeks to “accelerate and advance women into [corporate] leadership.” Verschuren asks her who, among the many very important people she had access to while working from the organization’s Wall Street HQ, she really admired. Gillis cites former BMO CEO Bill Downe and former Royal Dutch Shell CEO Peter Voser, both of whom were fervent in their belief that there should be more women in leadership positions — because the problem with big banks and oil companies is not that they, say, charge clients millions in excess fees or pollute the Niger Delta, it’s that they just don’t have enough women in their C-suites.

While she was at Catalyst, Gillis met Verschuren and this brings us to the most eye-crossing part of the interview, which begins like this:

Verschuren: Remember the work that we did together on women’s leadership and the promotion of women in business with the council, the uh, Canada-US Council and out of the 10 women, I think seven of them were Canadians, even on the American side?

Gillis: Exactly, I think I was technically an American appointee. But I was kind of straddling the, uh, border.

Verschuren: But we did great work there and the day that we were in the Oval Office with the prime minister and the president, I don’t think you were physically there, were you? That was fascinating, it really was. And uh, but uh, we did lots of good work together, we really did…

She’s talking about the Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders, a 2017 initiative proposed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and taken up in the US by presidential advisor and entrepreneur, Ivanka Trump. An initiative that produced such “great work,” all traces of it have apparently been wiped from the interwebs.

Here’s the official photo released by the PMO:

Trump, Trudeau, Ivanka, women in business council

(Photo by Adam Scotti/PMO)

And here’s a still from a CBC video of the festivities taken from an angle that shows Verschuren, being fascinated:

Source: CBC

Maclean’s Magazine covered the council’s launch, which took place during Trudeau’s first visit to the Trump White House:

The Canadian members include CEOs Annette Verschuren, of NRStor Inc., Dawn Farrell of TransAlta Corp., Linda Hasenfratz of Linamar Corp. and Tina Lee of T&T Supermarket Inc., as well as Monique Leroux, chair of the board of directors from Investissement Quebec…

Those on the American side are CEOs Elyse Allan, of GE Canada, Tamara Lundgren, of Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc., Julie Sweet, from Accenture, Mary T. Barra of General Motors and Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo.

I’m not sure when Gillis joined, but she was listed as co-chair of a council committee in this 2018 press release and both she and Verschuren are quoted in this Maclean’s article by the late Anne Kingston who has some fun referring to the organization by its acronym —  CUSCFAOWEABL — before listing all the reasons why the whole thing looked like a “much-hyped fake initiative.”

But so dedicated was the council to its work, it soldiered on even as other presidential advisory committees disbanded in the wake of Donald Trump’s comments about an “alt-right” rally in Virginia, releasing reports that seem to have vanished into the ether.

Looking back at that initiative from the perspective of a world entering the third year of a pandemic that has hit women particularly hard — and I don’t mean “women entrepreneurs and business leaders,” I mean women, often of color, in front-line, low-paid, healthcare and service industry jobs — the whole thing looks even worse than it did at the time. Like, the big problem facing women in the workplace is that so few of them get to sit in corner offices, exploiting other women.

Perhaps sensing that if they continued this line of discussion much longer they’d have to utter the word “Trump,” Verschuren at this point in the podcast introduces the topic of Gillis’ new position, as CEO of the CAMH Foundation, the fundraising arm of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. The CAMH is a teaching and research hospital, the kind of facility that should not have to fundraise to exist in a country with single-payer healthcare, but whatever.

Verschuren notes that she herself was on the CAMH Foundation board for years and that Gillis called her for advice when she was considering pursuing the position and Gillis spends the next 20 minutes spouting platitudes about the importance of mental health that are perhaps best summed up by the title of a talk she once gave to our own Regional Chamber of Commerce:

Mind Matters talk by Deborah Gillis


And you know what, Deborah? You are right. My mind DOES matter — and I can’t blow any more of it discussing this episode, other than to note that Verschuren describes Gillis as “brazen” which, according to Merriam-Webster, means “marked by shameless or disrespectful boldness.”

And that this episode was, as usual, rife with log-rolling:

As you can see, Bet On Me has eaten up all my time this week. I will try not to let this happen with the remaining four episodes, but if they contain gold like Ivanka Trump’s women-in-business initiative, all bets — on you, on me, on Annette — are off.