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Oakville MP Anita Anand in the spotlight

Anita Anand, Oakville MP and Canada's Minister of Public Services and Procurement
Oakville MP Anita Anand in the spotlight
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Kim Arnott

Kim Arnott

Kim Arnott is a graduate of McMaster University and Sheridan College’s journalism program, her reporting has appeared in dozens of daily and community newspapers, magazines and specialty publications over the last two decades.

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One year ago, Anita Anand was selected as Oakville’s Liberal candidate for the 2019 federal election. She connected electronically with Oakville News to talk about her “whirlwind” year that saw her elected, appointed to a federal cabinet position and thrust into the spotlight as head of purchasing in a pandemic.

Quick, name your favourite federal Minister of Public Services and Procurement from the last 50 years.

Stumped? If you can’t name any federal Minister of Public Services and Procurement before Oakville’s Anita Anand, you won’t be alone.

While it’s an expansive portfolio that oversees federal purchasing, property management, pay and pension administration, military procurement and more, the job isn’t typically a high-profile political position.

Unless, of course, a pandemic hits.

We have revolutionized procurement.

Oakville’s Anita Anand named cabinet minister

Anand, a rookie MP in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government and Oakville’s first cabinet minister in about three decades, was named to the role following her election last fall.

It appeared a great fit for a lawyer and law professor who entered politics after 25 years of work in complex contracts, corporate governance and the regulation of financial markets. She settled in to fix the screwed-up Phoenix payroll system, figure out what to do with Canada Post and move the country’s purchasing into the digital era with an e-procurement system.

Then COVID-19 arrived, the search for masks, ventilators, testing swabs and other items of personal protective equipment was on, and Anand has been front and centre ever since.

Through mid-March and April she was in the spotlight daily, as she and her team scoured the globe for medical supplies to keep the country’s hospitals, long-term care centres and other facilities in desperately-needed supplies.

“On March 13th, my life changed overnight,” says Anand. “I have not cooked dinner since then. I have worked every single day since then.”

But don’t mistake that for a complaint. She’s quick to add that she sees the job as a privilege, an honour, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a difference.

Revolutionizing procurement

Pandemic procurement is about navigating a brutally competitive global marketplace to ensure you can meet today’s demand for health supplies, while also anticipating what might be needed next. Like 37 million syringes to administer an eventual COVID-19 vaccine.

Oh yes, and almost everything is something you needed yesterday.

“We have revolutionized procurement,” admits Anand. “We are doing procurement like it’s never been done before.”

Operating in crisis mode has pushed aside traditionally slow purchasing processes and forced the government to deal with unfamiliar suppliers in unfamiliar circumstances.

“At the end of the day I try to tell myself, do your best, you’re in the eye of the storm and that’s all you can do,” she says. “The same advice we give our kids.”

Support from husband John helps her deal with the pressure. He chauffeurs her back and forth between Ottawa, where she spends her weekdays, and Oakville, where the couple have lived for 17 years and raised their four children.

Weekends – time to walk the family dogs and wave to the neighbours – have helped to keep her grounded, she says.

Anita Anand, Oakville MP, Minister of Public Service and Procurement

Procurement in a pandemic has thrust rookie Oakville MP Anita Anand into the political spotlight. Her dog Abby peers through the door as she works from her Oakville home.

The right skills

Three months on the job didn’t provide much preparation time for a crisis. But Anand says the important prep work really happened in the 25 years before her election. While new to the political world, she is confident she has all the tools necessary to fill a crucial role in a time of crisis.

A lawyer since 1994, Anand has built an impressive resume. She is currently on leave from her position as a law professor at the University of Toronto, where she has earned international recognition and awards for her research.
Government committees have sought her expertise, she served as the inaugural chair of the Ontario Securities Commission Investor Advisory Panel, and locally, she has sat on the boards of Oakville Hydro and the Oakville Hospital Foundation.

Her legal background has been invaluable, says Anand, who actually reads through some of the complex federal contacts being signed.

A whirlwind year

Anand captured the Liberal nomination for the Oakville riding on June 12, 2019. She beat out veteran politician Kevin Flynn and lawyer Tamur Shah, who were also vying for the riding after incumbent MP John Oliver announced he would not run in the 2019 election.

“It’s truly been a whirlwind year, and a very intense one, at that,” she admits.

She says the decision to step away from a job she loves to join the political world stems from her early childhood in rural Nova Scotia, where she was raised.

Her parents were physicians who immigrated to Canada from India, and her family was one of very few south Asian families in the province at the time.

One day her mother, dressed in a beautiful sari, bundled her, her sister and a friend in the car and brought them to a local Air Force base. Lined up against a barrier, they watched then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau step out of a helicopter. He approached her mother, put his hands together and said namaste to her, Anand recalls.

“She put us in the car after the event was over and she said, ‘Your country needs you – you have to give back to your communities.’ And she did not waver from that message her whole life.”

Although sad that her mother, who died in 2014, is not able to see her step up to serve her country, Anand is determined to relish her opportunities.

“I keep reminding myself that this time in our country’s history is so important, and I am so fortunate to play this role, so I need to enjoy it.”

As the severity of the health crisis fades, the spotlight on Anand dims. But the skill, style and competence she has demonstrated over the last few months make it unlikely she’ll disappear from political sight.

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