Six questions with Ranj Pillai (2012)
Deputy Premier, Government of Yukon
Within less than 12 months, you went from Yukon resident to Deputy Premier with responsibility for the economy, how has your life changed?
There has been significant change in my life this past year. My new role requires constant focus, and it’s more about a lifestyle than a job or an occupation. Compared to my previous roles, I’m finding the everyday pressure and pace at which I work much more intense. Right now, Yukon’s economy is rated the worst in the country so there are many expectations for the economic development department to help identify ways to diversify our economy, while also strengthening areas that have historically been economic drivers. As Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources and Minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation and Yukon Energy, there is the added complexity of trying to provide the necessary leadership to identify and build infrastructure to fuel economic growth. These tasks inevitably lead to long and demanding, but also extremely exciting days. In this early part of the journey, I find myself waking up each day feeling humbled that I’ve been given the opportunity to take on these important responsibilities for Yukon.
What motivated you to run for political office in the first place?
I’ve always been interested and engaged in the political space in many different capacities, from student council in High School to nonprofit boards, school council and municipal government. I’ve worked on the strategy side of politics for many years, and based on the current political landscape in Yukon, I decided it was the right time to put my name forward for the Yukon Legislative Assembly. I felt that if I was successful, this would be the optimal time to work with First Nations leaders, the federal government and municipal governments to bring about dramatic change in Yukon. I saw the opportunity for respectful partnerships and innovative ways of approaching our shared economy, and I wanted to participate in building that future.
As a senior political leader, and the first visible minority elected in Yukon, do you feel you have any special responsibilities?
I feel my greatest responsibility is to provide an example for individuals coming from diverse backgrounds. I want them to know that with hard work and focus no goal is unachievable, whether they are aiming to make an impact in the corporate world or public life. I am proud that I had the opportunity to table and champion the first anti-racism and anti-discrimination by-law north of the 60th parallel in Canada during my time in municipal government. I will always champion the fair and equal treatment of all people.
Did the GGCLC experience motivate you to move from business into politics, and did it help prepare you in any way?
Actually, it was the opposite. After my GGCLC experience, I decided to take a break from politics and focus on building my capacity as a leader in a corporate setting. I took time to delve into some entrepreneurial ventures in the areas of private equity and mining. The GGCLC did, however, help prepare me for the work I do now. The conference gave me insight into how to perform in a senior leadership position in an effective and sustainable way. Having the ability to watch our 2012 conference chair, Annette Verschuren, day in and day out provided a unique set of lessons. During the 2012 conference, I learned that the chair and I grew up no more than an hour apart from each other, with the same rural Canadian childhood experiences and challenges. Learning this gave me confidence and motivation to take on bigger risks than ever before.
What advice do you have for GGCLC alumni who may be thinking about pursuing political life?
Think long and hard about the challenges and opportunities you will face, and consider that your private life will no longer be your own. Spend some time really contemplating what this means. You also need to come to terms with the fact that no matter how hard you work, you will have to sacrifice time and experiences with the people you are closest to. After reviewing the magnitude of this, if you still feel it’s the right path give me a call and we’ll have a coffee before you make your final decision.
What was the most memorable part of the 2012 conference for you?
I’ll never forget walking into the closing dinner, with such a strong sense of pride for what our ON 2 team had accomplished. As we sat and ate together that evening, I remember looking out at the breathtaking backdrop of Parliament Hill, and feeling so lucky and connected to this amazing country we have the privilege to call our home.