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Close Trudeau ally elected new Liberal president

Newly elected president Anaa Gainey acknowledges the delegates at the party's Biennial convention Saturday, Feb. 22 in Montreal.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

For Anna Gainey hockey is a little too violent for her tastes but she has no problem with the game of politics.

Ms. Gainey, the daughter of the famous Montreal Canadiens captain, Bob Gainey, was elected president of the Liberal Party of Canada Saturday by delegates at their biennial convention. The 36-year-old becomes only the third woman to be elected to the top job since the 1930s.

"… make no mistake," she told Liberal delegates this weekend. "I am decisive.

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And like my Dad, I know how to get my elbows up in the corner."

Her Dad, the hockey star, was in the audience listening to her speech on Friday night - and he returned the next day to be with her when the results of the voting were revealed.

"He's supportive of me. That's why he's here," Ms. Gainey explained later in an interview with The Globe.

Anna Gainey is a close friend and ally of Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leader. She - along with her husband, Tom Pitfield - is part of the new wave of young people involved in the party now because of Mr. Trudeau. They are the new power couple – and very much part of Mr. Trudeau's inner circle.

While she is the daughter of a famous father, her husband, Tom, is the son of Michael Pitfield, the former Clerk of the Privy Council, who famously served Mr. Trudeau's father when he was Prime Minister. Mr. Pitfield played a big role in the patriation of the constitution and was appointed to the Senate by Mr. Trudeau's father.

Mr. Pitfield, the loyal - and neutral - public servant, chose to sit as an Independent and not as a Liberal.

Tom Pitfield and Justin Trudeau have known each other all their lives. It was in London, England more than a decade ago, where Ms. Gainey, who was studying international relations at the London School of Economic, first met Mr. Trudeau. He came to visit his friend, Tom. (At the time, Mr. Pitfield, who didn't follow hockey despite growing up in Montreal, had no idea who Bob Gainey was when he came to visit Anna in London.)

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And it was former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien's decision not to send Canadian troops to Iraq that she says made her proud to be Canadian and a Liberal. She decided to head back to Canada and get more involved - and she ended up working on Parliament Hill for former ministers John McCallum and Bill Graham.

Both she and her husband worked on Mr. Trudeau's leadership campaign - and just a few months after having her third child, a girl, to add to their boys, 4 and 2, Ms. Gainey has now added the job of party president to her workload.

"I would just like to keep us focused on preparing for the election campaign … to be focused as a team," she said about her immediate priorities. "I would like to … keep everyone's eye on the ball and keep us moving in one direction."

There are some challenges as the 2015 election approaches, namely the fact that Mr. Trudeau has said that every nomination is open. He will not be appointing anyone to ridings - no one is special. It means that there are going to be some pitched nomination battles - there are some ridings now where as many as eight people might contest for the nomination.

She's ready for the fight - "Open nominations are a great opportunity for our party. We're going to have some very lively races but it's going to an opportunity to sell memberships and get out and knock on doors and grow our network," she said.

"It's going to present some challenges. We will have to learn a little bit as we go, I think."

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Challenges are not new to Ms. Gainey. She was a teenager when her mother died. And then years later in 2006, her 25-year-old sister, Laura, was killed. She was working on the tall ship, the Picton Castle, and was swept off during a mid-Atlantic storm.

"That was very difficult," she says, her voice becoming quiet. "Yes, yes we were a very close family."

Ms. Gainey, with the help of her father and two siblings, runs the Gainey Family Foundation, which honours the lives of their mother and sister. It helps fund charitable organizations involved in environmental and arts education programs for youth.

"She's a part of my life in a way now," says Ms. Gainey. "The work of the foundation is certainly very much connected to her memory and my mother's as well."

Justin Trudeau's decision to run for the party leadership provided yet another challenge for Ms. Gainey. She played a senior operations role. Her husband, Tom Pitfield, is an entrepreneur, who runs businesses, including some in the "IT" field. So, when it came to helping out on his friend's leadership campaign, he ran the digital campaign.

Mr. Pitfield allows that there's a bit of serendipity in that the second generation of these famous fathers have now taken over leadership roles. But, he doesn't think it was intentional.

"It's not like we all pulled out our Rolodexes and called each other and said 'hey, let's do this.' You look around for people who are going to stand up and help and it's usually your friends."

Friends helped her out on her presidential campaign - some long-time party organizers were involved in her campaign and at the convention were making sure that delegates cast their vote. Her former boss, Bill Graham, footed the bill for her convention party, held the night before the vote. It was considered one of the best parties of the weekend - held at a chic boutique hotel in Montreal, featuring free drinks, oysters and a poutine and smoked meat stations.

It was very clear that she was the favoured candidate for the job.

Mr. Pitfield, meanwhile, says that he and his wife are involved in the Liberal Party for their kids - to make sure the country is in good shape for them.

As for their kids and hockey - Ms. Gainey says that it is not "something we would push": "As a Mom the head injuries kind of freak me out a bit."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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