Many parents expect their children to follow in their career footsteps — not so in David Caplan’s household.
Caplan, the MPP for Don Valley East and Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, was the vice-president of a successful recycling firm in 1991 when he was urged to run for a seat on the North York Board of Education. Having grown up immersed in politics — his mother Elinor served as a cabinet minister under former prime minister Jean Chrétien, while his father, Wilfred, unsuccessfully contended for a seat in the Ontario legislature in 1977 — Caplan was well-versed in the minutiae of political campaigns. Having witnessed his mother’s tireless work first-hand, he also understood the time commitment required of any politician.
“I think (my parents) understood the sacrifices that you make going into public life as far as family life, some of the privacy and a number of issues like that,” Caplan says. “They were surprised that I would choose to go into political life.”
Surprised but supportive, Caplan’s parents helped their son progress in his political career, until he eventually succeeded his mother as MPP for the riding of Oriole in 1997 after she resigned the seat to run federally. Caplan then upset incumbent Minister of Education David Johnson in the 1999 election to take the new riding of Don Valley East, created when the Harris government passed a bill to reduce the number of MPPs from 130 to 103.
Caplan credits his early political success to his parents’ sage advice: “They told me that in everything that you do, make sure that you develop a good reputation, that you’re doing this for the right reasons,” he recalls. “The other advice was to follow your instincts. Everyone in public life has advice for you, but if my instincts tell me it’s the right thing to do, I follow it.”
Caplan retained his seat in the 2003 provincial election and was named Minister of Public Infrastructure Renewal where he presided over a new infrastructure plan for the province and weathered a scandal involving one of his files, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, when investigations found that a disproportionate number of lotto retailers were winning jackpots.
In his current post as Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Caplan has fought to reduce patient wait times and modernize the system, but had to navigate stormy political waters yet again when it was discovered that a number of consultant contracts for eHealth Ontario — the province’s initiative to digitize patient health records — were improperly awarded by then eHealth Ontario CEO Sarah Kramer.
Caplan admits scandals such as these take their toll, but he says that in retrospect, he has no regrets about choosing a life in politics.
“What I’m reminded of is not only the things I’ve done, but also the things I want to do and accomplish,” he says of strategies to cope with both the highs and lows of such a high-profile career. “But I’m always reminded my time here is temporary. There is a legacy and there will be a future, as well. It’s something we should all remember.”
Check Metronews.ca/work for feature pieces on Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and PC MPP Frank Klees. Both stories ran earlier this week.
Correction notice: In an article published in the August 19, 2009 edition of Metro headlined “Caplan followed family’s footsteps”, we incorrectly reported that “it was discovered that a number of consultant contracts for eHealth Ontario…were improperly awarded by then eHealth Ontario CEO Sarah Kramer”. Ms. Kramer advises that all contracts awarded by eHealth Ontario were awarded with the full knowledge and support of the Board of Directors and not by her personally. She further advises that such awards were proper and were in keeping with applicable procurement guidelines. Metro regrets the error.