“Penny was pushing very assiduously for more women and minorities to be appointed.”
- Rt. Hon. Jean Chrétien, Toronto Star 1997
“Chretien also made two significant appointments that would affect the course of his mandate. The first was a director of appointments. For this position, Chretien chose one of his earliest supporters, Penny Collenette. Collenette was initially surprised at the offer, having assumed her colleague, Gordon Ashworth would have priority to round out the PMO team. As she later recalled, it was not a position she would have chosen but you “don’t say no to a Prime Minister”.
Collenette’s concern initially proved well founded. The only PMO staffer to report directly to the Prime Minister, she had a lonely task. The need for confidentiality was imperative. At the same time, her role in setting up a professional, competence-based appointments process, complete with job descriptions and advertisements in the Canada Gazette, did not endear her to some Chretien supporters who assumed positions would be provided as a reward for loyal service. Her task also made her unpopular with certain ministers when she did not recommend their original choices for some appointments to the Prime Minister. Still, Collenette stressed that many ministers were committed to the new, less partisan approach to appointments, viewing it as a welcome change from Brian Mulroney.
Despite occasional opposition to Collenette’s recommendations, Chretien proved consistently supportive even though some of the pressure came from his close friends and colleagues. His objective was not simply to establish a more professional, merit based system. He was soon convinced by Collenette of the need to improve representation in senior appointments. Under Chretien, a record number of women and minorities were appointed. In one of his last addresses to national caucus before the 1997 election, he devoted considerable time to the role Collenette had played in establishing the Liberal government’s reputation for integrity and keeping its commitments. ‘Because of her, we won’t be having patronage as an issue in the upcoming election’, he told his caucus to roars of approval and much applause. As one of her former colleagues in the PMO later added, ‘ It wasn’t just the number of excellent appointments she made - it was the number of bad ones she prevented.’”
Penny Hossack Collenette
Penny Collenette, a lawyer with extensive business and political experience, has become a well known and sought after speaker, both in corporate and government circles. She has held two positions at the University of Ottawa. As Executive in Residence at the Telfer Management School, she has guest lectured on ethical and business issues relating to global, public and corporate governance. As Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Law, she has created two new law courses: whistleblowing: The Busy Intersection of Law and Ethics and a New International Corporate Reality: The Business of Human Rights.
Penny was also a co-chair of a conference concerning a legal analysis of the right to water. The symposium was held October 14th, 2009 at UOttawa’s law faculty.
From 2002-2004, Ms. Collenette was a Senior Fellow at the Center of Business and Government, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Using her extensive background in both the public and private sectors, she has authored several articles which can be found under Penny’s Pen.
In the corporate world, she served for six years as a Director of Holt, Renfrew & Co. Limited, a high end retail fashion company in Canada. Previously, she has served as a director of the Toronto Board of Trade and as a founding Independent Trustee of the Movie Distribution Income Fund of Alliance Atlantis Communications, Inc. From 1998-2002, Penny held the position of Vice President, Chairman’s Office, George Weston Limited. The well known and highly respected Canadian company employs nearly 145,000 people with sales of $29 billion in 2004, mostly in processing, wholesaling and retailing food in Canada and abroad.
In the not for profit world, Penny serves on the Advisory Council for the Prosperity Fund, a community endowed fund for long term care institutions, on the executive of the Harvard Club of Ottawa and on the National Committee for the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards. She continues to be an energetic fundraiser, particularly for groups which support women and support individuals who live with disablities.
She has received many awards:
- 2012, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal
- 2010, Inducted into University of Ottawa’s Common Law Honour Society
- 2008, The International Alliance of Women named her to their inaugural list of 100 women in the world who make a difference
- 2005, the Women’s Executive Network list of Top 100 Powerful Women in Canada
- 2002, Maclean’s magazine list of 50 most influential Canadians
- 1993, Chatelaine magazine list of 50 most influential Women in Canada
Ms. Collenette has also been the recipient of an Opinion Leader invitation from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While in Japan, she met with business and public policy leaders and lectured at Keio University in Tokyo.
In addition to academia and the private sector, Penny’s career has spanned the fields of human rights, political organization and government. At 19, she became a political organizer for the Liberal Party of Canada during the Trudeau era. While the Rt. Hon. John Turner was leader, she served as Vice-Chair of the Human Rights Committee for Liberal International. Penny was Director of Volunteers for Jean Chretien’s leadership race in 1984 and Campaign Director in the successful 1990 bid. She worked as National Director and Director of Legal Services for the Liberal Party of Canada for the 1993 election. She was subsequently named Director of Appointments in the Prime Minister’s office, a position she held for over 4 years. Of the 2,554 appointments made during this time, nearly 39% of these appointments were women; a major increase from previous government statistics.
Penny has always maintained her love for education. In addition to holding her B.A. in Law and Political Science from Carleton University, she entered law school at the age of 37. Upon completing her law degree from the University of Ottawa, she articled with the Ottawa law firm of Perley-Robertson, Hill and McDougall. She was called to the Ontario Bar in 1993 and is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada.
Penny is married to the Honourable David Collenette. The Collenettes have one son, Christopher, a graduate of Trinity Law, Ireland. Chris is married to Dr. Rachel O’Farrell and the couple have two children, Charley and Cate.
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