A conversation with Lisa LaFlamme
Lisa LaFlamme may not work a traditional nine-to-five day, but her weekdays are no less structured than the rest of ours. Rather than squeezing in a workout on the fly, she makes physical activity a multi-tasking, must-do essential for herself and her beloved chocolate lab, Toblerone (aka Toby). “Thanks to him, the most important thing I do is walk for 90 minutes every morning,” she says. “I do my morning news call in the park and, no matter what the weather is, the walk is an absolute must.
“It’s been part of my life for 20 years,” says LaFlamme. “No matter where I am, I try to walk. When I’ve been in conflict zones, I think about the daily walk I do at home. It’s calming, like therapy.”
She visits her happy place on the weekends as well. “The walk is way more fun on a weekend,” she says. “We go together in a group: lots of my friends who have dogs or don’t have dogs. It’s a meeting point on a Saturday morning, and it turns into the better part of the day because I end up having breakfast or coffee.”
When it comes to staying fuelled, LaFlamme admits to being less strict. “I’m one of those people who is perpetually trying to stay away from the things I love, which is chocolate and croissants,” she says. “I don’t have a great track record on that front, but I’m trying.”
This just in
LaFlamme lives to be plugged in. “I’m a total junkie for political podcasts,” she says. “I definitely embrace all these new and various ways I can consume information. And when I go to bed, I always have a podcast on.”
Her appetite for news stems from an inherent curiosity – a childhood spent asking people questions. “It was called ‘mouthy’ in my family, but I managed to morph that curiosity into a job I love,” she says. Inspired by a passion for writing, LaFlamme knew that she wanted to be a reporter by her early high-school days. She met with a grade nine guidance counsellor who decreed that she needed physics for journalism. “At 52 years of age and having been in this industry for nearly 29 years, I can tell you I don’t think I’ve ever had to use physics,” she says, “but I took it and managed to scrape through it.” It’s an early example of tenacity from “someone who was not raised to be precious but raised to be tough.”
After finishing high school, LaFlamme spent 18 months in Europe, including 12 months in France working as a nanny, freelancing at a radio station and auditing university classes. “I loved France,” she says. “I could have stayed there my whole life, to be honest, but my parents said I had to get serious.”
LaFlamme enrolled at the University of Ottawa, drawn to the bilingual curriculum – it was an added bonus that Canada’s top politicians visited to lecture on campus. “It was the perfect program for me,” she says. “I wrote for the paper and, most importantly, I did a radio show every week called Culture Bunker. I had a chance to interview whoever came through the National Arts Centre. It was a really good confirmation for me that I loved this world and wanted more of it.”
The career that almost was
More proved tricky to come by, but LaFlamme stuck it out, wavering only slightly. “I applied to law school because I couldn’t get a journalism job after graduating,” she says. “I was just about to go when I managed to get work for four hours on Saturday and four hours on Sunday, writing copy and splitting scripts for the local radio/TV station in Kitchener.”
From there, LaFlamme worked up the ranks in local radio and TV news until a game-changing day in 1996, when the president of CTV National News at the time asked her to come in for a job interview. “I still remember where I was standing when I answered the phone,” she says. “There were no cellphones then. I think as soon as I hung up, I burst out crying because I wanted that so much,” she recalls of the opportunity to work on a national team. “That was definitely a ‘moment’ as far as the trajectory of my career. That phone call and that interview changed my life, and I had no idea. It has just been a great journey. I really have been blessed to cover every major story since 1997 on a national and international level.”
She cites 9/11 as another turning point. “Personally, it was life changing because it sent me to Iraq and Afghanistan, and I never looked back,” she says. “I just followed that path for over a decade.” Then, in 2010, LaFlamme was appointed the successor to Lloyd Robertson, who she calls “the king,” as the full-time anchor for the national weekday newscast – a job she loves and feels lucky to have. “I knock on wood and pinch myself all the time,” she says.
It’s the little things
Despite being at the epicentre of breaking news, LaFlamme doesn’t rely on a big story to create a meaningful day. Instead, she seeks out the joys of the daily grind. “At the end of every day, when I come home, I go through it all in my head,” she says. “What we work toward all day is creating a show that flows like a good conversation. I don’t want anybody at a commercial break to say ‘OK, I’m going to bed now’ because they need to see the story that’s coming up. I’m proud of the show and the team I work with.”
Having been honoured with many prestigious awards in her career, LaFlamme chooses to look beyond accolades to shape her definition of success. “Maybe we focus too much on the big success that really affects such a small part of the population and we don’t stress success on a smaller level enough, like education,” she says. “I don’t think of success as having to move mountains – very few people get to move mountains. But if we’re pushing molehills, then we might be doing OK. A happy life is a huge success.”
Pay it forward
For LaFlamme, who will be celebrating her sixth year helming the CTV national desk, retirement is nowhere near the horizon. Instead, she has a clear vision of future goals, including more work for organizations close to her heart, like Journalists for Human Rights. “If I got hit by a bus tomorrow and someone said ‘She did focus a lot on international issues, oppression and education of women and girls,’ that wouldn’t be a bad thing for me,” she says.
It’s a cause that’s close to her heart. LaFlamme is an ambassador for Because I Am a Girl, a global campaign committed to ending gender inequality. She is also the legal guardian of Roya, a young woman who escaped Kandahar, Afghanistan, and is currently in post-secondary studies in Canada. “I think she can change the world,” LaFlamme says. “ To me, she embodies what every girl could be.” Still, LaFlamme knows there is more work ahead. “Sixty-three million girls are still not in school in this world, and that is wrong,” she says.
“I don’t feel that I will ever be able to do enough to help shine a bright enough spotlight on that.” Her call to action is to find a way to reach out and provide support while encouraging others to make a donation or volunteer in their communities. “I think that, with a little bit of help, we could do a lot more for a lot more people.