How She Got There: Rachel Bendayan, Lawyer and Politician

Rachel Bendayan is not your typical politician. She is soft-spoken and humble, a refreshing change from the boisterous and aggressive candidates typical of politics. Rachel is a listener in a profession full of talkers, and this is likely what has garnered her so much support. Despite such success, she never could have predicted that she would be on the 2015 federal campaign trail.

When she was a teen, Rachel visited the United Nations in Geneva with her father and it left a lasting impression on her. From that point on, she knew she wanted to study international relations and foreign affairs. Luckily, the year she enrolled at McGill, international development studies, a brand new interdisciplinary program, was being offered for the first time.

During her studies, she volunteered with research groups, which opened doors to many opportunities. While working with both the G8 Research Group and the Centre for International Sustainable Development in Law (CISDL), Rachel was able to attend the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.  “I had a feeling I wanted to be a lawyer,” Rachel explains, “but my experiences at the conferences really solidified how valuable a law degree would be.”  She explains how, whether it be trade negotiations, human rights laws, or environmental declarations, a legal background is essential to properly understand the implications of international relations.

While at law school, her timetable was full of courses in international law and European Union law. But Rachel was also interested in national politics as well.  Her time at McGill law allowed her to get involved. “You have to get directly involved in order to see what something is truly like. You can’t rely on a outsider’s perspective.”

She volunteered for the legal commission of the Liberal Party where she had the opportunity to draft internal rules and give legal advice during elections. “It not only gave me a greater understanding of politics, but it allowed me to make a difference and feel like I was contributing in some way,” says Rachel.

After graduating from law school, she began working at Norton Rose Fulbright (previously Ogilvy Renault) in Montreal with specializations in international arbitration and transnational litigation.  Shortly after, she was appointed as a legal advisor on the national board of the Liberal Party.  This gave her the chance to meet people in the Party and learn from experienced peers.

Rachel took a liking to politics and entertained the idea of running for candidacy at the end of her career. However, when the 2015 election period neared, others encouraged her to run. While Rachel acknowledged that she might not have the experience of someone twenty years her senior, she knew she had fresh ideas and perspectives to bring to the table.

Entering the political scene is no easy task. When asked if she was intimidated at first, Rachel says she was, but adds, “You just have to overcome it. You have to be aware that it’s okay to feel scared and once you accept that, you realize that each act in itself gives you confidence.”  Rachel explains that even throwing yourself in a room full of strangers does get easier.  “The first few times are the hardest, but it gets easier because each time you can reflect back on the experience and realize that things did turn out well.”

As the Liberal candidate for Outremont, Rachel is always on the go and her day-planner is filled from the early AM to late at night. “The day doesn’t ever finish,” says Rachel. “But I get motivated by the energy of other people.” Going from place to place from one event to another is exhausting, but Rachel says that the most consuming, yet most important part of her day is listening to others.  “It takes effort to concentrate on and understand what people are saying.  Only somebody who thinks they have all the answers doesn’t take the time to listen. No one has all the answers, so we must learn from others.”

Throughout her journey she has met extremely accomplished people that have helped her get to where she is today. She stresses that there is nothing more important than having role models to provide a sound support system. Among them are Yves Fortier, former Canadian Ambassador to the UN, and Irwin Cotler, MP for Mount Royal. In fact, it was both Mr. Cotler and Mr. Fortier who encouraged Rachel not to wait until the end of her career to run.

When asked if she ever questioned her career choices, Rachel responds with a firm “no”.  “Every day is a challenge, but I’ve never questioned it. Each day I learn how to be a better candidate and how to be a better representative of other people.”

When asked what advice she’d give to young collegiettes, she urges that you must to find something that you feel happy doing, something that gives you a sense of purpose.  People often question if they should have taken a different path and wonder if they made the wrong decision. But, Rachel prefers not to think about the “what ifs”.

“The grass always seems greener on the other side,” she adds. “But every decision you make and every step that you take is what makes you you.”

And while politics is no longer “a man’s world”, there are still challenges for women.  “Don’t shy away from a challenge. Accept it. Go for it,” says Rachel.  “Women tend to give themselves less credit for what they can accomplish. But when it comes down to it, most people will rise to meet the challenge.”  She adds how a little bit of fear is normal and healthy.

For young aspiring politicos, Rachel recommends getting involved in a campaign. “There are two spots on every riding association for youth, one male and one female. Campaigns are eager to recruit young people, and you should take advantage of that.”

A native of Montreal and McGill alumni, Rachel has always been connected to her city.  On a Saturday in Montreal, when she’s not campaigning, you’ll find her on Mont Royal with her poodle that she rescued from the SPCA.  She also loves Montreal for its great food and entertainment. When she wants to have a bite in the city, her top three spots (all in her Outremont riding!) are L’Gros Luxe in the Mile End, Les Enfants Terribles on Bernard, and Duc de Lorraine on Côte des Neiges.

Looking back to when she was twenty, Rachel had no clue that her face would one day be on a campaign poster. Life is full of twists and turns, but as Rachel says, “Your individual path is what defines you.”  No matter how big your next challenge is, whether it be moving to a new city or writing a thesis paper, do what Rachel does: “Jump. Take the plunge. Acknowledge the fear and go for it anyway.”

Images provided by the interviewee.