Celebrated journalist among Canada's 100 Most Powerful Women
December 6, 2018
To be celebrated among Canada’s highest achieving women in diverse fields is quite significant.
For award-winning journalist Marci Ien, to be listed among the Women’s Executive Network Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada is overwhelming.
Elevated into a new realm, she grasps that people with power can affect change and transform lives.
“It means that when I call, people might just pick up the phone,” said Ien who co-hosts CTV’s ‘The Social’. “It means when I say something, people listen. That has so much power because for me at this point in my career, it’s about who is coming next. It means that I can make decisions and I am in spaces where my word counts. That means I can pull others up if my word counts. That’s what power is. It means I can continue to make change.”
Nearing four decades since making her first television appearance as a 10-year-old, Ien feels blessed to have had a job she relishes.
With no experience in theatre plays or doing TV commercials, she successfully auditioned for a role in ‘Circle Square’, a children’s television series.
“I felt quite natural even though I had the least experience,” Ien recalled. “It felt good and that experience taught me work ethic and time management. The show was shot on Saturday mornings, so the 6 a.m. early call time, script reads, location shoots and working with a team were precursors to the career I have now.”
One of the show’s directors was a Ryerson University Radio & Television Arts (RTA) program graduate who worked with CBC.
“I spent a lot of time talking to him about what he did and I said, ‘This is what I am going to do’,” said Ien who, in 2008, travelled to Sierra Leone on behalf of Journalists for Human Rights and led training workshops for reporters.
When the show ended in 1986 after 13 years, she enrolled in the RTA program.
“I thought I might act or write,” Ien said. “I just liked the creative space.”
When a classmate who was hired as a weekend freelance writer at CHCH-TV in Hamilton told Ien there was another writing position at the station, she applied and was successful.
“News wasn’t something I had my eye on as yet,” she said. “But I guess they were impressed with the few news pieces I wrote as an audition. That’s how I started. I really loved the news space and talking to people. I was doing all of this in my graduating year.”
Ien almost switched careers before leaving CHCH-TV in 1997.
Two days before entering the University of Toronto one-year Bachelor of Education program, she received a phone call from the news director at the TV station that had laid her off a year earlier, with the offer of a reporter position at Queen’s Park covering daily political news for CHCH’s regional newscast as well as its British Columbia-based evening show, ‘Canada Tonight’.
Being a junior employee at the time in a unionized environment meant she was out of work every time there were lay-offs or the company changed hands.
In search of job security, Ien enrolled in the North York Board of Education Teacher Apprenticeship Program (TAP) that allowed candidates to be matched with mentors in classrooms for a year before entering the U of T Faculty of Education.
She completed the training at Pierre Laporte Middle School and was on her way to U of T when the news director called.
“I was thinking about putting off teaching for a year,” she said. “When I was told there was a waiting list and it was either now or never, I decided to go back to CHCH and the rest is history.”
Joining CTV 21 years ago, Ien was a reporter based in the Atlantic bureau for three years before joining Canada AM where she was the news anchor and co-host for 13 years until the national breakfast television news show ended in 2016 after a 43-year run.
Canada AM signing off was a blessing in disguise for the married mother of two young children who had to be at work at 4 a.m. on weekdays.
“When I told Blaize (her daughter) that the show was ending, she started to cry and I panicked,” said Ien who was a visiting professor in the RTA program. “I didn’t know if she was crying because she was sad the show had come to an end. She told me that wasn’t the reason and those tears meant that I was going to be home with she and her younger brother for breakfast on weekdays. For her entire 13 years, I hadn’t been there at that time of the day. Even though I was with them in the afternoons and I made school trips, I realized that morning time is sacred when you are getting up with your kids trying to get them ready for school and just been able to say ‘have a great day’.”
The transition last year as co-host of ‘The Social’, a daytime talk series that brings a fresh perspective on the latest news, pop-culture topics and lifestyle subjects, has been seamless.
“When you look at the world and all the things that are happening in it, to be in a place where you have an opinion and you can state what you want, what you stand by and your feelings about certain things is special,” she said. “You can’t do that as a news reporter. The show that I am on now is about us. Our personalities and how you feel are what drives the show. What a privilege it is to have a voice and to be able to speak to certain things I believe in on a daily basis.”
In support of this year’s Bell Let’s Talk Day, Ien hosted a one-hour prime time special last January featuring stories of Canadians living with mental health challenges.
Filming took place last December in Halifax, Regina, Iqaluit and Toronto.
She said that being welcomed into the homes of Canadians coping with mental illness and being able to tell their stories has been the highlight of her career.
“It’s the best work I have done as it was so raw and real,” said Ien who has been on the Ryerson University’s board of governors since November 2016. “People just opened up.”
The RTA Wall of Fame inductee is the product of Trinidadian immigrants who came to Canada 51 years ago.
Joel Ien is a retired Toronto school principal and superintendent while Vilna Ien, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday, was an accountant.
Turning 50 next year, Ien reflected on the quality time spent with her parents.
“My mom got her accounting degree at around age 40 while working full-time,” she said. “As a tax auditor, she travelled across the country and I got the opportunity to accompany her many times. She extended some of the trips through the weekend so we could sightsee. That’s how we saw most of the country. Both my parents couldn’t afford to be in school at the same time. When my dad got his degrees and was stable, mom started working on her degree. As he was in a teaching space, he took care of me and my older sister (Lorraine Ien) while mom was busy working and going to school.”
Four years ago, Ien and fellow broadcaster and RTA alumni Dwight Drummond started awarding annual scholarships to two RTA second-year students.