It was one of the darkest days of Gord Leclerc’s life, but he insists it set him on a path toward a much brighter future.
After helping to host the Salvation Army’s Kettle Campaign kickoff on Nov. 13, 2019, the longtime CTV Winnipeg news anchor returned to the station, grabbed a cup of coffee and was waiting for his shift to begin.
That’s when he was summoned to a meeting, which he believed was to discuss increasing the station’s relationship with another local charity.
"So I brought my notepad and went upstairs, walked into the office, there was the HR manager, my news director and the general manager," Leclerc recalls, breaking a long silence about the moment his 25-year on-air career came to an unexpected halt.
"He (the GM) said, 'Let's begin by saying this meeting isn't about increasing our presence with this charity; your position has been eliminated.' That's how it happened. It was a total shock. I was certainly lost for words. I didn't see this coming. I was stunned sitting there. It was very businesslike," Leclerc says.
"After almost 26 years, it just seemed like — wow — a complete shock. The HR person went through a few other options for me. My position was eliminated, really that's all I was told. Truth be told, I don't remember a lot of that conversation. It was a two-ton weight dropping... I'm assuming it was just a numbers game and a budget game.
"I was walked out the door. After that meeting, my news director said, 'I'll get your coat, I'll get your lunch bag.' I walked out the door with the manager beside me. I gave them my key code card... I was escorted out of the building and told my phone would be shut off. I got a cab and went home."
The abrupt layoff was a bolt out of the blue, one that not only shocked Leclerc, but left viewers stunned and venting disapproval on social media.
Leclerc joined the CTV News team in 1995 as a reporter and weekend anchor and spent nearly two decades as the senior anchor of the flagship suppertime news program in Winnipeg, before becoming a casualty of a nationwide round of layoffs by Bell Media, the network’s parent company.
Other than a brief thank you to viewers on his Twitter account, Leclerc went silent.
"I just kind of wanted to be left alone. I regressed from social media. I didn't tweet for probably almost a year. I had nothing to say. I'm out of the limelight, out of the media," he says.
"The week after I lost that job, my mom passed away. It was a double-whammy."
Leclerc agreed to sit down with the Free Press because he’s finally comfortable talking about the past — although he can’t discuss the severance package — and he’s excited about his newest venture, Leclerc Home Repair & Design, a company he launched on Twitter in mid-January.
During a 60-minute conversation, he discusses the pain of breaking the news of his dismissal to his family, laughed about his handyman credentials, revealed a terrifying health scare and showed not a hint of bitterness towards his former employer.
At 55, he now sports a well-groomed beard and moustache, but his trademark authoritative voice is still instantly recognizable.
"Oh boy," he says, heaving a sigh when asked about transitioning from a high-profile TV anchor wielding a microphone to a home-repair specialist swinging a hammer.
"The day I left or was walked out the door of CTV was quite a shock. The first thing I did was call my wife (Heather) and say, ‘Can you come home?’ She thought, ‘Oh, God, it’s got to be my parents or something else.’ Then I told her my position had been eliminated. So she came home, we had a chat, and she said, ‘Well, let's just enjoy life for a while. You've got your severance package, you've got your pension. Let's kind of refocus, take a look at where we are.’
"We weren't really hurting financially.... She said, ‘Re-examine things. Do you want to go back into TV? Do you want to do radio now?’ Because I certainly loved radio.... But I wanted to get out of media. I said, ‘No, I think I'm done. That ship has sailed, so to speak. I think I want to try something else.’"
“The day I left or was walked out the door of CTV was quite a shock. The first thing I did was call my wife and say, ‘Can you come home?’”– Gord Leclerc
In January, a few months after being laid off, he fielded a call from provincial communications staff, and last February, was unveiled as the new press secretary to then-health minister Cameron Friesen.
"Went to work for the province, a complete learning curve, lots to digest. I always say it's like drinking water through a fire hose. And then COVID hit, and those folks are incredible," he says.
He was used to the pressure of TV news, but no one was prepared for the arrival of a deadly global pandemic.
"When COVID-19 hit, those folks began working 24/7. Two cellphones going. I remember sending an email at three in the morning, walking the dogs and on the phone all the time. For the first few months, we worked 30 to 35 days straight and then they decided to peel people off.
"It (the new job) was crazy... it was fun, it was exhilarating, it was go, go, go, something new every day. But it was such a learning curve. Then it became daily meetings and press conferences with (chief provincial public health officer) Dr. (Brent) Roussin, prepping those scripts and news releases, going to events."
The pandemic tripled workloads and the pressure kept building until one Wednesday morning in the spring, as Leclerc was getting ready to head to work, everything came to a frightening halt.
"I had a health scare in the bathroom," he calmly recalls. "A cup of coffee, walk out of the kitchen, kiss Heather good morning and say I'm going to grab a shower. I was just in the door of the bathroom and — BOOM! (he slaps hands for emphasis) — hit the floor. I passed right out. I fainted, I guess. Paramedics were called. Took the vitals. I was fine. Low blood pressure. I've seen a number of cardiologists since. Everything is A-OK."
He remembers little of that terrifying moment. "I got second-degree burns on my legs because the coffee spilled all over my legs. Heather picked me up off the floor and helped sit me down on the bed. I don't remember a lot of this. I don't remember hitting the floor... she immediately thought stroke; that's why she called the paramedics. I was mumbling and not being very coherent."
“Right then and there, Heather and I said: ‘Look, this job is going to kill me.’ I decided that's it. I handed in my resignation.” – Gord Leclerc
He was given a clean bill of health, but that brought his first post-TV career to a dramatic end.
"Right then and there, Heather and I said: ‘Look, this job is going to kill me.’ I decided that's it. I handed in my resignation and said, 'Look, I can't come back. Heather said, ‘I'm not going to lose you.’ So that ended that career."
His unexpected departure from the provincial cabinet’s media relations department in June made headlines, but again Leclerc wasn’t ready to talk. In an email, the province said: "He left to pursue other opportunities."
He had a "cup of coffee" in the automotive industry, a sales job that just wasn’t a good fit, prompting another discussion with his wife of five years, about their future.
She reminded him his lifelong passion has been carpentry and building things with his hands. "She was stoked. She said, 'It's your passion. It's what you do to have fun in the summers. You love putting in baseboards, putting in windows... decks, pergolas, garden boxes, feature walls with televisions in them and stuff like that.' She said why don't you go into business yourself and do this as, like, a handyman? I said, ‘Perfect! That’s what I want.’"
The couple — a blended family, each with two grown children — began working on the website and launched the new venture last month.
"It's a one-man show. I'm a glorified handyman. I'm no (TV reno star) Mike Holmes. However, I do have a few years on him as a TV host," Leclerc says, laughing.
Heather handles the design side, while he builds whatever needs building. It’s a skill that runs in his family.
"I've got all the tools and it's a passion of mine," Leclerc says. "I'm following my grandfather's footsteps. Grandpa Joe. He was a carpenter by trade. I'm very proud of my grandfather. He was a world champion dog musher. He ran the last dogsled mail run from The Pas to Prince Albert and back."
Is there any lingering bitterness over losing his job behind the news desk? "They (CTV) did what they had to do. I don't blame them.… As they say, when one door closes, another opens. When that door closed, it was an opportunity for me. I'm not bitter. They made a decision based on whatever way the company was going for the future. I'm thankful in the sense it gave me a chance to pursue another passion."
But there is one thing he still finds painful.
"I wished I would have had a chance to say goodbye on air. It was a joy to be invited into (people's) homes every evening. I loved being that familiar face that could tell the story, hopefully in a fair, balanced and unbiased manner.
"I wished I'd had that opportunity to reflect, maybe go over some of the funny tapes and funny moments of my life, some of the big stories we covered that I really enjoyed, some of the pieces, whether it's the flood of the century, the elections.
"I miss my colleagues, I miss the day-in day-out excitement of the business, but I don’t miss the grind of it anymore."
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.