Catherine McKenna may still get to Brookfield, but Mark Carney’s political future is much cloudier. In the absence of a clear nomination, Carney may simply accept the prime minister’s offer to act as an economic recovery adviser. Like hell, the path to politics is paved with good intentions.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on July 5, 2021.
OTTAWA—Catherine McKenna’s surprise retirement announcement last week sent shock waves through Liberal land.
First was the Sunday tweet which set the stage for her widely anticipated Monday morning announcement.
Then was the announcement, which clarified her reasons for stepping down and her avowed intention to keep working in the field where she made her mark as environment minister.
McKenna made it very clear she wants to pursue her passion for climate action outside the political sphere, potentially on the international scene.
And she certainly did not hide her support for a potential successor, giving a shout-out to former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney.
Carney was also referenced in newspaper articles surrounding McKenna’s retirement.
McKenna herself offered up an observation about her friendship with the current vice-chair of Brookfield Asset Management and United Nations special envoy on climate action and finance.
Carney recently published a book entitled, Value(s): Building a Better World for All, usually a portend of political interest.
He was also a keynote at the virtual Liberal national convention in April, fuelling rumours that his next foray would be into the federal election as a Liberal.
To most of us, his move into McKenna’s seat was a foregone conclusion.
But then political reality stepped in.
Local Ottawa Liberals were circulating a story that McKenna’s departure was part of a master plan conceived by Canada’s modern rainmaker Gerald Butts.
Political chess moves were allegedly discussed at weekend dinner amongst the three, where it was decided that McKenna and Carney would switch roles.
Carney would run in Ottawa Centre while McKenna would move to Brookfield focusing on green infrastructure investment.
On the face of it, the plan seemed brilliant. The party had already been polling to find out what riding would be a good fit for Carney.
One of the possibilities was the Carleton seat, which would pit Carney against Conservative Pierre Poilievre, a tough fight for a Liberal. The incumbent beat popular Liberal challenger Chris Rodgers by almost 6,000 votes in 2019.
Ottawa Centre is a much safer seat, where Liberals won the last election by more than 15,000 votes against a putative star New Democratic Party candidate.
The Carney coronation was lacking one critical element, support by local Liberals.
Not a single member of McKenna’s executive was aware of the minister’s pending departure. Neither did they know about the possible parachuting of Carney into the riding.
The majority of locals had other ideas.
Former Ontario attorney general and provincial MPP, Yasir Naqvi, had kept his political network intact after losing in the provincial massacre inflicted by Conservatives under the leadership of Doug Ford.
Naqvi has just completed a two-year term as CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, but his love of politics has not waned.
Nor have his close ties to the riding and to the Liberal Party.
But he is also a political realist. When Naqvi learned of McKenna’s departure, he said he would not be a candidate if it was the prime minister’s intention to anoint Carney.
Naqvi spent the hours following McKenna’s announcement seeking advice from every single person on the federal and provincial riding association executives.
To his surprise, not a single member of either inner circle had been apprised of McKenna’s prospective departure. There was zero groundswell of support for a transplant into Ottawa Centre.
Naqvi also made overtures to the leader’s office and was informed that there would be no coronation in the riding.
With the solid backing of local Liberals, two days after the McKenna announcement, Naqvi announced he was in.
And the response was raucous.
Naqvi has already started building a campaign team and made it clear he was not going to be stymied by the potential arrival of a star candidate.
Naqvi told the media he was just looking for a fair and equitable nomination process, which he could win in a heartbeat.
Against this backdrop it is highly unlikely that Carney will contest the nomination.
He may look elsewhere, including the greater Toronto area, but the window for an uncontested nomination with local riding support is getting smaller.
The Liberals have already formally entered election mode, which allows nominations to be called without the same rigour as a non-writ process.
McKenna may still get to Brookfield, but Carney’s political future is much cloudier.
In the absence of a clear nomination, Carney may simply accept the prime minister’s offer to act as an economic recovery adviser.
Like hell, the path to politics is paved with good intentions.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.