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Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

POLITICS

How the Liberal Party lost Mark Carney Add to ...

Mark Carney was cast as the perfect alternative to Justin Trudeau by a tight network of Liberals who pulled out all the stops last summer to attract the Bank of Canada governor into the Liberal leadership race.

Mr. Carney was responsive to the efforts, and his actions over the summer – taking phone calls, asking questions about the race, staying over at a senior Liberal MP’s house during a week-long family holiday in Nova Scotia – fueled speculation about his candidacy.

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By September, Liberal officials were trying to put together a team of organizers and supporters, and mapping out Mr. Carney’s road to victory at next year’s Liberal convention.

Now, as Canadians digest the fact their central banker has been lured to London to become Governor of the Bank of England, The Globe and Mail has pieced together details of an alternative courtship of Mr. Carney by the Liberals. Dozens of interviews over the past few weeks provide clearer evidence of the effort to convince the man who’s been called the “outstanding central banker of his generation” that he had a shot at winning the Prime Minister’s Office.

Speaking to The Globe this week, Mr. Carney refused to go into details about the conversations, or explain why he didn’t immediately shut down the campaign as a non-partisan public servant working under a Conservative government.

He insisted, however, that he never actively sought the job or reached out to Liberals.

“I never made an outgoing phone call,” Mr. Carney said. “I never encouraged anybody to do anything.”

Mr. Carney tried to put an end to the speculation about a Liberal bid through Bank of Canada officials in late September. Then, in October, he went public in a more overt effort to kill the story, heaping scorn during a news conference on media questions about him entering politics.

“Why don’t I become a circus clown?” he told reporters in Nanaimo, B.C., on Oct. 15. “I have gainful employment and I intend to continue it.”

Six weeks later, however, Mr. Carney again gathered in front of journalists to reveal he was indeed switching jobs – but heading to London instead of the House of Commons’ opposition benches.

For Liberals seeking a socially progressive, fiscally conservative candidate to replace interim leader Bob Rae, though, Mr. Carney was an obvious choice.

The central banker’s pedigree and background closely matched the search criteria of more conservative-minded Liberal Party members – sometimes referred to as “Blue Liberals” – who had supported Paul Martin and had doubts about Mr. Trudeau’s ability to lead the party back to power.

One of Mr. Carney’s most prominent Liberal admirers was former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna, now a Toronto banker who remains a political and business power broker in Canada. “Frank was a booster,” said one of the former premier’s circle of Liberal contacts.

However, the Liberal said, Mr. McKenna was not as involved in laying the groundwork for a Carney candidacy as Tim Murphy, a Toronto lawyer and former chief of staff for Prime Minister Paul Martin. The Liberal organizer said he was less confident about recruiting Mr. Carney this summer, putting the odds at the time at 25 per cent. “I was not as optimistic as Tim,” the Liberal said.

Still, the Liberal said the sense in party circles is that Mr. Carney has “Liberal DNA” and is ambitious enough to envision himself as being prime minister one day.

The Northwest Territories-born banker is bilingual, with unimpeachable economic bona fides and evidence of a social conscience that would appeal to Liberals. Many of the ties that exist to this day between Liberals and Mr. Carney date back to his time as a senior bureaucrat under the Martin government, including personal friendships that played a part in the courtship from Liberals last summer.

Speaking to The Globe, Mr. Carney said he had been previously approached by people from across the political spectrum about entering politics, and would not confirm any Liberal leanings.

“Certain people want things to happen … the political world, it seems to me, is a world for optimists. I’m in a world that’s a world for realists.”

He declined to divulge what he told Liberals who contacted him last summer. “This isn’t True Confessions,” he said.

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