Skip to main content

Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson, who defected to the Harper Conservatives 2½ years ago, will retire from politics instead of running again in the looming federal election, sources say.

Mr. Emerson's departure will be a blow for the party.

A former CEO of lumber giant Canfor Corp., he provided the Conservatives with the big-city cabinet talent they sorely lacked when he defected to them shortly after winning his seat as a Liberal in the 2006 election.

His crossing the floor gave the Tories their only seat in downtown Vancouver. It also sent a signal, Conservatives hoped, that urban voters could embrace a party that had failed to make electoral inroads into the urban heart of Canada's biggest cities: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Mr. Emerson had been considering running again - with Conservatives offering to find him safer seats, such as nearby Vancouver Quadra - but as he has repeatedly pointed out, he has relatively young children and wanted to spend more time with them.

It's unlikely he would have won in his current riding of Vancouver Kingsway if he had decided to run there as a Conservative. The Tories haven't won that riding since 1958, and he would have faced a concerted effort by Liberals to unseat the man who betrayed their party, as well as from New Democrats seeking to regain a seat they have often held.

Privately, Tories say, Mr. Emerson has emerged as a major contributor around the cabinet table, where he brings real-world experience to bear on discussions: know-how from his days in the business world and as a senior mandarin in the B.C. government.

Mr. Emerson is the only minister in Mr. Harper's cabinet who has run a major Canadian corporation.

The Tory government has recognized Mr. Emerson's managerial smarts by steadily giving him more responsibility. In August, 2007, he took over chairmanship of the cabinet's agenda-setting economic affairs committee from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. And just last month, Mr. Emerson assumed the helm of a new cabinet committee to provide more ministerial oversight on the Afghanistan mission.

It's expertise that is not easily replaced, Ottawa watchers say.

In an interview last December, Mr. Emerson said he'd decide based on what was best for his wife and children.

More comfortable as a senior government mandarin than as a politician, Mr. Emerson justified his defection to the Tories as the best way to keep serving British Columbia from a position of influence.

The Conservatives hoped at the time that his move would attract Vancouver voters to the party, whose support lies mainly in rural and suburban Canada. But while he's been successful with the trade portfolio - negotiating a truce in the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute and concluding two free-trade deals - Mr. Emerson's success in attracting Conservative political support in Vancouver is difficult to discern.

Still, the Tories may be gaining ground in Vancouver regardless of Mr. Emerson. The Tories nearly won Vancouver Quadra for the first time in 28 years in the March 17 federal by-election, coming within 152 votes of the Liberals.

Last night, CTV reported another cabinet minister, Loyola Hearn, would also not be running in the coming election. Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Mr. Hearn represented the riding of St. John's West from 2000 to 2003, and has been MP for St. John's South-Mount Pearl since 2003.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct