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The touchy political turf dispute between Jim Flaherty and Jason Kenney underlines a peculiar irony: Mr. Kenney, a Calgary MP, has been crowding that Toronto turf for years.
The hubbub was over Mr. Kenney's assertion last month that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was embarrassing the city, and should resign. Mr. Flaherty, the Finance Minister, is a close friend of the Ford family, who famously swelled up with emotion over the mayor's troubles, but declined to comment on his future. In the Commons, he took a run at Mr. Kenney, the Employment Minister, and according to the CBC, told him in four-letter language to shut up.
Over the weekend, both ministers tacitly confirmed the dust-up, with Mr. Flaherty pointedly noting that he's the minister for the Greater Toronto Area. "I don't comment on the mayor of Calgary," he told reporters.
Here was a rare moment of public spitting between two front-bench ministers, the kind of squabble that isn't supposed to spill into view in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's controlled Ottawa. And these two, unlike almost every other minister in Mr. Harper's cabinet, are powers in their own right: Mr. Flaherty, the veteran finance minister, and Mr. Kenney, who has built a formidable political base.
This was a clash of two strong characters, with Mr. Kenney's direct style hitting on a topic that Mr. Flaherty takes personally. But this little tussle underlines how Mr. Kenney, 45, political organizer and future leadership aspirant, is now able to stake out territory far from his home town.
It's a testament to Mr. Kenney's increasing pull that the Calgary MP can rival the Finance Minister for political influence in his own GTA turf. He's spent so much time organizing and fundraising there that the Calgary MP can almost claim to be the other Toronto minister. Mr. Flaherty might think the Toronto mayoralty is not a Calgary MP's business, but Mr. Kenney publicly supported Rocco Rossi's bid for the post, against Mr. Ford, in 2010.
Part of that Toronto sway went on view recently with reports of Mr. Kenney's own fundraising in Ontario, to the tune of $145,000 since 2007. But it goes further than that.
The former immigration minister was the point man for the Conservative Party's strategy of organizing ethnic communities, credited with a big part of their GTA success in the 2011 election. That made him the conduit for other organizers, and his contacts are a force on the ground. He organized support and raised money for MPs around the GTA.
"I suspect if you asked any GTA MP, who has done more to get you elected, it would be Jason Kenney," one Conservative insider said. In politics, that's coin.
It's no secret, either, that Mr. Kenney has leadership ambitions. But that doesn't seem much cause for rivalry. Mr. Flaherty, now 63, insists he'll run for re-election in 2015, but many Conservatives don't believe it. It's more likely that Mr. Kenney just stepped into an issue that touches Mr. Flaherty personally.
And that's where some Tories think Mr. Flaherty may have been wearing blinders as GTA minister, because of his friendship with Mr. Ford. Despite the sense that Ford Nation supporters were Tory supporters, saying nothing about Mr. Ford's crack-smoking wasn't helping the credibility of Conservatives in Toronto, some Tory insiders said. They were facing pointed questions. "That's an issue for them at the doors," said one well-connected Toronto Conservative.
MPs were being chased daily for their views for weeks, and, under PMO direction, staying quiet. The pressure was only relieved when Mr. Harper issued a statement calling the allegations against Mr. Ford "troubling," and then Mr. Kenney declared Mr. Ford should resign. In effect, it was Mr. Kenney who stepped in to act as Toronto minister.
For Mr. Flaherty, a Conservative institution after almost eight years as Finance Minister, and still the man who pulls the pursestrings, a squabble on the front benches won't leave lasting impression. But for Mr. Kenney, it underlines how much turf he's marked.
Campbell Clark is The Globe's chief political writer.