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Lawrence Martin

'There's no future in being an ordinary person," Washington socialite Susan Mary Alsop once wrote. Don't tell that to the big and powerful ministers leaving the Conservative government. The more mundane life sounds fine to them.

They have good reasons for their departures. There is no conspiracy against the Prime Minister going on here. But the exodus can't help but contribute to a sense of impending doom.

Wherever you look in this government there are signs of what the French call "dégringolade." With Industry Minister James Moore calling it quits last week, the cabinet has now lost most of its lead players. In the Senate, big Tory names have fallen, the Red Chamber fast becoming the dead chamber. In the Prime Minister's Office, chief of staff Nigel Wright went down owing to a cover-up operation and others have been caught in dirty tricks.

From the caucus, dozens aren't running again. James Rajotte, perhaps the best of the bunch, said sayonara last week. At the same time, the military's top guy, Tom Lawson, shamed himself with sexist remarks. He is leaving anyway. Meanwhile in the polls, the Conservatives have recently been overtaken by a party, the NDP, which has never come close to forming a federal government.

What can be said? With all the falls, all the ignominy and gloom, does the House of Usher come to mind? In Ottawa, whispers about a pending collapse of the sort that has befallen other governments of long incumbency have become more than whispers. Of course, with four months to go, anything's possible. Another terror attack or some such trauma could vault the Conservatives to near majority territory.

The run of resignations need not be too harmful for Stephen Harper's party. Big turnovers for long-standing governments are common enough. Most voters realize this government is a one-man enterprise anyway. But the exodus does make it harder for the PM to belittle an opponent as not being ready for prime-time. When so many of your own prime-timers have deserted you, it risks ringing hollow.

Mr. Moore's exit was surprising because for a long time he had been preparing a leadership bid. Mr. Rajotte had always been denied a cabinet post. The explanation was that there were already too many ministers from Alberta. That was believable for a few years, not for a decade. Opposition members found him fair-minded. That was Mr. Rajotte's problem. In this government, rewards tend to go to rabid partisans. How was Mr. Rajotte supposed to react upon seeing someone such as Pierre Poilievre given three cabinet spots in the last shuffle?

If they are smart, the opposition parties will make an issue of the disappearing Tory talent. Recalling a cartoon from R.B. Bennett's days as prime minister, they could run ads of a cabinet table surrounded by empty chairs.

But they also have to make the case that they have better teams themselves.

Thomas Mulcair's New Democrats have some good talent. Among others there are Nathan Cullen, Megan Leslie, Peggy Nash, Charlie Angus, Alexandre Boulerice. There is Paul Dewar, who will make a fine foreign minister. The party has a strong youth corps led by Niki Ashton. It won't be bereft of potential cabinet material like Rachel Notley's Alberta NDP.

But there are question marks. What will it do for a finance minister? Can Ms. Nash fill that role?

On the Liberal side, there are questions, too. Unlike the NDP, they do have members with ministerial experience such as Ralph Goodale, Stéphane Dion, Scott Brison and John McCallum. There are other capable performers such as Dominic LeBlanc, John McKay, David McGuinty and newcomer Chrystia Freeland. But Leader Justin Trudeau hasn't attracted as many impressive new candidates to run for the party as hoped.

Neither the New Democrats nor the Liberals have outstanding cabinet material. But the advantage they do have is by comparison to the governing party. It is old, it is worn out and new blood is in short supply. The cabinet was never considered very strong. The departures leave it enfeebled.

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