Skip to main content
opinion

James Rajotte plays amateur hockey, so the metaphor is apt: he's hanging up his political skates after 15 years as a member of Parliament.

Mr. Rajotte, who turns 45 in August, could have been a lifer, since his Edmonton seat is a rather safe one for a Conservative. Outside Edmonton, Mr. Rajotte would not be well known. But in and around the House of Commons he was respected and liked in all parties. In a Conservative caucus known for shrill rhetoric and sharp elbows, he was a gentleman.

Mr. Rajotte likely suffered from not being boisterous and partisan enough to suit the brass of the Conservative Party where partisanship is uber alles. Mr. Rajotte of course supported his party, but said in his resignation statement: "I was taught from an early age to respect people with views different from my own. I hope I have lived up to those lessons … I would like to express my appreciation to parliamentary colleagues from other political parties for their service and their sacrifice."

Why leave now, he was asked? After 15 years, "I found that parts of the job wear you down." Such as? "This isn't really a job, it's a life … I find it hard to sit through a whole Question Period these days. Most of the debates in the House I find it difficult to listen to intently. I still enjoy committee work … and policy discussions with colleagues."

Mr. Rajotte should have been in cabinet but ran up against the Prime Minister's need to put a woman (Rona Ambrose) and a multicultural MP (Tim Uppal) from Edmonton in cabinet. So he settled in as chairman of the Commons finance committee, and worked very closely with the late finance minister James Flaherty.

As Mr. Rajotte's parliamentary life unfolded, he began to worry about the relative powerlessness of MPs. So he joined with a moderate Conservative MP, Michael Chong, and supported strongly a bill to give the parliamentary caucuses more power over selecting leaders and committee assignments.

As chairman of the Canada-Britain parliamentary association, he often visited Westminster where he was impressed by the greater seriousness of debate and committee work than in the Canadian Parliament. Debates there are shorter, committee members are chosen by caucus, the act of voting takes less time.

Mr. Rajotte toyed with running for the Progressive Conservatives in the recent Alberta election, but decided against it. Lucky for him. By resigning now from the House of Commons, he goes out on top, undefeated at the polls over 15 years.

What 15 years they were in Canadian politics. When Mr. Rajotte arrived in Ottawa, the conservative political world was divided and bewildered. Paul Martin ascended to the Liberal leadership and seemed unbeatable, with many pundits suggesting Liberals would win more than 200 seats.

Instead, the conservative world coalesced, the Conservative Party formed, beat the Martin Liberals and remains in power to this day. The Bloc Québécois, the dominant party in Quebec, has all but disappeared. The NDP, perennially third or fourth, is now the Official Opposition and leading in the polls. The once-powerful Liberal Party went through a decline and fall from which its recovery remains uncertain. Those momentous changes underscore the wisdom of Mr. Rajotte's remark that people are less anchored with a particular party than ever.

Would he encourage someone 30 years of age to enter politics? "It's a tremendous way to influence public policy, to learn about your country and its place in the world. You can pick up the phone to anybody any time and get an answer. But I would tell them to be very aware of the negativity. Most people do not like politicians. Most people have a very negative view, and you're constantly trying to battle that view." Social media also means that a politician is always under the microscope. But if someone is aware of all these factors, then "I would encourage them to jump in."

Make no mistake, Mr. Rajotte remains a fiscal conservative and a defender of his province's oil industry, both of which come with the territory of being a Conservative MP. Stylistically, though, he seemed somewhat ill-at-ease with the braying around him.

Ministers who are leaving – John Baird, Peter Mackay, James Moore – make national headlines. Mr. Rajotte's departure did not ripple across the country. Other parliamentarians know that he served his party and his province honourably, true to his beliefs, respectful of those of others. In his own modest way, he gave politics a good name.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct