There is absolutely nothing wrong with Mark Carney entering politics, if that’s what he wants to do. But before taking the leap, Mr. Carney might want to ask himself: Am I Dwight Eisenhower or am I Michael Ignatieff?
The former governor of the Bank of Canada and then of England has a new book out and will deliver the keynote address at this week’s Liberal policy conference. Twitter is clucking.
“The beginning of a journey that will end in deep regret and the erosion [of] a critical independent pillar of a modern economy – the central bank,” declared Ken Boessenkool, who was an aide to former B.C. premier Christy Clark and prime minister Stephen Harper.
Liberals “don’t see – or care, really – how this could erode our institutions; they only see partisan gain,” Laval University Professor Stephen Gordon said.
But there are precedents, of sorts. Oliver Mowat quit his job as a judge to become Ontario Liberal premier. Lester Pearson moved without fuss from undersecretary of state (deputy minister) for External Affairs to secretary of state (minister).
Mr. Carney has been away from the Bank of Canada for eight years. He is superbly qualified for public office. He has views on the role of markets and governments in combatting climate change. If he wants to enter the arena, good on him. The political class in Canada needs all the talent it can find.
That said, Mr. Carney should bear a few things in mind (and is certainly already bearing them). First, he could seek to become a Liberal member of Parliament, only for the Liberal Party to lose the next election. Would he enjoy four years on the backbench?
Perhaps his ambition is to lead the party, if and when Justin Trudeau decides to depart. But that might not be soon. Mr. Trudeau rescued the federal Liberals from the brink of extinction, so while an effort by some disaffected cabal to push him out of the leadership would be in the finest tradition of the party, it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.
If he does run for the Liberal leadership someday, Mr. Carney would make a formidable candidate. But not an invincible one.
Some figures have successfully taken over a party’s leadership from another field without difficulty. Mr. Eisenhower, who commanded the Allied forces in Europe during the Second World War, was so sought after that Harry Truman offered to step down as president if Mr. Eisenhower would seek the Democratic nomination in 1948. Instead, Ike chose the Republican Party in 1952, serving two terms as president.
Others have not fared so well. Mr. Ignatieff, a distinguished public intellectual, was supposed to rescue the Liberal Party from its unaccustomed sojourn in opposition. Instead, he led the party to a third-place finish in 2011.
Could Mr. Carney’s ego withstand the daily pummelling of Question Period? Could he dish out the political dirt when required? Leading a party is about more than crafting an environmentally sustainable fiscal policy. Speaking to a few dozen of the party faithful in Prince Albert on a cold February night is also part of the job.
And Mr. Carney would have a formidable political rival: his friend Chrystia Freeland, the Finance Minister, who is also rumoured to be contemplating a bid for the leadership if and when it comes open.
Both potential leaders appeal to the political, bureaucratic and cultural elite of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Since they would be chasing the same voters (and dollars), it’s hard to imagine both of them seeking the Liberal leadership. If one runs, the other probably won’t.
Canada has benefited greatly from non-politician politicians. David Emerson was so interested in reviving Canada’s moribund trade policy, and so uninterested in politics, that he switched from the Liberal to Conservative front bench when Mr. Harper defeated Paul Martin in 2006.
Maurice Strong had a career in the oil business before taking on a variety of assignments for governments and the United Nations. C.D. Howe was a wealthy engineer before becoming “minister of everything” under Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent.
If Mr. Carney truly wishes to lead the Liberal Party and the country, Canadians of all political stripes should welcome the decision. If only all politicians had his chops.
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