Politics farm system

Cautionary lesson for ‘star’ candidates

On May 29, 2019, Toronto Star national columnist Chantal Hébert wrote a column speculating on the scenario of outgoing Bank of England (and former Bank of Canada) Governor Mark Carney returning to Canada, running as a federal Liberal candidate in the fall 2019 federal election, and immediately becoming Liberal Party leader, and possibly Prime Minister, succeeding Justin Trudeau. Honestly, journalists really ought to get out of their ivory campaign buses, talk with real people, and campaign with real candidates more. What more often happens when such ‘star’ candidates get lured into an election with the promise of instant cabinet posts is the experience of two of Justin Trudeau’s first-time MPs who were thrust into cabinet before they even knew how the institution of Parliament and the mechanics of government worked. The Toronto Star published my letter as its lead letter on May 30. It is reproduced below.

Columnist Chantal Hébert speculates about former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney running for Parliament as a Liberal candidate, and then being immediately ready to assume the party leadership. Really? Former first-term Liberal MPs Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott will almost certainly lose this year as Independent federal election candidates and unnecessarily end otherwise promising parliamentary careers. They illustrate the media’s fascination with so-called star candidates, who are too often projected into the cabinet skies unprepared, to be shot out of that sky like clay pigeons.

Does your gender, age, race, religion or region really matter when assembling a cabinet? Those attributes, taken alone, are roughly equal to a coat of exterior paint. Perhaps leaders should focus on what actually makes a difference in a minister: managerial talent, legislative experience and communications ability.

Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, as first-term MPs, should have spent their first term learning the rhythms and limits of Parliament, working with stakeholders and Opposition members, and seeing how laws really come together with committee work before being thrust into cabinet roles for which neither was properly prepared. Justin Trudeau’s government benches in Ottawa hold experienced, cabinet-ready talent doing parliamentary secretary, committee and House duty. It takes time for latent government talent to develop and mature.

Carney has never held elected office. Whether he might fare well thrust into a senior political role remains speculative. If he does decide to enter federal politics, one hopes he will get the same opportunity to learn the craft of politics as a promising and talented rookie gets in a pro sports farm system before moving up to the big team.

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