Bank of Canada tries to douse rumours touting Mark Carney for Liberal leader
Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, holds press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 18, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Thursday, September 27, 2012 6:42PM EDT
OTTAWA -- The Bank of Canada is trying to douse rampant speculation that Mark Carney is a potential candidate for the leadership of the Liberal party.
The bank pointed Thursday to an interview Carney gave last spring in which he said he's not contemplating a career in politics and insisted he's focused on his twin jobs as governor of Canada's central bank and chairman of the international Financial Stability Board.
However, his denials to date have not been sufficiently categorical to dissuade some Liberals from dreaming of a Carney candidacy.
A "Mark Carney for leader" Facebook page has popped up.
It has garnered one friend so far -- Tim Murphy, one-time chief of staff to former prime minister Paul Martin.
Murphy and another former Martin insider, Richard Mahoney, are among the names of influential Liberals rumoured to have urged Carney to take the plunge. Neither could be reached for comment Thursday.
Speculation about Carney's possible interest in the top Liberal job has swirled for a couple of years. But the rumour mill went into hyper-drive Wednesday after news broke that Justin Trudeau, eldest son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, will formally launch his leadership bid Tuesday in Montreal.
The continuing speculation puts Carney and the bank, who are supposed to be scrupulously independent and non-partisan, in an awkward position. And there are signs it may already be hurting his credibility as an impartial expert on the economy.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has taken what appears to be a veiled shot at Carney, alluding to the governor's possible political ambitions to deflect questions about his views on the so-called Dutch disease.
Mulcair is a leading advocate of the Dutch disease thesis, arguing that booming oil and gas prices have artificially inflated the value of the loonie, thereby devastating Canada's manufacturing sector.
Earlier this month, Carney -- without mentioning Mulcair or the NDP -- called the Dutch disease diagnosis "overly simplistic and, in the end, wrong." Indeed, he said higher commodity prices are "unambiguously good for Canada."
Asked last week about Carney's contrary view, Mulcair professed doubt that the governor was scoffing at the NDP's thesis.
"Oh my goodness," Mulcair said, his voice heavy with apparent sarcasm.
"Can you imagine how inappropriate and unprecedented that would be if the head of the Bank of Canada were to get involved in partisan politics? I'm sure Mark Carney wasn't talking about the NDP."
Still, the Harper government's faith in Carney appears unshaken, no doubt because Conservatives can't believe the governor would give up his influential domestic and international roles in order to make a risky bid to become leader of Canada's third party.
Chisholm Pothier, spokesman for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, said the government has "absolutely no concerns" about the effect of all the rumours on Carney's credibility.
"I've heard speculation about Justin Bieber and Celine Dion as well but my Liberal sources aren't impeccable so you can take that with a grain of salt," Pothier added in an email.
Most Liberal insiders are equally dismissive of the Carney speculation.
As one put it: "It would be a gift from heaven if he were to do it. ... It just makes no sense."
There is no doubt a Carney candidacy would be a coup for the once-mighty Liberal party, which was reduced to rubble in the 2011 election. His international stature and sterling economic credentials would give the party much-needed credibility and turn what is shaping up to be a Trudeau cake-walk into a must-watch contest.
But with no roots in the notoriously clubby and fractious party, there's no guarantee Carney could beat Trudeau, the Montreal MP whose telegenic looks and famous lineage have made him an undisputed rock star in Liberal circles. Trudeau already has a campaign team in place and 150,000 Twitter followers whereas Carney would be starting from scratch.
Nevertheless, if Carney wants to put a stop to speculation, he'll likely have to be more categorical than he was last April in an interview with Global's Tom Clark, a transcript of which was provided Thursday by the Bank of Canada in response to queries about a possible leadership bid by the governor.
Asked if he'd ever consider a political career, Carney told Clark: "I do not contemplate it and, you know, I'm absolutely focused. I've got two jobs at present which, as I said the other day to somebody, more than takes up my waking hours."
When Clark suggested Carney hadn't closed the option, the governor said: "I haven't opened it up."
"I think you've just entered the political stream with that answer," Clark noted.
"I'll close it off," Carney responded.
"I'll close it off. How's that?"
"You'll close it off?"
"I'll close it off, clean and simple."