Backbenched: Once again, James Rajotte's phone did not ring
Edmonton MP James Rajotte appears on CTV's Power Play on Thursday, June 27, 2013.
Published Tuesday, July 16, 2013 11:27AM EDT
He was one of a handful of people who first approached a reluctant Stephen Harper to run for the Canadian Alliance leadership a dozen years ago.
When it came time for his Harper liftoff loyalty to be rewarded in 2006 with a cabinet gig by the Prime Minister he helped convince to re-enter politics, Edmonton MP James Rajotte was inexplicably left on the backbench.
The oversight had insiders puzzled and colleagues commiserating, but the unflappable Rajotte understood the cabinet calculus behind the decision.
Alberta has an abundance of superior Conservatives and there are only so many seats at the cabinet table for MPs from the prime minister’s home province. His time would come later.
So he waited. One post-election shuffle. Another. Still nothing from the leader he backed before anyone else. Alberta rookies, including diehard supporters of Harper leadership rival Stockwell Day were elevated into Harper’s cabinet ahead of him, but those included women and visible minorities, so Rajotte never complained.
He was elected as chair of the influential finance committee and attracted rave reviews for being a fair hand on the gavel. His committee became a textbook case of efficiency and all-party co-operation, unlike other chairs who followed a PMO textbook (yes, it exists, I have a copy) on how to unleash havoc through procedural foot-dragging and malicious disruption tactics.
When budget time approached, Rajotte’s annual reports gave Finance Minister Jim Flaherty a clear and unfiltered view of budget ideas and expectations from his committee witnesses. Beyond that, Rajotte excelled as a talking head for Conservative budget politics, including making regular appearances on my Power Play show. He even stepped in as a co-host last month and, dare I say, asked better questions of my guests than the full time host. Gulp.
This week’s cabinet shuffle was James Rajotte’s last clear shot at the inner circle.
A vacancy beckoned, seemingly with his name already carved in brass on the ministerial doorplate. Minister of State for Finance Ted Menzies announced he would not seek re-election and asked to be removed from cabinet.
It was the perfect inner circle welcome mat for Rajotte. One affable MP from Alberta would be replacing another. A 61-year old veteran of finance moving aside, a 42-year-old MP with a fiscal background eager to step in. It worked as a generational shift into experienced hands and, bonus, represented an overdue reward for a loyal soldier.
The cabinet calls from the PMO went out last week. Once again, James Rajotte’s phone did not ring.
It would be easier to accept if there was an explanation this time. There is none. He was replaced by the undeniably competent Kevin Sorenson, a pale male MP from northern Alberta with far less experience in budget matters.
So the question rages again on many parliamentary lips. Why not Rajotte?
He’s polished, informed, connected to his riding and instantly likeable. There is no hint of scandal on his track record. No blurted misspeaks. No Elections Canada scandals. No mutinous mutterings.
Yet those with such blemishes on their resumes are welcomed inside and he’s perennially on the outs.
Perhaps this proves Harper is missing the gene which generated such deep and lasting caucus support for Brian Mulroney, even as the former prime minister tipped from electoral asset to leadership liability.
Harper clearly doesn’t believe in handing out political IOUs to those who were with him at the start. After all, the others who first conceived his leadership bid have been similarly shunned, to the point where you almost wonder if Harper resents having any loyalty obligations and is spitefully shutting them out.
If there’s a silver lining to this dark and cloudy situation, it’s having James Rajotte outside of cabinet means he will continue to perform in exemplary fashion as a competent spokesperson on fiscal issues as finance committee chair.
Of course, that too could be taken away from him by order of the PMO.