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Don Martin: With Trudeau resignation fever rising, a Conservative nightmare appears

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With speculation on the rise that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will follow his father’s footsteps in the snow to a pre-election resignation, there was an interesting subplot to a bland news conference Tuesday.

It took four cabinet ministers to deliver a rehashed how-great-they-art list of government accomplishments they insist are responsible for creating a low-debt, affordable, nanny-state, investor-friendly, supercharged economy called Canada, which lives mostly in their imagination.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, left to right, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser, President of the Treasury Board Anita Anand, hold a press conference in the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

But the personalities involved were of greater interest than the policy pablum.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, Treasury Board boss Anita Anand and Housing Minister Sean Fraser were lined up to provide some accidental political animal entertainment.

Three of the four ministers strutting their stuff are considered likely to enter a race to replace their current boss. The fourth could be a contender, but just doesn’t know it yet.

FRASER 'IMPRESSES' AS LEADERSHIP MATERIAL

Nova Scotia MP Sean Fraser is the one to watch as whispers become a resignation roar in an electorate which desperately wants Trudeau gone to prevent a Conservative annihilation, with the potential to revert the Liberals to third-party status.

Now, some Conservatives argue it would be to their advantage if Trudeau quits in the next year to kickstart an acrimonious hunger game to further weaken and divide the flailing, ailing party.

But the more Fraser takes centre stage in the Liberal cabinet, the more he impresses as leadership material who would stand in sharp, fresh-faced contrast to often angry and abrasive Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.

And, notwithstanding the potential formidable entry of former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, Fraser could represent the biggest threat to Poilievre’s plan to repaint the PMO Tory blue.

Right now, the big three in the race would appear to be Freeland, Champagne and Anand, none of whom have the right stuff to overcome a 20-point polling deficit to beat the Conservatives.

Freeland has increasingly become Trudeau’s brainy clone, delivering repetitive talking points in patronizing style with little by way of a signature accomplishment to call her own. Total loyalty to a toxic liability like Trudeau will not be a positive for her candidacy if a leadership vacancy opens up.

Champagne is the energizer bunny of the cabinet, but he’s up against the tradition of alternating Liberal leaderships between francophones and anglophones.

The minister behind all those massive battery plant subsidies, Champagne took the stage to boast of early success in wrestling down food inflation with tougher competition. It all sounded like mission-accomplished overreach in a world where food prices are declining but still painfully high and competition for shoppers is concentrated in very few chains.

As for Anand, who was wrist-slapped for starting a stealth leadership campaign earlier this year, the former rising star was reduced to boasting about airline seat selection charges for kids and bank junk fees for NSF cheques during her appearance on the fab-four stage. It was a sad display of political stature shrinkage as she toils in bureaucratic obscurity.

Which brings us to Fraser as Liberal rescue-mission material.

Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Canada’s tallest MP and just 39, he’s a lawyer hailing from Nova Scotia which, except for hiccups under John Thompson in 1892, Charles Tupper in 1896 and Robert Borden in 1911, has been regionally underrepresented in the nation’s highest office.

Fraser, who has gone from unilingual to passable fluency in French very quickly, rarely looked down at his script Tuesday while effortlessly rhyming off facts and figures to give every indication of actually knowing his file in detail.

Those who have worked with him say he always does his homework, is open to new and original ideas and plays well with others as a passive partisan. These are not common traits in this cabinet.

That’s not to say Fraser can solve Canada’s housing crisis any more than he vanquished immigration challenges in his last portfolio.

His multi-pronged proposals are a long way from putting an affordable house on every wannabe homeowner’s driveway, but blueprints for house-building and rental projects are indeed piling up under his watch in partnership with provincial and city governments.

Of course, in my view, Trudeau is still very likely to run again and could well take the Liberals down to defeat, including tossing Fraser out of a seat which was owned by Conservative heavyweight Peter MacKay for 18 years.

But more and more smart betting is on the prime minister accepting the grim reality that his time is up with no chance of a comeback.

If Trudeau does indeed quit, the Conservatives are gleefully banking on a bare-knuckle brawl between rival wannabes to make their rivals appear even more unfit for re-election.

But they should also hope for one more helping hand to bolster their post-Trudeau victory – that impressive longshot Sean Fraser does not become their Liberal opponent.

That’s the bottom line.

Correction

This story has been updated to clarify which former prime ministers hailed from Atlantic Canada. 

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