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Tom Mulcair: Should Trudeau lead the Liberals against Poilievre? Mark Carney won't say and this could be why

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Former Bank of Canada (and Bank of England) governor Mark Carney was on CTV Question Period on Sunday and Vassy Kapelos was at the top of her game.

When Carney figure skated around her direct question as to whether Justin Trudeau should lead the Liberals against Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre in the next election, she asked it again. 

Granted, figure skating doesn’t come easily to Carney who is, after all, a former goalie. Still, his second non-answer to Vassy’s repeated question was, indeed, the answer. Carney is refusing to say whether Trudeau is the best person to have that knock-down, drag out fight with the dark blue prince, Poilievre. 

In a previous life, I was a minister in a Liberal cabinet in Quebec City. Given my much more enjoyable current role as analyst and commentator, lots of former colleagues who gravitate around the Natural Governing Party love to share gossip and inside tales. 

One recurring theme from lifelong federal Liberals is that Trudeau is being told, in the most deferential tones, that given his accomplishments on daycare, dental care and health care, he should consider this third term his “legacy mandate”.

In other words, maybe it’s time he started looking at which richly paid boards of directors he’d like to get named to, when he steps down. 

Carney has an edge on any other potential candidate to eventually replace Trudeau. His key role at one of the world’s largest investment firms provides him with an exceptional understanding of the transition that is necessary to steer the planet clear of the calamity that is climate change. He gets it and has the ear of the most important players around the business world on sustainable development issues. 

Trudeau, of course, has proven time and again that he’s his own man. He won’t be shoved. Indeed, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about him it’s that he has a tendency to go all in when he sees that everyone’s reached a conclusion different from his own. If he decides he’s staying, no one will make him budge.  

At the same time, even though he sees the battle against Poilievre as irresistible, he’s starting to show signs that he’s had the biscuit. In question period, Poilievre has been dominant. Issues like Chinese electoral interference and the related Trudeau Foundation scandal won’t go away. 

Trudeau has a checkered track record on actually running the government, which is supposed to be a big part of the job of a prime minister. While deserving top marks for the handling of the pandemic, Trudeau has otherwise shown a near total disregard for public administration. 

Liberals can spin all they want about an increase in government programs, there’s absolutely no way to justify or rationalize a 31 per cent increase in the size of the federal bureaucracy in the first seven years of Trudeau’s reign. 

That’s where someone like Carney comes in. He has the managerial depth of experience so sorely lacking in Trudeau and his entourage. Bill Morneau was right in his blistering assessment: the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council are more about managing Trudeau’s image than managing the government of a G7 country. 

There are good reasons to believe that Trudeau is looking at this fall as a potential window for calling an election. He’d still be able to hold it under the current electoral map. The new one adds a number of seats that are bound to go Conservative. 

If Trudeau makes his call just prior to the return of Parliament in September, he gets to campaign all summer on the government’s dime and, from June until election day, there will not be a single question period where Poilievre can shine. Ministers would be free to travel and make announcements for months without any of it being counted as an electoral expense. 

As we’ve all learned watching the Trudeau Foundation train wreck, the Liberals are experts at navigating the gray zones of political financing. Take $125 million of public money and use old time Liberals to hand it out to deserving (and thankful) future leaders at the top of their class. 

It’s similar to Canada 2020, not a political expense, just helpful for the red team.

Of course there’s an abundance of possible contenders in the current cabinet, the outstanding Chrystia Freeland top among them. Minister François-Philippe Champagne has lots of talent and ambitions to match, but he’d be up against a long-standing liberal tradition of alternating between anglophone and francophone leaders. 

It’s worth bearing in mind that of the five political parties represented in the House of Commons, the only one to have never had a woman as leader is the Liberal Party. That’s something many in the party would be seeking to change if and when Trudeau does decide to step down. That, in turn, makes it a tougher hill to climb for both Champagne and Carney. 

That desire to finally have a woman leader might provide the incentive for another exceptionally skilled politician, Defence Minister Anita Anand, to reach for the brass ring. 

In the meantime, the upcoming Liberal convention will be anything but the usual snooze fest. Expect Trudeau to deliver a barn burner where every word has been weighed in the full knowledge that every phrase will be parsed. 

Carney says he’s going there to listen. I’m betting that he’s going to hear a lot of positive things. I had the good fortune to invite him to give a keynote speech and to address a smaller graduate class at l’Université de Montréal on economic and environmental issues. He’s a brilliant, engaging character, who still speaks fluent French despite his years away. 

His current job is to think about the future of the planet. I’m guessing he’s also taking some time to think about his own future. 

Tom Mulcair was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017

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