Mark Carney, Liberals haven't cleared the air -

Mark Carney, Liberals haven’t cleared the air

A political party headhunting a sitting central bank governor *is* a big deal


(Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The series of reports — including this, this and this — documenting the courtship of Mark Carney by certain elements of the Liberal Party of Canada was a source of alarm. My hope has always been that someone would credibly deny the substance of those stories, but that hasn’t happened.

Firstly, there hasn’t been much in the way of a denial on the part of Senior Liberal Strategists — in particular, from Tim Murphy, who was named in the  Globe and Mail article — that efforts were made to persuade a sitting Governor of the Bank of Canada to enter the world of partisan politics.

Secondly, Mark Carney himself hasn’t done much to dispel the notion that he allowed those Liberal strategists to work for months under the assumption that his candidacy for the Liberal leadership was a realistic prospect. Here is how the governor addressed a question on the subject by Sun Media’s David Akin’s at a press conference last week:

I can’t control what people ask of me; I can control what I do. And very clearly, I didn’t pursue, I haven’t entered politics. I’m a life-long central banker (…)

What I can also control is how I discharge my responsibilities. In discharging my responsibilities as Governor of the Bank of Canada, it’s all out here in the open. It’s on the public record, whether it’s testimony in front of a Parliamentary committee, it’s at a press conference, a speech, a paper, an analysis, whatever. It is there, and I stand by everything that I’ve done over the course of my term, in that it’s the best effort — collectively, of course, it’s the Bank of Canada, it’s not an individual, but collectively — that we could do to fulfill our mandates.

This is all true and/or defensible, as far as it goes. And for the record, I don’t believe for an instant that Carney’s actions in his capacity as Governor of the Bank of Canada were at all affected by the Liberal leadership race. But that’s not what concerns me.

Carney has explained at great length that actions are not all that matters when it comes to monetary policy; the effective communication of  intentions and motivations behind a decision can sometimes be at least as important as their actual implementation. And Carney was somewhat coy when it came to communicating his intentions about entering politics, as Maclean’s John Geddes noted:

[C]onsider how Carney’s … answer would have sounded had he had slipped in the word No. For instance, responding to the question, “Are you going to run for the Liberal leadership?,” he might have answered, “No, I’m going to do my job…” Simple. But that’s not what he said.

Not to mention this story, in which a national columnist was persuaded by a Liberal activist that Carney had no objections to seeing speculation about his candidacy for the Liberal leadership in print.

While it’s certainly true that Carney can’t control what others ask of him, he is not entirely helpless in the matter of what is being said about him in the media. Someone who is willing to read the Riot Act to the CEO of JP Morgan would have little compunction about doing the same to Liberal strategists – or journalists, for that matter – who were misusing his name.

I continue to believe that this is an episode whose importance is not being sufficiently appreciated. It’s not just about ensuring that the Bank of Canada not only is but continues to be perceived as independent of day-to-day politics, crucial as though that may be in conducting monetary policy. Canada already has too many people playing the partisan game, and too few who are in a position to stand on principle and make it stick. We can’t afford to fritter away the ones we have.