The myth of the returning hero

Those who think Jim Prentice might come back to politics and romp to power should think again

by Aaron Wherry and John Geddes

The myth of the returning hero

Prentice with Harper after the announcement | Chris Wattie/Reuters

It was not long after Jim Prentice announced his impending departure from federal politics that speculation about his leadership aspirations began anew. But it’s entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that Ottawa has seen the last of him.

Explaining the decision to accept a senior executive position with CIBC, Prentice said it was merely a matter of time. “When I entered federal politics in 2001 I made a commitment that my time in politics would last eight to 10 years,” he said. “It has now been nine years and it is time for me to pursue new opportunities outside of public life.” A well-regarded cabinet minister who ran for the Progressive Conservative party leadership in 2003 (finishing second to Peter MacKay), he was sometimes thought to be a potential successor to Stephen Harper. That speculation will not end with Prentice’s exit, but if he stays away he would do so in good company.

Well-regarded Liberal cabinet ministers Brian Tobin and John Manley, as well as New Brunswick premiers Frank McKenna and Bernard Lord, have all left politics over the last decade to pursue careers in the private sector. All have been considered potential leadership candidates at the federal level, but none have so far returned to public life. “You can earn a healthy living, you can still exercise significant influence over the public policy debate and you’re also looked upon more favourably when you’re out of office as opposed to when you’re in,” says Tim Powers, a Conservative strategist. “When you’ve gone through the meat grinder that comes with this life, stepping out and accruing the benefits of the escape can be awful hard to leave.”

The returning hero is an often romanticized archetype, but it is more myth than reality. Jim Dinning, a former cabinet minister in Alberta who left for the private sector, was upset when he returned in 2006 to seek leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservatives. Ernie Eves, an Ontario cabinet minister, departed politics briefly before winning the leadership of the province’s Tories, but then lost in a general election. John Turner quit as Pierre Trudeau’s finance minister in 1975 and won the party leadership upon returning in 1984, but was then trounced twice in elections by Brian Mulroney. If Prentice were to desire a return, he might refer to the generally unrepeatable career of Jean Chrétien. Chrétien, then a veteran cabinet minister, left politics in 1986, but returned to succeed Turner in 1990 on his way to becoming Canada’s 20th prime minister, though he might be considered, in this context, the exception that proves the rule.

Ken Boessenkool, a former senior policy adviser to Harper, and also a policy chair for Dinning in his bid for the Alberta Tory leadership, says Prentice exits with a stellar reputation. “He’s been indispensable to Harper,” says Boesenkool. But moving back and forth between politics and the private sector is a tricky balance. “You can stay in too long, and be just a politician,” Boessenkool says. “Or you can stay out too long, and lose your edge politically.”




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The myth of the returning hero

  1. Superficial analysis guys.

  2. I'm still hoping Pete MacKay leaves so he can come back later. And I definitely support the idea of John Baird going someplace private enough that the rest of us never have to hear him again. I think Tony Clement should stick around though…I can't see anybody being dim enough to hire him, and I'd hate to be paying for his social assistance.

    • re Clement: it would be less than his MP pay and percs!

      • Yeah, but right now he provides us with entertainment. I mean sure, he's no Tommy Chong, but then Tommy Chong is no Tony Clement.

        • My wife found a "clownify" app on Facebook today, that allows you to take a person's picture and apply a clown-face to it. In Tony's case, this would be redundant…

  3. I think a lot of that comes from him being compared to the rest of the cabinet and the Conservative back benches. Lets face it, Prentice looks pretty competent when compared to Gary Goodyear and even better when compared to Deanie Del Mastro.

  4. Love Prentice, I hope he does return, a very decent kind human being!!

    But as of now, I believe he is done with politics!

  5. All the journalists seem to agree that Jim Prentice is well regarded, a nice guy, etc., etc. I agree. But none of the journalists provide a list of his accompliskments since being elected to Parliament nine years ago, except simply staying out of trouble. It seem to me Prentice simply looks good compared to the rest of Harper's caucus. I'm amazed that the CIBC would consider such a marginal achiever to be a great catch as an executive, except if they plan on using him to seek benefits for their company from government, in which case Jim Prentice would not be such a nice guy.

    • Yeah, well, CIBC seems to be run by a (short) busload of blunderkins, so this decision to pick some low hanging fruit fits well into historical context. As the 'bank most likely to walk into something sharp' (Google this phrase), I am surprised they are still making money, but the blind can only lead the blind for so long before they are tripped up by yet another market mishap.

  6. Accomplishments? Really? So settling the issue around residential schools was nothing? Starting the process to get hundreds of land claims put to bed was nothing? Do you have a clue, at all?

    • Residential Schools issue is not settled. The process is still struggling. Mitigating the negative effects of residential schools has a long way to go before I would say things have been settled. And the lands claim process – still too early to tell if it should be celebrated.
      But he did get Pandas!

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