Mark Carney: He who is without sin... -

Mark Carney: He who is without sin…

Paul Wells considers the politics behind the headlines


So last night several dozen members of the Media Party joined a smaller cohort from the Conservative Party for a Christmas party at 24 Sussex Drive. Laureen Harper made little chocolate mice for the dessert tray. The event was strictly off the record, a new formal stipulation in place since Jane Taber surprised us all by writing up chapter and verse of the prime minister’s cocktail-party chat for the Globe a year ago, so I will tell you not a word that Stephen Harper shared with us. I can, however, report that Andrew MacDougall said not a word.

And it wasn’t for lack of effort on my part. “Answer the Mark Carney question of your choice,” I said to him, attempting to be sly.

“No comment,” he said, smiling and staring resolutely into the middle distance.

“Was there anger?” I asked.

The prime minister’s spokesman mimed pulling a capsule from his Bat Utility Belt and throwing it to the floor. “Smoke bomb,” he said, his other hand pointing toward the nearest door, “and I am out of here.”

So put the PMO down as unhelpful on whether Mark Carney’s vacation arrangements displease them, or, more to the point, whether they displease Harper.

We have already presented Stephen Gordon’s eloquent case for the prosecution on this website, and Colleague Geddes’ more nuanced parsing of the rulebook. (John pointed out, repeatedly, the possibility of a Carney Liberal candidacy before he announced for the Bank of England, and received a lot of ribbing from colleagues for it at the time.) Let me try to address the politics of the whole thing.

This summer, for my sins, I was at an innovation policy conference, which I endured using the time-honoured technique of loitering outside in the hallway for most of it. At one point I struck up a conversation with a Liberal, a (formerly and still by avocation Progressive) Conservative, and an international mandarin type of indeterminate party affiliation. The international mandarin type started quizzing me on whether a prestigious outsider could shake up the Liberal leadership race.

I said, as gently as I could, that it had been tried, catastrophically, and not only once: that both Michael Ignatieff and Ken Dryden had been marketed by their admirers as an answer to the deathless Liberal wish for kings.

The problem with the notion is twofold. First, “I had a great career outside politics” is not heard, by most voters, as “I will have a great career in politics.” This big caveat is often ignored by people who spend their lives in politics and are desperate for fresh air. Remember that on one of the occasions when Michael Jordan retired from basketball, serious people suggested he’d make a great U.S. Senator. The voters, a stolid bunch, normally assume that the best person to do politics is one who’s already been doing some.

Second, the Liberal Party of Canada will go through a series of wrenching crises on its way back to power if it is not simply going to fade away and die. (It’s a coin toss which of those futures awaits it.) Any new leader will have to ask for effort and sacrifice from Liberals, and they will not give it if they do not think they can trust the leader. And Liberals may not believe in much, but they are pretty sure they know who smells like a Liberal. That’s the only reason Stéphane Dion was able to defeat Bob Rae (as far as most Liberals were then concerned, a New Democrat) and Michael Ignatieff (not much of anything) in 2006. That instinct was put in remittance by Dion’s odd behaviour during the 2008 coalition crisis, but two years of Michael Ignatieff reconfirmed it. The Liberals will not back a fancy outsider for leader. It’s telling, in the Globe’s excellent weekend report, that the only people who seemed to think so included Tim Murphy, who’s been less active in the party since 2006; Frank McKenna, the party’s eternal fancy outsider; and, perhaps, Scott Brison, who had his own trouble getting accepted as a potential leader in each of the two parties he has so far called his own.

Anyway, our ecumencial little cluster of hallway refugees from the innovation conference kicked around notions of leadership for a while — at one point my partner, a Conservative, wandered by, listened long enough to grow bored, and left — and it became clear that International Mandarin Type carried a torch for Mark Carney, or as he called him, “Mark.” “Mark really is the Lester Pearson of our time,” he said. But this isn’t Pearson’s time, I said. Pearson inherited the party from St. Laurent, who inherited it from King, whereas the next leader will inherit it from the dustbin. Bring in a banker from Oxford and you’d lose a hell of a lot of Liberals even if you could get him to lead the Liberal Party, and your only hope then would be to attract a bunch of Conservatives, and that’s the kind of radical shift a party performs best from a position of strength, not weakness. All of this remains my best guess at whether Mark Carney would ever have made a good Liberal leader. (Reader’s Digest version: No, he wouldn’t have. Not now.)

But this summer it was hypothetical, and on Saturday morning it became — well, still hypothetical, but at least a hypothetical dressed up as a Globe story. My first reaction to the story was that people really should stop staying at Scott Brison’s house. And I say that advisedly, because in the summer of 2003, when Brison was a washed-up former candidate for the Progressive Conservative leadership, I spent a weekend at his house. The lobster was yummy, but then Don Martin put me in his column and no lobster is worth that.

My second reaction is that, to the extent Carney had politicized the office, his political judge, jury and executioner would be Stephen Harper. Sure, Carney is leaving in July. But his condition for accepting the BoE appointment was that the term be cut from eight to five years, precisely so he could return to Canada when he’s done before his daughters get too used to calling elevators “lifts.” So if he’s a problem, he’ll still be a problem in five years, and Stephen Harper still expects a Conservative to be prime minister in five years. An ounce of prevention might be wise. I figured if the prime minister wanted to ruin Carney’s political career, he’d fire him before sundown.

That didn’t happen. There are a few possible explanations. One is that it’s harder to fire a bank governor than it is for me to play Saturday-morning quarterback. Before James Coyne resigned, the Diefenbaker government was on the way to doing it with a bill declaring his position vacant. If Harper were feeling bloody-minded, he might enjoy trying the same, particularly because it sure would smoke out the Liberals. But it would take weeks and would not exactly add to public confidence in the Bank of Canada while it was happening.

The second possibility is that Harper is hopping mad, but pragmatic. Carney will be somebody else’s problem after July, and a fuss now would not solve that, and as for five years in the future, well, you go mad if you try to control that.

The third possibility is that the only difference between Liberals and Conservatives is that Liberals have Jane Taber on speed-dial. Any majority government party must worry about turnover, including, after seven years in power, at the top. I once wrote that the Harper Conservatives had tried to recruit Raymond Chrétien, a former ambassador who is the nephew of Jean Chrétien, to run for them. That would not have been in any way improper, but it demonstrates that they take a broad view of their candidate-recruitment mandate. Attempting to politicize non-partisans is what partisans do: when Dwight Eisenhower came home from the deadliest U.S. war since the Civil War and became Army Chief of Staff in the first days of the Cold War, Harry Truman promptly tried to recruit him for the Democrats. (Truman’s plan was that Ike would run for President and he, Truman, would be content with VP. Eisenhower said no, finally giving in to his other suitors, the Republicans, in 1952, while he should theoretically have been busy staring down Stalin as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.)

I don’t know whether Carney had only one set of gentleman callers. And now, because the PMO is staying mum, neither will you.




Mark Carney: He who is without sin…

  1. Thank you for actually writing something intersting about Carney. It beats the hell out of the innuendo laden article by Gordon on Sunday.
    I have been shaking my head at this sorry excuse for an ‘issue’. It started with a rumour laden article in the Globe that un-named ‘Liberal Insiders’ were floating Carneys name as leader, and that Carney had stayed at Brisons house in the summer. Carney did not waste any time responding that people talk to him all the time, and that he would not be running for leader. And that is the entire frekin substance of this ‘scandal’! What are the motives of these petty scribblers who call themselves journalists? It is a total absurdity when columnists spread rumours about Carney, and then pour out mock outrage that Carney is the subject of rumours. Gutter journalism, pure and simple.

  2. I don’t think you understand the meaning of “strictly off the record”.

    • Then I guess I’m screwed.

  3. I think he could have been Conservative Party Leader after Harper.
    I cannot believe Jim Flaherty would not have put his and Christine’s supporters behind Mark’s
    run for Tory leader.

  4. “But it would take weeks and would not exactly add to public confidence in the Bank of Canada while it was happening.”

    But haven’t you also provided an argument for the PM not to fire MC outright [ after all there might be an even worse recession with his name on it, as well as the possibility of glory in London] but to allow innuendo and rumour to blacken his reputation before he flies the coop here? This would have the added value that it might be the Brits that actually stick the knife in at whatever committee they deem it fit to try him before.That way Harper might even get to have point 1 or 3 [ sometimes i think i ought to be in this particular pmo. It must be a thrill to ruin someone’s reputation[sarc] ]
    The third possibility presumes [i presume] that Harper might well need Carney or someone like him himself one day? That makes sense. Vindictively topping the best talent around hardly wins over hearts and minds, even in Ottawa.

    Agree wholeheartedly with your take on MC and the LPC. This end run on the membership has to end if the party is to survive, leave alone make it back to power. People keep on pointing to PET as an example of what you can do by going outside the party. With all due respect to present day politicians, that kind of man doesn’t grow on trees, even for the NGP of Canada.

  5. I think your hunch is probably correct. I’m not sure picking even a winnable fight with Carney would be in the Conservatives’ best political interests though. He’s on his way out and leaves Justin Trudeau behind to be dealt with, and keeping Carney’s reputation afloat lets people wish he was leader instead and maybe, if their opponents are stupifyingly lucky, new factionalism in the Liberal party. And I’m not sure the Conservatives can be written off for Carney’s entry into politics. The Globe article hints strongly that Carney is a Liberal, but if he’s kind of a David Emerson-ish opportunist, it’s possible that in 2018 the Liberals are in Official Opposition, led by a Justin Trudeau who plans to be around for the long haul, and the Conservatives are still led by Stephen Harper after 12 years in power, or by somebody else without his appeal on his/her way to losing the 2019 election and vacating the job, and that the CPC is Carney’s best shot at the top.

  6. Carney is entitled to a vacation with his family where ever he pleases. However, surely he saw the danger in staying at the home of the finance critic for the Liberal party. Carney has done a great job as Governor of the Bank of Canada but he needs to provide a full explanation of his actions. I am sure he can afford a hotel room or a cottage for his family while on vacation. However, bunking with the finance critic of an opposition party stinks to high heaven and he knows it. That is why he is trying to wait hoping this thing blows over. However, England is now in the act and they apparently are not too pleased. He better hope they don’t recind their offer.

    • They’ve been friends for years. Chill.

      • I am glad they are friends. However, he is the Governor of the Bank of Canada and the optics are not good. If this was the Conservatives would you have said chill. I doubt it.

        • Load of nonsense. As Gov of the BOC he’s friends with Cons and Libs and Dippers and Greens. He’s a civil servant and it’s expected…..and it doesn’t make a toss of difference.

          Up until a week ago the Cons were claiming him and touting him and celebrating him….so I thought he voted Con


          • Agreed, this is a non-issue in my opinion. People are allowed to keep their friends when they become a civil servant.
            I’ve been curious about Carney’s political leanings for some time now. I always found it interesting that everyone assumes he is a Liberal when he hasn’t given any public indication that he is.
            I’ve always pegged him as a libertarian fiscal conservative, although perhaps I’m just projecting.

          • What makes this an issue is that (according to the Globe article’s account of things) he was also not turning down those asking him to run for leader of the Liberal party. It’s possible it never came up during his week at the Brison house, but everything in the article combined, if unchallenged, suggests a cozier than it should be relationship between Carney and the Liberals.

  7. From where did this stupid story emanate? It’s got Jane ‘Yabber’ Taber “Guess What I Heard?”-flavoured lip-gloss all over it. She’s out basking in the Maritime grey isn’t she?

    Double standards? No courageous press-person has summoned the wit or courage to verify where and with whom the mendacious Peter McKay ‘lodges’ when he ‘fishes’ and choppers out in the National Interest, right? Seriously, he coulda been hookin’ trout with Bashar el-Assad, for all anyone asks.

    Oh, right. It’s the issue of Mr. Carney’s ‘role’: Non-partisan, totally objective, monetarily-focussed Governor of The Bank of Canada.

    Would that Taber could ask Andrew Coyne’s old man (R.I.P.) if partisanship in any way effects a current government’s view towards that esteemed position. (Ah, the glory that was Diefenbaker!) When push comes to shove, the heavy man holding the purse wins. And, despite what the Eco’s might wish, that’s not the Guv.

    But, well. despite Mr. Wells’ mighty inquisition, nobody’s sayin’ nuttin’ ’bout ‘nuttin. Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.

    As for Mr. Carney, he *seems* to ‘do the right thing’ despite his GS pedigree, The man has done a pretty good job taking over from his predecessor (ol’ grumpy uncle – tough act to follow) and is movin’ on. Let it go, fergawsakes.

  8. Mark Carney is a Harper 1% puppet fleeing Canada before our
    housing bust news goes mainstream; Canada’s
    housing implosion is on his shoulders. He’s
    not worth 788 bucks a year, let alone a million.

    snip snip: Mr. Carney said nothing when his pal Flaherty
    (yes man to Stephen Harper) pushed through forty-year amortizations and allowed
    zero down payment loans to be covered by CMHC.

    It was that move, surprisingly shoehorned into the 2006
    budget, which spread the fuel for an explosion of property prices. All it took
    to ignite was the spark of emergency interest rates, which Carney himself
    provided two years later.

  9. In discussing the upcoming move of Mark Carney from head of
    the Bank of Canada to boss at the Bank of England, a leading UK money mag had
    this to say: “Forget about the idea that
    Carney is coming over here to save us. Quite
    the contrary. He’s escaping from Canada
    just in time.”

    p.s. Canada is facing
    huge housing crash thanks to Carney’s and Harper’s and Jim Flaherty’s misguided
    housing policy decision such as 40 year mortgages, etc.

  10. Oh, my goodness. The lie Canadian banks were not bailed out
    is being perpetuated world-wide. The
    Prime Minister of Canada insisted the Canadian banks were not bailed out
    although he did admit about $70 billion provided them with needed
    “liquidity.” Now we know that
    the Bank of Canada gave $114 billion to bail out the banks.

    Carney didn’t do anything special: it was that some of the
    rules were still there to prevent the most egregious abuses. Banks have become insurance companies,
    investment banks and commercial banks. I
    have no idea whether the commercial banks are protected from those speculations
    in derivatives that they engage in. I do know that the top Canadian banks
    borrowed billions from the Federal Reserve discount window after the 2008
    crisis and one bank received monies from the AIG bailout via TARP.

    Flaherty and Harper were offering sub-prime loans and
    extending years of payment to 40. They
    quickly retracted these policies when they saw what was happening in the US in
    2008. We need a higher interest rate to
    deal with that problem. Carney did not
    manage that well; he only threatened to raise rates and chided the citizens to
    not get in debt.

    There are opposing points of view about the greatness of


    Goldman Sachs does NOT care about the public purpose. They
    are here for profit-making. Why can’t we learn from what we have seen already?