The Commons: The minister walks away

How the House responded to Jim Prentice’s resignation


 

A few minutes after three he appeared from behind the gold curtains and strode down to his seat in the front row of the government side, a blue folder in one hand. Unfortunately, Peter MacKay was already in that seat, the Defence Minister having taken advantage of Jim Prentice’s absence from Question Period to sidle over for a chat with the Prime Minister.

Mr. MacKay moved over one spot to the right and Mr. Prentice claimed the seat that would be his for at least a few more minutes. He exchanged a few pleasant words with the Prime Minister. Mr. MacKay extended his right hand and Mr. Prentice shook it. As the final moments of QP played out, Mr. Prentice opened his blue folder and reviewed the text, typed out neatly on a few pages of white paper, that was contained therein.

The Speaker drew the attention of members to the presence in the gallery of Mr. Phillip Bradbourn, chairman of the Delegation for Relations with Canada of the European Parliament. Members applauded. This being a Thursday, the Speaker called on the opposition House leader to stand and ask the government House leader to inform the House as to how the government intends to proceed with its legislative agenda when business resumes after next week’s break.

Then finally, after John Baird had finished wishing everyone a productive constituency week, Mr. Prentice, took a sip of water, nodded at the Speaker and rose on a point of order.

“Mr. Speaker, after meeting with the Ethics Commissioner today, I have informed the Prime Minister that I am resigning from cabinet effective immediately,” Mr. Prentice explained. “Furthermore, I will be resigning as the member of Parliament for Calgary Centre-North by the end of 2010.”

Well then.

This had already seemed a particularly odd week, what with the capital being positively gripped by something called Potash, Tony Clement thus charged with rendering, apparently single-handedly, a profoundly meaningful decision about this Potash and the reasoning for that decision then deemed top secret for the next month. And now this—a quite unexpected twist reported just moments before Mr. Prentice appeared in the House.

“When I entered federal politics in 2001, I made a commitment that my time in politics would last 8 to 10 years,” Mr. Prentice continued. “It has now, remarkably, been nine years, and it is time for me to pursue new opportunities outside of public life.”

The minister was as sharply styled as always, in this case in a dark suit and white shirt with french cuffs. He has always looked and sounded the part of a man who approaches the part with a certain seriousness. And now he had apparently found a new part with a new kind of seriousness.

“I have, therefore, today,” he said, “accepted a position with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce as the vice-chairman of the bank and as the senior executive vice-president of the bank effective January 1, 2011.”

He rubbed his hands together as he spoke, perhaps a touch nervous. He has generally seemed a talented combatant in the House, self-assured without being insufferable, aggressive without being vicious. He could finely dismiss an opposition query, but I recall most of all his rising on a point of order some two years ago to other a rather eloquent apology for his use of the letters “B” and “S” and in too close proximity.

So he was talented, well-spoken and well-dressed. And as such he was considered a potential successor to Mr. Harper. And now, for whatever reason, he was taking his leave, honouring his party, his government, his constituents and his Prime Minister as he concluded his farewell. By 3:09pm, he was done—leaving everyone plenty of time to speculate as to why.

After a standing ovation from all sides and a long procession of well-wishers, the Prime Minister rose and offered his warm thanks. Representatives from the opposition parties followed suit—graciously withholding their questions about the ethical concerns raised by his departure and future place of work until they were out in the foyer.

“Like many other colleagues in this place, we share a great respect for our friend. While we have sometimes disagreed on particular issues, he has always held himself to a high standard of dignity when representing his government’s views on whatever issues,” New Democrat Nathan Cullen said on behalf of his side. “I congratulate him on an important decision he had to make just recently that I think was positive for all of us. It is often a place where we do not get to address the personal here. The House of Commons can be a difficult place for that, but at this moment I think it is an expression on behalf of all New Democrats that we wish our colleague the very best of luck in his future endeavours and that his family warmly welcomes him back from something a little bit more of a regular life.”


 

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