Like rats fleeing a sinking ship we have seen a mass exodus of prominent federal Tories in recent months, from Peter MacKay to John Baird and Christian Paradis, to James Moore and Shelly Glover. Once figures touted as potential future leaders of the party, the lions of the Conservative front bench, now gone from Canadian politics like they never were. Thus leaving Prime Minister Harper with a lame duck team, led forth into election battle by the soft spoken Chris Alexander, the often fumbling Pierre Poilievre, the luke-warm Lisa Raitt, the lack-lustre Leona Aglukkaq, and the dour Joe Oliver.
In some ways, who can blame them? The Conservatives are in trouble in the polls, trailing behind the NDP of all parties. The Canadian economy is sputtering. And for once, the Harper Conservatives have no other convenient straw-man, (i.e. the Liberals and minority parliaments), to blame for all of Canada’s woes after their ten years in power.
Like any long-running championship team. they have used up their entire playbook in previous elections, so their current messaging looks like more of a rehash of what Canadians have heard before rather than anything to suggest new energy and new ideas in the party’s platform.
In many ways, the party is fighting the most fearsome of foes this election cycle. Not the NDP, led by the intensely bearded one Thomas Mulcair. Not even the favourite whipping boy in the Liberals and Justin Trudeau. They are fighting the winds of change, as Canadians seek somewhere else for something new after giving the Conservatives their rein for the past decade.
While not quite a spent force in Canadian politics, for the Conservative party, every minute the election clock ticks down brings it closer to zero hour when it must put up or shut up. Will they rally? Or will they be piped out the door into Canadian history? The picture should become clearer in the next month or so.
As for our fleeing fivesome of fleet-footed former cabinet ministers, their departure, in all likelihood, has less to do with the political winds blowing out of Ottawa and more to do with their concern over preserving and maximizing their gold-plated MP pension plans.
After October, new rules brought in by the Conservatives will change the age at which currently sitting MPs can collect their full, lifetime pensions from age 55 to age 65. It will also require MPs to pay more into their pension plans to bring them into line with what other pension plans cost in Canada. John Baird is 46. Peter MacKay is 50. Christian Paradis is 41. Shelly Glover is 48. James Moore is 39. By retiring now, before the rules change, they are entitled to their entire pension at age 55 regardless of whether or not they decide to run for office again in the future.
Opportunists and hypocrites are always easy to spot. They are there walking the walk and talking the talk when the wind blows fair, but when the wind blows foul they are suddenly nowhere to be found. In the toughest election battle of the Conservatives’ political life, when they needed all the hardened and experienced campaign veterans they could find, these five, young, dynamic ministers chose their pocket books over their party’s need.
Let us hope it is remembered if Prime Minister Harper loses this election, and has to step down as leader, who was and wasn’t there when the party’s chips were down.