Not many people, unless you’re my age or older, remember when CD Howe was in the news almost every day, even on the cover of Time magazine. Canada was on the move, Canada had emerged from the Second World War and from Korea as a leading middle power and we were growing by leaps and bounds. A new trans-Canada microwave system ushered in the beginnings of the information age; the new St Lawrence Seaway connected Thunder Bay and Chicago to the world, the new DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line and a new Canadian made fighter jet, the CF-100 Canuck, made our continent somewhat more secure from the threat of an attack by the USSR, and a brand new Trans-Canada Pipeline was going to move Canadian petroleum to Canadian refineries and then into Canadians’ fuel tanks. Clarence Decatur Howe was, sometimes, known as the “minister of everything” and he was much admired (feared, a bit, too) for his determination and energy. He was an engineer who did not want Canada to drift back into being a “hewer of wood and drawer of water,” he wanted Canada to be bigger, better and stronger, hence the jet fighters and pipelines.
I have been saying, ever since I began this blog, that the prime minister that Canada needs in the 2020s should be a lot like the one we had in the 1950s. I suspect that Erin O’Toole can be that leader. But a good leader needs a good team and I hope that Pierre Poilievre can be the sort of rock upon which Mr O’Toole and build a ministry that can rebuild Canada after the ravages of Justin Trudeau. CD Howe was tireless and focused; he did not like being held back. He had a vision of Canada and he was hell bent on translating vision into reality. I hope Pierre Poilievre is the same.
I hope that an Erin O’Toole ministry, the 30th Canadian Ministry, will be smaller and much better focused than is the current one, with fewer, but more powerful ministers and no more ministers without departments. Regional representation and gender balance and so on can be achieved by having associate ministers and ministers without portfolios. I hope there will be a visible “inner cabinet,” too, either:
- Selected by ministries, as some Westminster type democracies do, whereby a few selected departments, e.g. Finance, Trade and Industry, Foreign Affairs, Defence and one or two others, form an “inner circle” that directs the government’s total programme; or
- As has been frequently done is Canada there is a Planning and Priorities (P&P) Committee of cabinet where a handful of ministers directs that total government programme.
In either case the prime minister has to select a team of ministers that balances trust and loyalty, on one hand, and political power and ambition on the other. My guess is that there are a few MPs who are very loyal to Mr O’Toole and competent enough to be able ministers, even in some quite senior portfolios and there are also many MPs who accept Mr O’Toole’s leadership, only grudgingly in some cases, and only, in some cases, until he stumbles, and are also ready and able to manage major portfolios. In fact, my guess is that some of Mr O’Toole’s best candidate for some of the most important ministries are in the second category. And that, it seems to me, is normal in Westminster type parliamentary democracies around the world and has been through much of history ~ look at Churchill’s war cabinet which, initially, included both Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, who were his most bitter enemies, despite being in his own party.
We should not worry if Pierre Poilievre’s nose is a bit out of joint because, I’m guessing, that he wasn’t consulted about the changes and Mr O’Toole has not done a good enough job, yet, of explaining what he wants the Jobs and Industry shadow portfolio to accomplish.
In my opinion, the Conservatives should move on to the political offensive on that ~ the Jobs and Industry ~ front. Essentially, Erin O’Tool and Pierre Poilievre should both be attacking Justin Trudeau daily ~ while others continue secondary, supporting attacks on the vaccine debacle ~ which might be resolved by late summer, ethics and over-spending/under-budgeting, which will see Ed Fast pitted against Chrystia Freeland in a supporting role.
The key to winning the next election, it seems to me, is to turn 35± seats in Ontario from Liberal red to Tory blue. The vaccination debacle is, at long last, making voters question Justin Trudeau’s capabilities but he is, we must all hope, likely to solve that problem, so he is unlikely to defeat himself on that issue. Jobs, it seems to me, will be his weakness as people start to look for a post-pandemic recovery.
I think that Canada will needs another, 21st-century CD Howe; I hope that Pierre Poilievre sees and seizes the opportunity.