Over the last week, two things have become abundantly obvious to anyone watching Canadian politics. First, Justin Trudeau is in deep, deep trouble — deeper even than the SNC-Lavalin scandal or the revelation of his Blackface photos in 2019. And second, Mark Carney’s interest in his job is much more than just a rumour. As Carney told the Globe and Mail, running for Trudeau’s job isn’t a decision he’s ruled out. In the dialect of aspiring political leaders, that’s as close an answer to “hell yes” as you’re going to get.
These two things are closely related, of course. Carney wouldn’t be getting asked about his own leadership aspirations if Trudeau’s standing wasn’t so diminished, and Trudeau’s political problems might not be quite so dire if he had more people with Carney’s economic credentials — which is to say, any — in his caucus and cabinet. But Carney’s willingness to talk so openly about his intentions speaks to a fundamental shift in the political winds, one that could easily send the Liberals even further out to sea if they can’t figure out how to harness it.
There’s no realistic universe where Carney could waltz in, take over the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada and win the next election. Politics isn’t as complicated as central banking and monetary policy, but its learning curve is still painfully steep. Michael Ignatieff learned that lesson the hard way and nearly took the entire party down with him in the process.
Carney is no Ignatieff, though. For one thing, his stint as governor of the Bank of England was a blip compared to the decades Ignatieff spent living and working outside Canada. More importantly, his field of expertise just so happens to align with the Trudeau Liberals’ Achilles heel: the economy.
As a recent Abacus Data poll showed, 43 per cent of respondents think Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is better at managing the economy, with just 28 per cent saying the same about Trudeau. And Poilievre’s steadfast refusal to talk about anything other than the economy reflects what the Toronto Star’s Susan Delacourt describes as “the core belief among his inner circle that the next election will be fought and won on the economy and little else.”
By breaking in Carney the way Lester Pearson did with his own father back in 1965, letting him run for office and then appointing him to a key cabinet role (like, say, finance minister), Trudeau can benefit from his economic gravitas without having to hand over the reins. That would protect his party’s base of support in Quebec, without which re-election is impossible, and allow the Liberals to start pushing in Ontario, B.C., and other key parts of English Canada. He could let Carney take Poilievre into the deeper end of the economic pool and see if he actually knows how to swim. If it works, the leadership question will eventually answer itself — just as it did with Pierre Trudeau and Lester Pearson.
This is a long shot right now, given how much water the Liberal ship is taking on. Their recent decision on the carbon tax, one I’ve criticized repeatedly, speaks to a leadership team around the prime minister that is either unable to detect obvious political danger or too tired to help him avoid it. No single person, no matter how smart or talented they are, can revive a government that has lost the will to live.
But if the Trudeau team still has some fight left, bringing Carney on board would be a good way to signal that to their caucus and the country. Let him help clean up the mess they’ve made on carbon pricing and find a clear position on climate change they can actually defend. Give him the opportunity to challenge Poilievre on his economic prescriptions for the country, ones that look an awful lot like a placebo rather than real medicine. And let his very presence show that this is a government that isn't afraid of embracing expertise, something that creates a clear contrast with the official Opposition right now.
There’s no guarantee it will work. But it can’t be any worse than what they’re doing right now.