Liberals aren’t alone in carrying fructures into election

Only a fraction of those elected to the House of Commons ever get to hold a ministerial position, and an even smaller number have the good fortune of taking the reins of a government department before they have even sat for a day in Parliament.

Sheila Copps, who has been playing Liberal bad cop from the peanut gallery over the course of the SNC-Lavalin affair, spent a decade on the opposition benches before taking a seat at the cabinet table beside Jean Chretien.

Chuck Strahl, who served under Stephen Harper (and whose son, Mark, now holds his father’s former seat in the House of Commons), came to the Hill as a Reform member in 1997; it was nine years before he had the opportunity as a minister to put into effect some of the policies he and his party had been promoting.

By comparison, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott both had posts from Day 1 that allowed them to actually effect change, rather than just try to push for it from the back of the government benches or from the opposition side of the House.

It is a rare MP who has sampled life on both sides of the parliamentary track and not come away convinced that a place in the cabinet fast lane is far more rewarding.

Nothing in Wilson-Raybould and Philpott’s political track records to date suggests they would revel in being on the outside of the action looking in.

If the events of the past eight weeks demonstrate anything, it is that they have not only enjoyed their tenures as power politicians, but have been quick to learn — as the prime minister has discovered, at his own expense — how to maximize their political capital.

Looking at the upcoming federal election, there is no obvious scenario under which either of the two former ministers finds her way back to the front bench of a government in the next Parliament.

Yes, they could always join the Conservatives. After all, that party does owe Wilson-Raybould and Philpott its current lead in the pre-election polls.

But for all the praise the official Opposition has opportunistically heaped on the two ex-ministers, they hail from opposite policy corners on some pretty fundamental issues. Climate change and Indigenous reconciliation — to name just two — come to mind.

The NDP would be an easier fit for both former ministers, but polls suggest its unbroken sojourn in opposition will extend beyond the Oct. 21 vote.

As Wilson-Raybould and Philpott reflect on their ways forward in the political arena, their reduced prospects could factor in their decisions whether to run again.

But whether they do or not, the fracture in the Liberal caucus and party will not be completely healed in time for the fall vote.

If anything, their ousting from the Liberal caucus — whether one believes it was overdue or uncalled for — has caused a rip in the Liberal fabric that Justin Trudeau cannot possibly mend in time for a campaign that is only a few months away. He will take it into this fall’s election.

It has been rightly said that Trudeau’s “sunny ways” stand to be a casualty.

That said, he is not the only leader who has failed to prevent key political relationships from deteriorating to the point of non-repair during this Parliament. For the Conservatives and the New Democrats, it has similarly been a divisive period.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer did not manage to keep his main leadership rival, Maxime Bernier, inside his tent. That in turn, has led to another schism within the Conservative movement, little more than a decade after its warring federal factions reconciled under a single party roof.

On Jagmeet Singh’s watch as NDP leader, the pipeline issue has caused a public rift between the federal NDP and its Alberta wing.

The decision to oust MP Erin Weir from the federal caucus after an inquiry in sexual harassment allegations found that he had failed “to read non-verbal cues in social situations” has caused an uproar among Saskatchewan New Democrats.

In the case of both of the main opposition parties, irreconcilable policy differences have resulted in internal tensions that in turn have resulted in fractures that may outlast the one endured by the Liberals over the course of the SNC-Lavalin saga.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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