Sharks circling Trudeau’s raft

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s leadership has not emerged unscathed from his trouble-plagued pre-election season.

With a possible Liberal defeat this fall in mind, some insiders are already strategizing a path to the party leadership for former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney.

Carney is due to finish his current gig as governor of the Bank of England at the end of this year. There has long been speculation that he could one day land in the Canadian political arena, and that if he did, he would cast his lot with the Liberals.

As the party’s fortunes have declined in the pre-election polls, that speculation has turned into active interest — if not on Carney’s part, at least on the part of some of his many fans inside the party.

On a recent conference call, a group of them discussed how Trudeau’s diminished prospects could result in an early opportunity for Carney to succeed him.

According to one participant, the group is working on the assumption that Trudeau will be hard pressed to win more than 140 seats in October.

That would be down from 184 in the 2015 election, and well short of the 170 seats required to command a majority in the House of Commons.

With fewer than 140 seats, the Liberals would — at best — be left with a very fragile minority government.

This is not the first time some Liberals have come together to recruit Carney for their party’s top job.

In the summer of 2012, a similar group set out to draft the then-governor of the Bank of Canada to run against Trudeau for the leadership. By all indications, the latest draft movement is not spearheaded by exactly the same cast of backroom players.

Back in 2012, Carney killed the notion that he might make the jump in politics by taking on his current assignment in the U.K. His term was scheduled to end later this spring, but was extended for six months last fall to ensure as much stability as possible as the U.K. navigates (or fails to navigate) its departure from the European Union.

The federal election will take place on Oct. 21, and the latest Brexit deadline in the U.K. is set for the end of October. It would be difficult, in the circumstances, for Carney to test the political waters by running as Trudeau’s star economic candidate this fall.

There have also been feelers about the party’s potential prospects under Chrystia Freeland. There is no evidence the foreign affairs minister is behind those feelers.

The issue of Trudeau’s succession — a remote prospect for the overwhelming majority of Liberals only six months ago — is now clearly more current.

Only those unfamiliar with the federal Liberal culture will be taken aback by the notion that insiders would be discussing the possibility of a leadership change at a time when the party is still competitive enough to conceivably win a second term in power.

The eternal quest for the next bright shining leadership object is in the political DNA of the Liberal party. In the past, it has sent some of its best and brightest on a quest for what turned out to be fool’s gold.

In the late 1980s, part of the party’s establishment was on side with ousting then-leader John Turner from his post just one week into the free-trade campaign.

Twelve years later, more than a few Liberals would have had Jean Chretien set the date of his resignation on the morning after he secured a third consecutive majority for the party.

It may take more than an election victory this fall — especially if Trudeau falls short of securing a second majority — to cleanse the Liberal waters of the blood that has some of the party’s sharks once again circling their leader’s raft.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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