Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau stunned more than a few Liberals on Monday when he presented Eve Adams — a defector from Stephen Harper’s backbench who had run out of options to run for the Conservatives next fall — as a prize catch.
The Toronto area MP’s main claim to political fame to date had been a futile nomination quest that was rife with enough alleged dirty tricks to force the Conservatives to call time out on the local hostilities.
Since Trudeau’s announcement, confusion has given way to consternation at the notion that Adams could become the party’s standard-bearer in a high-profile battle against Finance Minister Joe Oliver next fall.
On Wednesday, Adams confirmed she would be seeking the Liberal nomination in the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence.
If she wins, the battle for the Toronto riding will;
a) be one of the most watched in the country;
b) pit a former Conservative backbencher with few economic credentials against the business-savvy finance minister.
Economic competence is expected to be a key theme of the next campaign. There is not a poll that does not give Harper the advantage over Trudeau on that central front. The optics of an Oliver/Adams battle for Eglinton-Lawrence will do little to change that perception.
Oliver, who came late to politics after a corporate career, may not be a natural politician but he is undeniably qualified to be the country’s finance minister.
Adams, on the other hand, has never been on anyone’s A-list for cabinet.
Nor had she — until Monday — exhibited discomfort with any aspect of the Conservative economic orthodoxy.
Indeed, in one of her final acts as a government MP last Wednesday, Adams opposed a Liberal motion to restore the integrity of the census … on a free vote.
Mike Colle — the riding’s Liberal MPP — has called Adams’ bid “preposterous” and vouched that she would become the federal Liberal nominee “over his dead body.”
If social media is any indication, he was not only speaking for himself.
Since Monday, Trudeau’s move has been savaged in editorials and columns in both official languages — with some of the sharpest criticism coming from sources usually sympathetic to his party.
Montreal’s La Presse may be the most Liberal-friendly French-language paper in Quebec. But on Wednesday, its chief editorialist André Pratte called Adams’ recruitment a breach of Trudeau’s most fundamental promise: that of doing away with old-style politics.
Pratte noted that Adams first ran for Harper in 2011, after he had been in power for more than five years. By then, the brass-knuckles approach to politics that she says has driven her to the Liberals was already well documented.
Former Conservative insider Dimitri Soudas has followed his fiancée into the Liberal fold.
Pratte argues that he is the very type of Conservative political operator that Trudeau should have been expected to keep at bay.
It seems that the Liberal strategists who masterminded this move continue to believe that the sight of a former Harper confidante such as Soudas in the Liberal camp will mess with the heads of the prime minister’s palace guard.
Maybe, but so far the heads that are being messed with are mostly Liberal ones.
On Monday, Adams made her Liberal coming-out alongside Trudeau over the course of a well-publicized Parliament Hill news conference. Given the red carpet he rolled out for her floor crossing, it was hard not to conclude that she would be the leader’s horse in any nomination race.
But by Wednesday, a Liberal insider was insisting that all she had obtained was a pass to run for the nomination in Eglinton-Lawrence — with no guarantee of an easy passage.
Oliver will turn 75 in the spring.
As finance minister, he stands on the top rung of the cabinet ladder.
For those two reasons, many observers had kept an asterisk next to his name in the reasonable belief that he could still decide to bow out of politics once he has delivered the budget later this spring.
But that was before Trudeau set in motion a scenario for the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence that Conservative central casting could only have dreamed of.
Chantal Hébert is a Toronto Star national affairs writer.