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Kelly McParland: In Carney, the Liberals have found their latest saviour

The Liberal Party of Canada is one of the world’s great evangelical organizations. It believes in the Saviour. When difficulties arise and the future looks doubtful, Liberals turn to the Saviour for rescue.

Theirs is not the same saviour rooted in the Vatican and heralded in churches of various denominations across the globe. Theirs is the political wunderkind who can raise the party from whatever doldrums it may be suffering and usher it back to the promised land of political power.

The problem with Liberal saviourhood is that they need a new one every once in a while, when the old saviour starts looking a bit worn and the miracles quit coming. When followers stop trusting to blind faith and start asking awkward questions. Like, “How could you hand a billion-dollar contract to a couple of guys who were sending cheques to your mother and brother?”

Liberals thought Justin Trudeau was the Saviour when he decided to quit giving speeches for a living and become prime minister. He won the leadership in a walk. Women and young people loved him. The hair, the pedigree, the promises.… He didn’t have much of a record as a politician, but who cared? All he had to do was win. They’d figure the rest out later.

And he delivered, for a while, but not to the degree expected. When Trudeau bested Stephen Harper, Liberals thought they had an easy decade of power ahead. But stumbles abounded. Promises haven’t been kept: the Indigenous community remains as disgruntled as ever, there’s no new electoral system favouring perpetual Liberal regimes, we’re no better at peacekeeping than before and three years of “modest” deficits proved to be a flood of red ink even before COVID-19 prompted the government to quit pretending to budget. Plus the personal missteps, the WE disaster and an unlovable Governor General being just the latest unforced errors conjured from thin air by a sleepwalking Prime Minister’s Office that seems incapable of doing an honest bit of research.

So a new saviour is needed, and … cue the incense … along comes Mark Carney, just the sort of figure to get Liberal juices flowing. Ooooh, his resume. Aaaah his stature. He’s still young enough to appeal but old enough to carry a certain air of gravitas. If Trudeau, even in his beard, still has something of the air of the high school valedictorian, Carney could be the sagacious principal who keeps the kids in line while earning their respect. Trudeau is the cover of Vogue or Rolling Stone; Carney is Bloomberg Businessweek. Hard to imagine the former central banker turning up in India in a Bollywood costume.

Carney’s name has been all over the papers this week since it became known — somehow leaking from the PMO, gee, who would have done that? — that Trudeau has been turning to him for advice on handling a hoped-for economic exit from the coronavirus pandemic. That’s supposed to be Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s job, but it appears the prime minister’s faith in his minister may not be cast-iron certain. That leaves Morneau in a painful, vulnerable position, his authority undermined, while Carney tries on halos for size.

The odd thing, of course, is that Trudeau consulting Carney is one saviour huddling with his potential replacement. Trudeau has tumbled off his cloud, losing his majority and the popular vote to the unlikely figure of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, then putting his minority at risk by grounding the government on the shoals of the Kielburger brothers. The pandemic offered an opportunity for political rebirth, and he looks to have blown it. So he needs a lift, and firing Morneau won’t be enough, given that it may only add to his record for poor judgment.

Courting Carney is a more promising route. He’s headed not one but two central banks, including the prestigious Bank of England. Success overseas always awakens Liberal admiration. He’s known to be ambitious, and apparently Liberal. He seems to want to run. He’s back in the country, has a cool job with the same international do-gooder organization that recently spurned Trudeau’s advances, has serious academic cred and impressive private sector experience. What more could you ask?

He even comes with his own Holy Book. Carney is writing a treatise with the ambitious title of “Value(s): Building a Better World for All.” Anyone out there who doesn’t want a better world? Alrighty then. It’s due out in the spring, which could be fortuitous timing: a new, brighter year; the pandemic hopefully receding; the government well into its second year and facing tough financial decisions. Who better to help make them than the Wonder Governor?

Now might be a good time to issue a few reminders. The Liberal saviour search hasn’t always worked out as planned. Paul Martin was the whizz-bang former finance minister who was going to turn a big surplus and decade of power into a dynasty, and barely lasted two years. Michael Ignatieff brought his intellectual credentials and international reputation to Ottawa and got the Liberals hammered at the polls. Trudeau thought he had the Governor General for the ages in astronaut Julie Payette and has to wonder who will go first, him or her. And his own future must be less than certain, given the lusting after Carney.

Maybe he knows this and is paving the way. Perhaps it’s a case of one comet streaking across the sky, fading to dark as a second blazes into view. Or maybe he hopes some of that old saviour magic will rub off from the newcomer and get him back to the heavenly heights he once enjoyed.

Either way, you gotta have faith. Liberals know there’s a saviour out there somewhere. They just have to find one. The rest they’ll figure out later.

National Post

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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