By­elec­tions will leave big shoes to fill

Gen­er­a­tional change on Par­lia­ment Hill just around the cor­ner

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - Chan­tal Hébert Na­tional Af­fairs Chan­tal He­bert is a na­tional af­fairs writer with Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices.

Un­der the guise of the first large set of by­elec­tions since Justin Trudeau be­came prime min­is­ter, vot­ers are about to turn a de­fin­i­tive cor­ner on gen­er­a­tional change on Par­lia­ment Hill. The vote to take place on April 3 in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the fed­eral bud­get in five rid­ings spread across Que­bec, On­tario and Al­berta will not – de­spite the hype – amount to a ma­jor test of the gov­ern­ment or, for that mat­ter, the Con­ser­va­tive of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion.

Three of the rid­ings at play are among the safest Lib­eral seats in the land. At the worst of times for the party, in 2011, the rid­ings all re­turned Lib­eral MPs with a rel­a­tively com­fort­able ma­jor­ity.

The other two are Con­ser­va­tive fortresses set in Al­berta – the prov­ince that has been most re­silient, ac­cord­ing to the polls on vot­ing in­ten­tions, to Trudeau’s sunny ways.

If Trudeau failed to hold Ot­tawa-Vanier, St-Lau­rent and Markham-Thorn­hill on April 3, it would not be a leap to con­clude that there is not a safe Lib­eral seat in the coun­try. Ditto for the Con­ser­va­tives in the case of Cal­gary Mid­na­pore and Cal­gary Her­itage.

What makes this set of by­elec­tions spe­cial is not its prob­a­ble non-im­pact on the makeup of the House of Com­mons, but rather the big shoes that the in­cum­bents are leav­ing be­hind for oth­ers to try to fill.

The April 3 vote marks the end of an era in more ways than one.

Stephen Harper ini­tially came to the House of Com­mons as part of the con­tin­gent of Re­form MPs that took the Hill by storm in 1993. He was the last of them to be elected – in Cal­gary Her­itage – in 2015. In be­tween, he did ful­fil the core Re­form prom­ise to bring Al­berta and Western Canada into the fed­eral power loop.

His con­stituents sent him off in style, with al­most two-thirds of the votes cast in the rid­ing in the last elec­tion.

Of the Que­bec fed­eral min­is­ters who stared down into the post-ref­er­en­dum abyss, Stephane Dion was the last to still hold a seat.

On his first day as Jean Chre­tien’s post-ref­er­en­dum point min­is­ter, shortly af­ter the 1995 ref­er­en­dum, Dion had said he was com­ing to Ot­tawa to change the re­al­ity of the coun­try. Suf­fice it to say that, as the vot­ers of St-Lau­rent get set to re­place him, there has not been at the cabi­net ta­ble a so-called unity min­is­ter for more than a decade. With Dion gone, that sweater may have to be re­tired.

Ja­son Ken­ney and John McCal­lum both made a mark, in dif­fer­ent ways, as im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ters.

The first brought Canada’s eth­ni­cally di­verse com­mu­ni­ties in­side the fed­eral party’s tent in a way that no other Con­ser­va­tive had in the past. Based on the fear-mon­ger­ing un­der­tone of the on­go­ing fed­eral lead­er­ship cam­paign, it may take more than a new Con­ser­va­tive MP for the rid­ing of Cal­gary Mid­na­pore to pre­serve that legacy.

McCal­lum presided over the ex­e­cu­tion of Justin Trudeau’s sig­na­ture prom­ise to bring in more Syr­ian refugees. From his new diplo­matic perch in Bei­jing, he will get to see whether that ini­tia­tive marked the end of a more in­no­cent age or the op­po­site. By mov­ing on now, he may well have dodged a ma­jor refugee cri­sis.

As MP for Ot­tawa-Vanier, Mau­ril Be­langer was very much the voice of On­tario’s fran­co­phone com­mu­nity in Par­lia­ment and it is a man­tle he wore with grace.

The Lib­er­als would like to give the Con­ser­va­tives a bit of a run for their money in Cal­gary. They have an em­bar­rass­ment of riches when it comes to po­ten­tial can­di­dates in Saint-Lau­rent, but also a po­ten­tial em­bar­rass­ment to re­solve.

Yolande James, Que­bec’s for­mer im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter, is one of three can­di­dates vy­ing to run for the Lib­er­als

in Dion’s rid­ing. In her pre­vi­ous po­lit­i­cal in­car­na­tion, she twice sup­ported the de­ci­sion to deny ac­cess to French-lan­guage cour­ses to a woman who in­sisted on wear­ing a niqab to class. That could put her on a col­li­sion course with Trudeau on a defin­ing is­sue for the prime min­is­ter.

The NDP ran a dis­tant sec­ond or third in all five rid­ings. It does not re­ally have a dog in this fight. Things will be dif­fer­ent if out­go­ing NDP Leader Thomas Mul­cair ever puts the rid­ing of Outremont in play by de­cid­ing to not serve a full term as MP.

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