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Who’s afraid of Mark Carney?

Who’s afraid of Mark Carney?
Jess Frampton

Mark Carney set the cat among the pigeons last week with a speech that gently criticized the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and tore a strip off of Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.

Carney, the former governor of both the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, wants to be Canada’s prime minister, so he is letting it be known that he might do a better job than Trudeau while warning against the alternative.

Carney said Trudeau is spending too much money and is insufficiently focused on productivity — something most business people and economists think — but compared the prospect of a Poilievre victory to Brexit, which turned out to be the disaster he warned against.

“Brexiters promised that they were going to create Singapore on the Thames,” he said. “The … government actually delivered Argentina on the Channel.”

After the speech went live, a Liberal close to Trudeau messaged me a clip in which Carney used a series of catchphrases you’d expect to hear at Harvard Business School: “Hinge moment; dynamism; mission-oriented capitalism; combining resilience and purpose; mission institutions; seize the advantages.”

“These are all things Mark Carney said in 30 seconds or so,” the Liberal wrote. “That speech Carney gave is stuffed with more $5 bills than a vendor’s bag at the Jays game. Pierre will cream him.”

A threat from within

Some around Trudeau are uneasy about Carney’s high-profile outings. Liberals outside Trudeau’s circle are starting to think it might be nice if the prime minister spent more time with his family, because Canadians are so tired of him. He has been trailing Poilievre in the polls since Poilievre became leader in 2022. Trudeau just rolled out a CA$53 billion budget that so far has not moved the polls — an indication that Canadians have tuned him out. Some Liberal insiders hope Carney will take over and save them from the drubbing that Poilievre is getting ready to deliver in the next election.

But this is not what Trudeau’s people want. They point out that Carney has no experience in retail politics and may think Canada should be run like a central bank, where remote technocrats with degrees from elite universities make wise decisions without worrying about the grubby business of building political support. They are worried that the banker will lead the party to an electoral disaster.

Savior in the wings

Trudeau is not likely to be ousted, Liz Truss-style, since he single-handedly built the modern Liberal Party, and there is no rival in his caucus. But if Carney looks like a savior waiting in the wings, pressure will mount for Trudeau to hit the lecture circuit. Over the years, there has repeatedly been talk about Carney joining Trudeau’s team, but insiders say Trudeau — who may not have wanted to share the spotlight — would not promise Carney a role on the front bench. So now he is outside, loitering, waiting for a chance to run Canada, and Canadians are interested in what he is saying.

Carney’s video attack on Poilievre got three million views online, which is pretty good for a Canadian political video. The Conservatives responded by demanding Carney be summoned to testify at the Commons finance committee. “Canadians deserve to know how much Carney will increase Trudeau’s carbon tax, how much more debt he will add, and whether he would destroy Canada’s energy sector,” the party said.

When MPs from other parties sensibly declined to summon Carney, a private citizen, to the committee to be berated, Conservatives made a show of being furious. It was a stunt, meant to show Conservative contempt for the man who might replace Trudeau and lead the Liberals into the next election. But it also reflected real fear and loathing.

A threat to Poilievre

“The biggest thing that I think keeps Pierre Poilievre up at night right now is the thought that Justin Trudeau might leave,” a Conservative insider told me. “That scares him because he thinks it's an easy win right now. Canadians right now are thirsty, hungry, dying for change. A new leader of the Liberal Party is change. So that is a huge, huge threat to Poilievre.”

Poilievre is a fearsome political attack dog. On Tuesday, the Speaker threw him out of Parliament for calling Trudeau a “wacko.” He is happy to use populist rhetoric against Carney, portraying him as a “Davos elite” and accusing him of hypocritically imposing the cost of climate policy on ordinary Canadians while personally profiting from pipelines through his role as chair of Brookfield Asset Management, where he is in charge of environmental, social, and governance investing. Since 2020, Carney has been UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance, working to make financial markets move the world toward a net-zero energy system — which is not popular with some folks in the oil patch.

Poilievre’s people say confidently that they would love to run against Carney, that he would be a perfect symbol of the regime they wish to replace, but they are behaving like they are worried, and for good reason. Carney is an astonishingly successful person, a smooth and thoughtful public speaker with decades of experience at the highest level of economic management. If he takes over, he could jettison unpopular Trudeau policies and present a fresh face to the electorate, offering safe hands.

Or … he could be a disaster, brittle, smug, and inclined to lecture, presenting himself as a potential CEO, not a leader. We can’t know unless or until he runs.

But he is becoming the obvious Liberal alternative to Trudeau, and the Conservatives, by attacking him, will help make that clear not just to their supporters but also to progressives thinking about who should replace Trudeau.


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