Two titans are leaving parliament

It was a noteworthy week in Canadian politics despite the fact that it was a constituency week for MPs.  What made it interesting were announcements that Olivia Chow and Jim Flaherty are stepping down to pursue other options.  We know that Olivia is leaving to run for Mayor of Toronto, while Mr. Flaherty is expected to be heading to the private sector.   While they share little in the way of political opinion, they have both had remarkable careers in federal politics.

Jim Flaherty’s announcement was a bit of surprise, but not entirely so.  While he is stepping down as a Minister, he will remain an MP (for the time being), which amounts to a significant change.  He spent his entire time in Ottawa as the Minister of Finance and had previously served in key cabinet positions in Ontario, having been elected as either MP or MPP for 19 straight years.  It is no secret that Mr. Flaherty has been battling an illness which he never used as a crutch but must have weighed into his decision making.  While he has indicated he is on the road to a full recovery, no one can begrudge him for deciding that now is the time to step back from the scrutiny of public life and the cut and thrust of partisan politics.

Olivia Chow’s announcement was much anticipated.  She had been rumoured to be a potential Mayoral candidate in Toronto and had done nothing to quiet that speculation over the past few months.  Olivia too has spent a long time in public service and is attempting to take her career full circle and back into municipal politics where she served as a councillor from 1991 until 2004 when she was elected to parliament.  She may be best known as the wife and political partner of the late Jack Layton, but her accomplishments are significant enough to stand on their own.  In addition to her elected work as a city councillor, she is an activist, a strong organizer, an academic, and a visual artist as well.   Many people credit much of the success Jack Layton enjoyed to Olivia’s strong political judgement and organizational prowess – skills that will surely be tested in the months to come.

While Olivia Chow and Jim Flaherty are political rivals who represent different perspectives they do have something in common and that is respect which they both command and show others.   Sadly, this is an increasingly rare commodity in Canadian politics.  Both individuals fought hard for their visions of how Canada can best be served by the House of Commons.  Most importantly, both kept their fights limited to issues and not on personalities.  While I did not often agree with Mr. Flaherty, it cannot be said that he made disagreements into personal conflicts and he often relieved tension in the Commons with his quick wit and a big sense of humour.  

Ultimately, parliament changed quite a bit in the span of a week and will not be quite the same as it resumes sitting.  I wish both Olivia and Mr. Flaherty the very best in full confidence that neither has made their last public contribution to this country.