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Former MPs find new paths and purpose after politics – CBC News

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It’s been a year since Bernadette Jordan last walked through the doors of the House of Commons as an elected official.

She lost the seat she’d held since 2015 to Conservative candidate Rick Perkins in South Shore St-Margarets in 2021.

Jordan was minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard in the Trudeau government — a portfolio that had her navigating a thorny dispute over Indigenous treaty rights in the lobster fishing industry.

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“What I tried to do was find a middle ground. I tried to get to a place where First Nations had the ability to exercise their moderate livelihood rights,” she said.

“Unfortunately, that middle ground didn’t make anybody happy and that was what ended my political career.”

So it didn’t come as a “huge shock,” she said, when she lost her seat. She subsequently accepted a position as national director of philanthropy with Shelter Movers in Nova Scotia, a not-for-profit organization that helps women move out of abusive situations.

Then-Fisheries and Oceans minister Bernadette Jordan in 2021. ‘I ran for politics, not because I ever wanted to be an MP or a minister, but because I wanted to help the people who lived in my community,’ she said. (CBC)

Losing is as much a part of politics as winning. Jordan said that, for her, politics was always a means to an end — which made leaving it behind a little easier to take.

“I ran for politics, not because I ever wanted to be an MP or a minister, but because I wanted to help the people who lived in my community,” she said. “That’s always been my guiding principle.”

Every election leaves a handful of MPs looking for something new to do with their lives.

Despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s drive for a majority government, the Liberal Party gained just three seats in the House of Commons (Kevin Vuong, though elected as a Liberal was ultimately forced to sit as an Independent. The Conservatives lost two seats, while the Bloc and the NDP each gained a seat).

Newly appointed Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay, left to right, Minister of Agriculture and Argi-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau and Minister for Women and Gender Equality and newly appointed Minister of International Development Maryam Monsef attend a swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Friday, March 1, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Maryam Monsef was also in Trudeau’s cabinet, serving as minister for women and gender equality and rural development before the 2021 election ended her five-year term as MP for Peterborough-Kawartha.

Monsef’s district is considered a swing riding that sees pitched and unpredictable battles between Liberals and Conservatives. She lost her seat to Conservative candidate Michelle Ferreri by 3,000 votes.

“Losing sucks,” she said. “I’m a competitive person and I work really hard for my community and nobody likes to lose.”

Monsef was 29 years old when she started her local political career and 30 when she became an MP.

“I was in the deep end right away and there’s no manual on how to be an effective cabinet minister or an effective member of Parliament,” she said.

Monsef endured a backlash in August, 2021 after she referred to the Taliban as “brothers” during a press conference in a plea to ensure safe passage for thousands looking to flee Afghanistan.

‘So many times falling off the horse’

She later took the comment back, saying that it’s a term many Muslims use to refer to each other and insisting she still viewed the Taliban as a terrorist organization.

“There were so many setbacks, so many times falling off the horse and getting back up,” said Monsef.

A year later, Monsef is deep into what she calls her “passion project” — a consulting firm called Onward that aims to help women develop leadership skills.

“I’ve always believed that when women are doing well, their families are doing well, society is doing well and countries do better,” she said.

“I started this company so that we could be a source of support to achieve that vision for women and their families — thriving by supporting women leaders.

“If I can play a small part in their leadership journey, well, that’s a life well lived.”

Former Green MP Paul Manly with former Green Party leader Elizabeth May: ‘It’s not easy going from being a very public figure to suddenly being unemployed.’ (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Paul Manly was elected in a May 6, 2019 byelection, becoming the second Green Party MP elected in Canadian history.

His political career proved relatively brief. While he kept his seat in the 2019 general election, he was defeated by NDP candidate Lisa Marie Barron in the 2021 vote.

“It’s not easy going from being a very public figure to suddenly being unemployed,” he said. “So you know you have to figure out what you’re going to do.”

Today, he is the part-time executive director of the Unitarian Shelter, a 24-bed shelter for the chronically homeless.

He also went back to a project he started before launching his political career — a nonprofit community service cooperative called Growing Opportunities.

“I’ve always been someone that’s concerned about environmental issues and about social justice,” he said. “And so I’ve done that kind of work for decades and when I was in the House of Commons, those are the kinds of things I was advocating for.”

‘There’s a lot that can be done’

Now, Manly is taking another run at politics – this time for Nanaimo City Council.

“There’s a lot that can be done at different levels of government,” he said. “We’re in a climate emergency and we need to be taking action to address the urgency of the situation and to make sure that we have a just transition to a new economy.

“And that work needs to take place at every level of government.”

Conservative James Cumming was Edmonton Centre’s MP from 2019 to 2021. He lost his seat to Liberal candidate Randy Boissoneault by 615 votes.

When the dust settled, Cumming was tasked with reviewing the Conservative Party’s electoral results – a typical practice for most political parties following an election.

After the post-mortem was completed, he continued to work as a political insider by helping out in the United Conservative Party’s leadership race in Alberta.

Former Conservative MP James Cumming: ‘If the right opportunity comes along, we’ll consider it.’ (Submitted by James Cumming)

“I’m still involved with conservatism,” he said, adding he still keeps a close eye on federal politics.

“Now that the party has picked its leader, I still remain committed to the movement and will help wherever I can.

“That may be in public life or that may be behind the scenes or a combination of both. But if the right opportunity comes along, we’ll consider it.”

Last year was also a difficult year personally for Cumming and his family. He lost his son Garrett to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. He and his wife continue to be involved in charitable organizations that raise awareness of the disease and money for research.

“They did a golf tournament this year in Garrett’s name that the local firefighters put on and we’re contemplating some other activities with that,” he said.

“It’s something we’ve been pretty active with for the past 15 or 20 years.”

The NDP didn’t see significant changes to its caucus in 2021. The party hoped to boost its presence in the House of Commons but finished the election with just one extra seat.

Former New Democrat MP Scott Duvall: ‘Sometimes you think it’s in your DNA to continue on.’ (Submitted by Scott Duvall)

Scott Duvall was the New Democrat MP for Hamilton Mountain from 2015 to 2021. Unlike a lot of MPs who drop out of federal politics, he chose the timing of his exit by announcing in March 2021 that he would not be running again.

“After six years in politics, I was really starting to feel that because of my age, that I wanted to retire,” he said.

But Duvall couldn’t stay away from politics for very long.

‘I’m still useful’

“I was kind of disappointed that when I came back home to see my city in a dysfunctional way, the way the city was going with the crumbling roads and sidewalks,” he said.

Duvall is now running as a candidate for Hamilton’s city council. Ontario’s municipal elections will be held on Oct. 24.

“People were encouraging me to run, so I did. And that was the reason why I came back,” he said.

“Sometimes you think it’s in your DNA to continue on. I just thought, ‘I’m still useful.'”

Duvall said he feels he can make a bigger impact on his city by running municipally.

“In Ottawa, I found it very difficult and frustrating that things go as slow as molasses. It just takes time and it takes patience,” he said.

Duvall said that while he doesn’t have ambitions to run federally again, he wants to support people who hope to start a career in politics.

“It’s time to help somebody else out and bring them up,” he said.

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Ministers decline request to testify on Afghan aid blockade as desperation grows

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Three Liberal ministers have declined invitations to testify in the Senate as the upper chamber probes why Canada still won’t allow humanitarian workers to help in Afghanistan.

Aid groups say Ottawa has told them that paying people in Afghanistan or buying goods there could lead them to be prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws.

Many of Canada’s allies have found carveouts so that aid workers don’t get charged with supporting the governing Taliban, which is designated as a terrorist group.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has no explanation for why Canada hasn’t fixed the issue.

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The Senate’s human-rights committee will launch hearings into the issue on Monday and invited three ministers to attend, but all of them said they had prior commitments at the time of the planned meetings.

The United Nations says six million Afghans are now categorized as being at risk of famine, while another fourteen million are in critical need of food.

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When politics wasn’t a team sport

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It has all been downhill in America since the first six presidents. Western civilisation was never the same after ancient wisdom gave way to the sentimental Gospel. Roosevelt should have stayed out of that damn fool war in Europe and the Pacific. People are breeding too much. The state must stop them.

I like Gore Vidal so much that I involuntarily smile when I see the spine of his essay collection, United States, in my bookcase. Even before his dotty late phase, though, he was a reactionary kind of liberal. If his 1968 debates with the conservative William Buckley Jr still grip us, it is because of the two men’s underlying oneness, not the superficial Democrat vs Republican framing.

Best of Enemies, James Graham’s otherwise fine play about the duel of the drawlers, might have made more of this. I fear much of the audience leaves with the sweet notion in their heads that Vidal would today have been a woke ally. The play wants to suggest that his showdown with Buckley was a trailer for the culture wars, the partisan spite, of now. I have come around to the opposite view.

The debates marked the end of something good, not the start of something bad. It was the last time being politically hard-to-place was normal.

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Put it this way. If you tell me what you think about, say, the return of the Benin bronzes, I can infer with some confidence your views on public spending, the EU, rail strikes, immigration, working from home, climate change, Meghan Markle and much else. Nothing connects these subjects. It should be possible to be a small-government Remainer who thinks imperial loot is better off in western museums and who loses sleep to visions of a burning planet. But such a person would stand out now. To take a more concentrated example, lots of people should be anti-lockdown and pro-vaccine mandate. How many do you know?

I have aired Ganesh’s First Law of Politics before, but allow me a recapitulation. People do not work out their beliefs and then join the corresponding tribe. They join a tribe and infer their beliefs from it. The sense of belonging, the group membership, is what hooks people, not the thrill of being right or pursuing a thought on its own terms. Politics has become a team sport, goes the line on this. But even that is too kind. Sports fans are sardonic and irreverent about their own team. It isn’t so central to their identity as to require consistent adherence.

We have lost all sense of how weird it is to seek connection with others through politics. And how new. Watching Buckley and Vidal is a reminder of a less needy age. The former had his own credentials as an apostate of the right: his loose line on marijuana, his Catholicism, his Spanish-speaking intellectualism. Nor was the audience at the time much easier to place. Millions of whites were pro-New Deal and anti-Civil Rights in a way that stumps modern notions of “progressive” and “conservative”.

Noting the change since then is simple enough work. Accounting for it is trickier. One theory suggests itself. The rise of politico-cultural blocs more or less tracks the decline of church membership, trade unions and marriages that go the distance. An atomised population began to cast around for other kinds of belonging, didn’t it?

The mid-20th century voter was heterodox, yes, but heterodox in the way that someone with strong roots could afford to be. With such a firm social anchor, there was less need to seek emotional security in a political tribe. As I’ve used two metaphors for the same thing there, let us keep them coming. A rudder, a bedrock, a cornerstone, a north star: people used to find these things in their personal relationships. In their church, family, factory or town. As modernity scrambled those things, mostly for the good, the need to subsume oneself into a group was going to have to be met some other way.

That turned out to be politics. We live with the wicked results all the time now. The perverse consequences of ostensibly desirable change: Buckley would call this a conservative insight. And I, though a Vidalist, always thought he won those debates.

Email Janan at janan.ganesh@ft.com

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Can coal be a pivot toward ‘normal politics’ in Alberta?

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“Normal Politics”: I encouraged my students to embrace and practice this type of politics. Bernard Crick, a British political theorist, imagined this concept decades ago. He believed healthy democratic politics demanded empathy for your political opponents and searching for policies able to reconcile or bridge competing positions. At its best, normal politics is about finding or creating and implementing consensus. It invites political opponents to recognize they have some shared values and to work together to realize them. 

Sadly, normal politics rarely characterizes politics in today’s democracies. Its antithesis is too common in political debate. In Alberta recently, the executive director of Take Back Alberta, an interest group that helped propel Danielle Smith into the premier’s office, accused the New Democratic Party of promoting a “toxic and disease-ridden ideology.” Such extremism slams the door on Crick’s hopeful view of politics.   

With the legislature back in session, I don’t expect to see a lot of normal politics on display. But, in her recent television address, Premier Danielle Smith told Albertans she “must be humble, listen and continue to learn from you.” Alberta’s coal debate issue gives her an exceptional opportunity to back that commitment up with meaningful action.   

Coal has been one of Alberta’s most contentious issues over the past several years. It’s an issue where a consensus exists, a consensus that could be strengthened. As hard as it may be for some residents of the Crowsnest Pass to accept, most Albertans don’t believe coal mining should have a future anywhere in the Rockies and foothills of Alberta’s Eastern Slopes. Impressive majorities of Albertans have said as much in public opinion polls, the Grassy Mountain coal mine hearings and the Coal Policy Committee consultations.  

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Smith’s government should listen to and implement this consensus. In this legislative session, the premier should introduce legislation guaranteeing that coal mining proposals in our southern Rockies and foothills cannot be revived.  

But I think Crick would want the premier to go one step further. I think he would invite her to try to broaden the consensus, to try to bridge the gulf between coal mining opponents and supporters. Identify positions those camps share; build on them. Community prosperity in southwest Alberta is an obvious candidate here.  

So far Alberta’s debate about coal has offered thin gruel when it comes to what economic future could be built in southern Alberta without coal mining. The UCP and NDP alike must pay serious attention to nurturing in the southwest the range of economic activities central to Alberta’s developing post-industrial society.  

What does this perspective recommend? Begin to craft a regional development strategy. Several paths lead in this direction. One would be to establish a Southern Alberta Sustainable Economic Opportunities Forum. Invite leaders from Alberta academia, business, the federal government, First Nations, labour and municipalities to join it. Task them with thinking about how, without coal, healthy and prosperous livelihoods may be delivered to the people of southwest Alberta. Or, strike an all-party legislative committee, chaired jointly by the UCP and NDP, to do something similar. If this venture bears fruit, it could be replicated for other regions in Alberta.  

Coal offers Smith the opportunity to pivot toward normal politics and show her commitment to listening to Albertans is genuine. Coal has opened the door to privileging conciliation in politics. If the premier goes through that door, she may be able to deliver what all sides of Alberta’s coal debate seek: good, healthy livelihoods for the people of southern Alberta.  

Ian Urquhart is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alberta. 

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