Some are rising stars; others struggle with unexpected fame; yet others appear tottering on the edge of their political pedestals. Here are some people to watch on the federal scene in 2015:
The NDP MP for Skeena—Bulkley Valley was first elected in 2004, and has steadily gained influence in his party, even running for its leadership in 2012. Cullen has served as opposition House leader and now holds the high-profile post of finance critic, pitting him against Finance Minister Joe Oliver. With the recent announcement that fellow B.C. MP Libby Davies won’t run again, Cullen’s role within the party will only grow. If leader Tom Mulcair, recently hit with the defection of an Ontario MP, doesn’t shine in the 2015 election, he’ll face pressure to step aside as leader. Expect Cullen to take another crack at the job.
Of course, if Cullen doesn’t run for the leadership in future, there’s always Leslie, the outspoken Halifax MP who serves as the NDP deputy leader and critic for the environment. Leslie won her seat in 2008. Since then, she has cheerfully pummelled the Conservative government on issues ranging from lack of oil and gas regulations to the Northern Gateway pipeline to federal conservation plans. Leslie has also been front and centre in attempting to explain the NDP’s actions on the sexual harassment file and the controversy surrounding two NDP MPs who complained of misconduct by two Liberals this fall.
The former chair of the C.D. Howe Institute and Liberal candidate in Toronto Centre is constantly touted as one of Justin Trudeau’s “star” candidates for 2015. He’s viewed as an accomplished entrepreneur through his experience at Morneau Shepell, and he boasts an impressive CV of social and philanthropic interests. The Liberals feel the business and economic “heft” of candidates such as Morneau will demonstrate the breadth and depth of the party as it confronts the Conservatives on economic policy, and balance Trudeau’s relatively thin personal resumé on economic matters.
This one is just going to be fun to watch. Another Liberal “star,” the retired lieutenant-general thought he’d be a shoo-in for the Grit nomination in Ottawa-Orléans, a riding the party wants back from Tory Royal Galipeau. But Leslie sparked controversy over his moving expenses upon leaving the military, and has had to grapple with the persistent — though apparently doomed — David Bertschi, who also wanted the nomination but who was blocked from it by the party, leading to complaints that the Liberal nomination process wasn’t as open as Trudeau promised it would be. If Leslie gets through all the controversy, and if his party wins in 2015, he will be a strong cabinet contender, so for the Liberals, it’s all worth the pouty faces.
The onetime chief organizer for the Conservative party in Manitoba has steadily risen through the ranks of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s MPs, and isn’t done yet. First elected in 2008 to represent Portage—Lisgar, she vaulted to fame from the back benches with a private member’s bill in 2009 aimed at scrapping the long-gun registry. This trial-balloon bill was defeated, but not before sowing division within the opposition, and demonstrating the potential to use private members’ bills for wider political purposes. A government bill to scrap the registry passed in 2012. Bergen became minister of state for Social Development in the 2013 cabinet shuffle and now willingly — and smoothly — plays the role of government mouthpiece on a variety of issues.
It’s often thought that Defence Minister Rob Nicholson doesn’t enjoy his job, so dour is he in public. Bezan, as his parliamentary secretary, exudes the opposite impression: ready to leap into battle, from the potential purchase of the F-35 to Canadian aid to Ukraine — particularly Ukraine. The Selkirk-Interlake MP has also been willing to deliver government mea culpas when needed, as he did after the Citizen revealed problems with a military board of inquiry into the death of Lt. Shawna Rogers. Bezan stood in the House of Commons and unblinkingly admitted the situation was “not acceptable.” When the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, committed rhetorical hara-kiri over the Iraq mission, it was Bezan who fielded further inquiries, in a serious and statesmanlike tone.
A lawyer and the son of a politician, O’Toole’s 12 years in the military as a helicopter navigator earned him the rank of captain. He was also one of the founders of the True Patriot Love Foundation, which has raised millions to help members of the military and veterans. Now, as parliamentary secretary to the minister of International Trade, he has shown willingness to go beyond the party line on occasion, including being among the first to suggest the Tories might amend the Fair Elections Act last spring. On Iraq, he warned early that Canada shouldn’t get bogged down in a protracted mission. But his greatest value may end up being that he IS a veteran and he is NOT Julian Fantino (the embattled Veterans Affairs minister). On the veterans file, the Conservatives need someone to chopper them out of danger.
Leitch, an orthopedic pediatric surgeon, was a potential star for the Conservatives from day one, helping them put the Helena Guergis affair behind them in the Ontario riding of Simcoe-Grey. She’s currently minister of Labour and minister for the Status of Women, both hot files this year, as calls mount for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, and as the storm gathers on Parliament Hill over harassment policy for MPs and Hill staff. Leitch also made her mark this year as the doctor on the scene when former finance minister Jim Flaherty died suddenly in his Ottawa apartment. A longtime friend of the Flaherty family, Leitch struck the perfect tone in leading parliamentary tributes to her colleague — a show of poise and grace that has won her the increasing confidence of Harper’s inner circle.
Pierre Karl Péladeau
He’s the opposite of a federal “rising star,” but if he wins the Parti Québécois leadership in 2015, Péladeau will either be a federalist’s nightmare or a political shotput who heaves separatism into the stone age. The volatile Quebec media mogul helped scuttle Pauline Marois’s re-election as Quebec premier with his sovereignty-induced fist-pump during the provincial election. The PQ having lost power, Péladeau now seeks its leadership, despite a serious bike accident last spring, controversy over his relationship with Québecor (of which he remains controlling shareholder) and chippish relations with the news media.
The impressive political death spiral of Alison Redford spurred Prentice’s quick ascension to the premiership of Alberta, less than four years after he had bowed out of federal politics. He’s also been riding high on the implosion of the Wildrose party. But he’ll be challenged by plunging oil prices in 2015 and has already begun making adjustments. On the flip side, Harper isn’t enjoying the best of relations with some premiers — Kathleen Wynne, Philippe Couillard and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Paul Davis, come to mind — so Prentice will feel the love from his federal counterparts for some time to come.
Daviau, a computer systems analyst who became president of the 60,000-member Professional Institute of the Public Service Canada (PIPSC) a year ago, has mustered that union’s unique status to throw a curve at the federal government. She recently brought federal scientists to the bargaining table with a contract focused on “scientific integrity” in government — including a pitch to stop what the union feels is political interference in their work. These aren’t exactly conventional bargaining demands, and the stance has garnered attention abroad as well as at home. The tactic also feeds the opposition narrative of the Harper government as narrow, controlling and dictatorial.
The public service is in the midst of a massive change; the unions are locked in a tense round of bargaining with Treasury Board; Canada is in the midst of a combat mission in Iraq; and a federal election will come within months. So, really, what’s to worry about for the recently appointed Clerk of the Privy Council? Charette took the job in October, but will she be a transitional clerk, or is she in it for the long haul? If she can navigate the politics of the position, motivate a dispirited public service and work around the unknowns of the economy and international events, she’ll be able to focus her remaining attention on the actual modernization of the bureaucracy. How will she and her new deputy, Michael Wernick, handle the search for new skills, new technologies and a “culture of innovation” within the public service? Will she still be there in a year if another party wins the federal election?
Sen. Leo Housakos
Appointed to the Senate in 2008, Housakos hasn’t been without controversy: a prominent Conservative fundraiser, he was investigated — and cleared — by the Senate ethics watchdog of conflict allegations over an engineering contract to study replacing Montreal’s Champlain Bridge. But that was then; his star has been rising since. He was the influential deputy chair of a committee now doing a hard-hitting study of the CBC. Nor has he been afraid to speak his mind on wider matters: In 2011, Housakos publicly opposed appointing the then-unilingual Michael Ferguson as federal auditor general. How much prime ministerial support does he enjoy? He was recently named deputy Speaker of the Senate.