The cordial resignation, a Canadian rarity

Nick Taylor-Vaisey

November 4, 2010 | 5 Comments

It’s not very often that a federal minister resigns without controversy. Either they’re angry with the prime minister, or the prime minister is angry with them — or both, much to the delight of political scribes.

That trend makes Jim Prentice’s resignation as environment minister all the more remarkable. He’s off to the private sector after his time in public life reached its self-appointed expiry date. After Prentice stepped down, he promptly received several choruses of applause and numerous standing ovations.

It doesn’t happen all that often.There have been some 164 ministerial resignations since Confederation, more than once a year since 1867.

The Parliamentary website lists the reason for resignation in as much detail as possible. A cursory examination of the resignations reveals some interesting trends. Ministerial resignations since the Pearson administration have been overwhelmingly due to disagreements about policy or a particular decision taken by the government, and that trend has only strengthened in more recent years. To wit, such disagreements comprise:

  • 30 of the 64 resignations since 1963
  • 20 of the 34 resignations since 1984
  • 8 of the last 11 resignations.

Ministers resign for a number of other reasons, too:

  • 65 have resigned thanks to appointments (only five since 1972)
  • 18 have resigned for health reasons (last happened in 1972)
  • 18 have resigned for personal reasons or to spend more time with family

Also of note: Prentice is not the only minister to leave public life for the banking world. John Rose, Canada’s second minister of finance, left office on Sept. 30, 1869 for a job at “the well-known banking firm of Morton, Rose, and Co.” It’s worth mentioning that Rose had taken over for Alexander Galt, who resigned four months into his term after his cabinet colleagues blamed him for the failure of a bank.


5 Responses to “The cordial resignation, a Canadian rarity”

  1. Milan
    November 4th, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

    “He’s off to the private sector after his time in public life reached its self-appointed expiry date”

    This seems like an over-simplification. He said that he wanted to serve for ‘eight to ten years’ so the question of why he chose this precise moment remains open.

    My guess is that it has something to do with the U.S. midterm elections. Now that Canada won’t be pushed to adopt carbon pricing, the issue is less of an electoral liability for the Harper government.


    Nick Taylor-Vaisey Reply:

    There’s probably a whole book to be written about why he chose this moment, exactly. But my point was that he didn’t leave on bad terms, and that’s a (relative) rarity.


    Milan Reply:

    Agreed. That’s why it was such a surprise. Nobody had any reason to expect it. There hadn’t been a public fight between cabinet members, and he doesn’t seem to have done anything to be especially embarrassed about.


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  3. Scott H. Payne
    November 4th, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

    While I’m sure that Milan has some choice words for Prentice as Environment Minister, I’ll count this as a loss. As a run of the mill politician, Prentice was on the better side of the street.

    A personal anecdote: when we were planning the anti-prorogation rally here in Calgary, we seriously considered holding it outside of Prentice’s office. In part it was because Harper’s constituency office is kind of out in the middle of nowhere. But it was also speculated that if there was an MP in the city who was likely to engage us, it would be Prentice (if we gave his staff notice of our intent). And that would have had an appeal all its own for the purposes of the rally.

    At the end of the day, the symbolism of being outside of Harper’s office won out. But I was told by other organizers that Prentice regularly stops to interact with people vehemently opposed to his positions. Apparently he has, on more than one occasion, come out of his office to address protesters and actually have a conversation with them about the issues.

    In this day and age, whatever one might think about Prentice’s positions, that is pretty rare for a politician. Even more so, I would offer, for a Conservative vis-a-vis environmentalists.

    It would seem that Prentice had something of an older attitude towards public office that has largely gotten lost in our current system. This is all second hand as I’ve never met Prentice myself. But I trust the people who relayed the information.

    That attitude is something we could have used in a replacement leader to Prime Minister Harper.


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