Surprise Prentice resignation

Jim Prentice, Canada’s Minister Minister of Environment, has resigned from Cabinet and the House of Commons in order to become Vice Chairman and Senior Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Imperial Bank Commerce.

Could this have anything to do with the results of the midterm elections in the United States? The Canadian government will certainly face less pressure now to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions.

23 thoughts on “Surprise Prentice resignation

  1. .

    That said, it appears there is no particular political controversy involved in Prentice’s departure. It looks a lot like he was attracted by a less public and more financially rewarding position. Chances are, like others who have jumped to the private sector and found contentment, privacy and wealth (think former Chretien-era cabinet minister Brian Tobin or former N.B. Premier Frank McKenna), he will not return to the political realm. At one time, Prentice had leadership aspirations — he had vied for the leadership of the now-defunct Progressive Conservatives — but he may have lost them seeing that Stephen Harper does not look ready to retire any time soon.

    His voice, believed to be more moderate, will likely be missed in Harper’s inner circle. But the loss of an Alberta cabinet member is not a big problem for Harper, who has such strong representation in Cabinet from that province. Ontario’s Jim Baird will, for now, assume the Environment portfolio.

    As widely liked, and admired, as Prentice is, and as lauded as he was Thursday for advancing Canada’s system of national parks, it must be said that, as Environment Minister, he did little to uphold the environmental cause — either on Alberta’s oilsands or development a carbon cap and trade system for Canada. The latter project is stalled as Ottawa waits for Washington, D.C. to make a move.

  2. .

    The Harper government has hitched its policy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to that of Washington, arguing a continental approach is required given the two countries’ tight trading relationship.

    After this week’s U.S. midterm elections in which Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, any expectation of American movement on greenhouse gases regulations has been all but eliminated for the next two years.

    That left Prentice in charge of a ministry whose biggest file has effectively been shelved.

    Privately, Prentice has been telling people he doesn’t expect to be very busy for the next two years.

    He may have also wanted to avoid yet another drubbing at an international climate conference.

    A United Nations summit in Mexico next month is not expected to yield a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

    Prentice and the rest of the Harper government took a lot of heat at last year’s summit in Copenhagen, collecting several ‘Fossil of the Day’ awards from environmental groups.

  3. .

    Whatever the reason, Mr. Prentice’s choice of career change is sure to raise eyebrows on Parliament Hill for another reason: potential conflict of interest. He will have no “cooling off” period between his tenure in Cabinet and his new position with CIBC, leading some to cry foul that he will use his inside knowledge of government operations (literally, as he was head of the Cabinet Operations Committee in addition to his portfolio) to advantage for the bank and its clients. If you think the Opposition jumped on incoming chief of staff Nigel Wright this week over his potential conflicts of interest, expect them to clamber all over Mr. Prentice.

  4. .

    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.

  5. Tristan

    It’s not clear why ministers taking jobs in finance (or any other part of the business sector where profits are directly related to government policy) is not immediately seen by everyone to be a massive conflict of interest. The possibility of such quick career moves creates huge incentives for the kind of corruption which should send people jail, if not the gallows.

  6. Milan

    How is it a conflict of interest? If anything, Prentice will have clearer and more directed interests working in the private sector. What is potentially concerning is the inside knowledge he may have about upcoming policies.

    In any case, it seems unnecessary and hyperbolic to talk about ‘the gallows’. If you really want to discuss such topics, this thread is a more appropriate forum.

  7. Tristan

    The fact that Prentice could pursue a job in the private sector, and with no notice, puts huge incentives on him to push policies which benefit the private sector. And not the private sector “in general”, but specifically those bits of it where he might personally be employed.

    The gallows is a normal punishment for treason – selling out the common interests for private, personal gain – and that’s what this structure encourages. I’m not saying it happened, I’m just saying it would be strange if it didn’t happen.

  8. Tristan

    Prentice was Canada’s minister of the environment. It was his job to shut down the tar sands – how likely would it have been for him to get a job with CIBC if he had pursued that policy direction?

  9. Milan

    There is a pretty big ambiguity when it comes to the duties of elected officials and civil servants in the following situation: where something is probably necessary to prevent catastrophic climate chage, but where that action is deeply unpopular with the general public. Is there an obligation to violate the popular will in order to serve a sufficiently important purpose? If so, how should ministers know when to do it? Also, what are the implications for Canada as a democratic country?

  10. Tristan

    The ministers have only a duty by convention to the popular will – by law their are bound to the crown. Even the government is in power at the pleasure of the crown – it is only by convention that we have elections.

    In the English tradition, serving “the crown” has long been interpreted in harmony with serving the “common good”, which is not the same as Rousseau’s general will, but which does afford the government some distance from immediate public opinion.

    But democracies have hardly ever been about serving popular opinion. It is considered a necessity to protect the minority from the will of the majority. The rich will, after all, always be a minority.

    For these questions to have implications “for Canada as a democratic country”, it would have to actually be a democratic country. Which would mean electoral structures would be constructed to facilitate, rather than obstruct, the genuine interests and grievances of the people – rather than a tiny subclass of people – being dealt with in governmental institutions.

  11. Milan

    It was his job to shut down the tar sands

    One argument that is frequently raised by policy-makers is what could be called the ‘bargaining chip’ position. If countries like Canada and the U.S. unilaterally cut their emissions, on what basis will they be able to convince states like India and China to do so?

    There are similar issues in domestic politics. A prominent recent article argued that one reason why cap-and-trade failed in the U.S. Senate was because some of the concessions that were going to be traded to the Republicans in exchange for it (like support for the nuclear industry) got granted unilaterally, undermining the deal.

  12. .

    On March 31st, Obama announced that large portions of U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic Ocean, and off the East Coast—from the mid-Atlantic to central Florida—would be newly available for oil and gas drilling. Two days later, he said, “It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore.” From the outside, it looked as if the Obama Administration were coördinating closely with Democrats in the Senate. Republicans and the oil industry wanted more domestic drilling, and Obama had just given it to them. He seemed to be delivering on the grand bargain that his aides had talked about at the start of the Administration.

    But there had been no communication with the senators actually writing the bill, and they felt betrayed. When Graham’s energy staffer learned of the announcement, the night before, he was “apoplectic,” according to a colleague. The group had dispensed with the idea of drilling in ANWR, but it was prepared to open up vast portions of the Gulf and the East Coast. Obama had now given away what the senators were planning to trade.

  13. .

    Jim Prentice may be removing himself from the political spotlight but that does not mean it will not be shining back on him in the not-so-distant future.

    The day Stephen Harper bows out, Conservative leadership head-hunters will come knocking on his corporate door.

    If the experiences of former deputy prime minister John Manley and former premier Frank McKenna is any indication, there will actually be more demand for Prentice’s leadership services once he is a government outsider than if he had stuck it out in cabinet.

    John Turner, Jean Chrétien and Harper himself all took time out from politics before they returned to claim the leadership of their respective parties. So did Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois. Strategically, their retreat from the frontline greatly advanced their leadership prospects.

    Compare their success to the fate of Industry Minister Tony Clement — a past leadership rival of the Prime Minister and possible future contender for his succession whose image has suffered lasting damage for having to champion the government’s controversial moves on the census and the Potash Corp. takeover.

    That is not to say that one should assume that Prentice is leaving politics the better to plot a triumphant return. But nor should anyone make too much of his assertion that he is shutting the political door behind him. Recent history has shown that door to be easily reopened.

  14. .

    New Environment minister aims to sell Canada’s green policy, not change it
    By: Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

    OTTAWA – Newly minted Environment Minister Peter Kent says he hasn’t taken the job to do anything differently than his predecessors when it comes to policy.

    But he says what he will do is sell that policy a little better.

    Around the world and at home, many observers aren’t green with envy over Canada’s stand on the environment but green with rage.

    Canada routinely wins “fossil of the day” awards at international climate conferences and was called out publicly at the Copenhagen conference in 2009 for not setting earlier targets for reducing emissions.
    But Kent said in an interview Thursday that he didn’t take the environment minister post to distinguish himself from that past record.

    “My objective is to fit into the big boots left by Jim Prentice and John Baird and just do the best job that I can do to carry on the terrific work that they were involved with,” he said.

    He will move forward, Kent said, with a scientific panel’s call for more monitoring and regulation of the environmental impact of the Alberta oilsands.

  15. .

    What is ethical about the tarsands?

    It is disappointing, but not surprising, to hear our new environment minister, Peter Kent refer to the tarsands as “ethical oil.”

    What is ethical about crude that produces three to five times per barrel, the carbon emissions of conventional oil, while many suffer the ravages of climate change? What is ethical about massive leaking tailings ponds and a watershed under stress contaminated with cancer-causing toxins? What is ethical about a community, Fort Chipewyan, with cancer rates 30 per cent higher than expected?

    Kent’s statement is not surprising. It is yet more of the same from the Harper (and Stelmach) governments. Weak, industry-led self-regulation continues to be the norm. While talk of regulation and water monitoring sounds good, the proof is in the pudding and the pudding is polluted with carcinogens. Why regulate when you can pretend that carbon capture and storage -which helps to justify more development and overall emissions -is an acceptable solution?

    Kent’s words are yet more proof that the Harper government is leaning more on industry reports and Ezra Levant (author of Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oilsands) to inform its talking points than the truth. Canada’s tarsands are having significant environmental and social impacts. They are the cutting edge of humanity’s ongoing addiction to fossil fuels and descent into reliance on unconventional sources instead of greater energy conservation, efficiency and renewable sources. Canada has a moral responsibility to change course, and quickly.

    Andrea Harden-Donahue,


  16. .

    Kent talked up ‘ethical oil’ sands a week before his official department briefing

    Environmentalists say there’s little doubt Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave him his marching orders to begin selling the image of ‘ethical oil’ to the U.S. and beyond.


    Environment Minister Peter Kent had not yet received his first briefing from his new department when he set off a storm of controversy by launching a campaign in defence of Alberta’s oil sands, prompting environmentalists to say there is little doubt Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave him his marching orders to begin selling the image of “ethical oil” to the U.S. and beyond.

    “If in fact he proceeded in advance of his departmental briefing, that lack of prudence and consideration is very worrisome,” Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence Canada, told The Hill Times. “The last thing this complicated issue needs is a shoot-from-the-hip approach by the environment minister. Canadians need the environment minister to provide some leadership and some thoughtfulness on this issue, and to present Canadians with some real solutions, not to further inflame the debate.”

    The top press aide to Mr. Kent (Thornhill, Ont.) declined to confirm the timing of Mr. Kent’s first official briefings as environment minister, but they took place last week, a full week after Mr. Kent outlined his ethical oil argument in the first newspaper interview he conducted after he took up his new post. The interview, on Jan. 5, the day after Mr. Kent was sworn in, was with a reporter from the Calgary Herald, the largest newspaper in Alberta’s oil-patch corporate capital, where the petroleum generals who oversee the massive and controversial oil sands mines reside.

  17. .

    Environment Minister Peter Kent is rejecting the key recommendations of a federal advisory body on how best to meet Canada’s climate-change targets.

    The National Round Table on the Environment and Economy says Canada won’t even come close to meeting its climate-change targets if it waits for the United States to act.

    So the body of advisers — handpicked by the Conservative government — says Ottawa should embark on a cautious path of its own, and set up a cap-and-trade market that would put a price on carbon, encouraging emitters to cut back.

    “At this point, it’s absolutely a no-go,” Kent said in an interview.

    He says Ottawa has already put in place regulations that will cut emissions, and there are more in the works.

    “We’ve made a decision to proceed on the basis of continental realities, with regulation. We know that will work,” Kent said. “We’re moving forward sector by sector to achieve those targets.”

    The roundtable says it doesn’t see anything wrong with Ottawa’s approach of harmonizing Canada’s emission-reductions targets with American goals.

    But to simply mimic U.S. measures — especially when ideas for policy change are paralyzed by American politics — will do Canada’s economy and environment more harm than good, the roundtable says in a policy analysis released Tuesday.

    President Barack Obama has said he does not expect any major climate-change legislation to pass in the next two years.

    “Canada faces some economic competitiveness risks in moving too far ahead of the U.S., but also faces both environmental and economic risks by simply waiting,” the panel says in a 160-page report.

  18. .

    Does Peter Kent even care about emissions?

    It was a pity, although quite predictable, that new Environment Minister Peter Kent should have leaped to defend the oil sands even before being briefed by his department.

    Mr. Kent was briefed, of course – by the Prime Minister’s Office, where the lines had been scripted for the oil sands’ new song-and-dance man.

    The oil sands are going to be developed. The issue is how, at what rate and under what circumstances. In that connection, it’s too bad Mr. Kent didn’t read, among other things, the latest report by the Royal Society of Canada.

    That body – arguably the most eminent collection of minds in the country – decided to carefully study the oil sands. The report is balanced and fair. It exonerates the industry developing the resource from charges that surface water is being endangered. It notes approvingly that the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production has fallen 39 per cent since 1990. It says the claim “by some critics of the oil sands industry that it is the most environmentally destructive project on Earth is not supported by the evidence.”

  19. .

    ANALYSIS: Been there, heard that environment speech before

    Peter Kent says he’s tired of his government being accused of having no plan for the environment.

    Unfortunately, Kent has left himself open to being accused of that very thing again.

    Kent gave his first speech as Environment Minister to the Economic Club in Toronto Friday.

    I have followed all the first speeches of the four environment Minister since 2006 and I can tell you I was wondering what he’d say. Would he channel author Ezra Levant and talk about “ethical oil” again… or would he actually give us some details about what he will do as Environment Minister?

    He didn’t do either.

    He gave a nice speech, a well written and well delivered one. Given that he’s been a broadcaster most of his life, that’s not a surprise.

    Kent says that Canada is actually doing a lot on the environment front and that his “government is every bit as serious about the stewardship of the environment as we are about assuring our continued economic prosperity.”

    He went on to give a long list of things the conservatives have done for the environment since they took power in 2006.

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