POLITICS

Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews resigns

07/08/2013 11:12 EDT | Updated 09/07/2013 05:12 EDT
STEINBACH, Man. - A federal cabinet minister who suggested his opponents were allies of child pornographers and saw details of his sordid divorce on social media while he argued for increased Internet surveillance is leaving public life.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced Monday, in the leadup to an anticipated cabinet shuffle, that he was resigning as MP for the Manitoba riding of Provencher effective Tuesday.

"I am leaving public life in order to focus on my family and to pursue opportunities in the private sector," Toews said in a news release.

Toews, 60, was first elected to the House of Commons in 2000 under the banner of the Canadian Alliance and was re-elected four times. In the last federal election in 2011, he won the seat for the Conservatives with just over 70 per cent of the vote.

He was solicitor general and minister of justice before he was appointed to the public safety portfolio. He was also named president of the Treasury Board in 2007 and again in October 2008.

"I've been in politics for a long time," he told radio station CHSM in Steinbach, Man. "One of the commitments I made to my spouse by the time my young son goes to school, I will have left politics. He is entering Grade 1 this year and I think it is time to go.

He said he leaves public office "at a time when I believe our country is more sensitive to the needs of victims, more fiscally sound and safer for citizens and future generations of Canadians."

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says Toews is entitled to a pension of $79,584 a year, indexed to inflation.

"My sincere thanks to @toewsvic as he leaves Parliament," tweeted Prime Minister Stephen Harper. "Best wishes for the future."

"Best wishes to my friend and colleague @ToewsVic as he leaves public life after 13 years of service," said Jason Kenney, minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism.

Toews was a polarizing political figure. The Globe and Mail newspaper disabled the comments section on the story about his departure because "an overwhelming number of readers were making offensive statements about other commenters and/or the individual or individuals mentioned in the story."

Toews drew derision during a debate on the government's online surveillance bill in February 2012 for telling a Liberal critic he could "either stand with us or with the child pornographers." He later softened his stance somewhat.

His private life was thrust into the spotlight that same month when a Liberal staffer created a Twitter account called Vikileaks30 and began releasing bite-sized portions from Toews's divorce.

Toews resignation unleashed a torrent of vitriol online as many rejoiced in his departure while a few others commended him for his service. There were snide comments about everything from his messy divorce to his political legacy.

"Truly one of the worst politicians in Canadian history," opined someone under the name @funnyhandle.

Federal NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said he doesn't think Toews leaves much of a legacy.

"Mr. Toews has been in politics for many years. I think unfortunately all too often we saw spite and short-sightedness instead of gravitas. I think that that's all I can say about Mr. Toews."

Added NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin: "I wish him all the best for his future work but very humbly and candidly, I'd say that many of my colleagues and myself won't miss his insults."

Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL player who was sexually abused by coach Graham James and now advocates for victims, said Toews has a strong legacy.

When news broke that James — who repeatedly molested several players in his charge for years — had been quietly granted a pardon, Toews worked quickly to ensure that would never happen again by changing the law, Kennedy said.

"To be able to eliminate pardons for sex offenders, I think is huge," Kennedy said. "Vic's made some hard changes that ... you know you're going to get flak for and he made them because they needed to be made not because they're popular."

Speculation has already begun as to who will take Toews's place as Manitoba's regional cabinet minister. Some are betting the province's new voice will be a woman.

Richard Sigurdson, dean of arts at the University of Calgary, said Manitoba backbenchers Shelly Glover and Candice Bergen could be due for a promotion.

"This is not your father's Conservative party," he said. "The prime minister does have some interesting possibilities going forward and many of those possibilities will look quite a bit different from Vic Toews."

— By Chinta Puxley in Winnipeg