Mark Carney, the Bank of Canada governor who's been appointed to head the Bank of England, may go down in history as the best prime minister Canada never had. He joins three other Canadians who, in my time, have helped to recreate hallowed but troubled institutions in mother Britain.
Until the British announcement ended such speculation, Carney was the top pick of a handful of senior Liberal strategists to lead their party. He had experience running a complex keystone organization, the Bank of Canada -- and he ran it well. He had progressive views on important issues, too. For instance, he believes the big banks need to reinvest "dead money" to support jobs and growth. Moreover, Carney has Western and northern roots (he was born in the Northwest Territories, and grew up in Alberta).
Carney has a Harvard and Oxbridge background. He is bilingual, with George Clooney good looks, and the ability to deliver pithy sound-bites. Overall, Carney, 47, was seen as the very antithesis of Justin Trudeau, 40, whose most challenging management mission to date was teaching a high school drama class.
When Carney was first approached informally by the Grits, he was cagey. "I definitely don't want to answer that," he said. "Look, I'm doing my job ... I appreciate the great concern about my career, but I have gainful employment."
Why, then, did he slam his door on this opportunity, and belatedly accept the Bank of England job (which he reportedly already had declined once before)? In his memoirs, we may get the official story. Meanwhile, the best answer, in a single word, is: Twitter.
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Because any Canadian can vote in the online election for the new Liberal leader (you don't even have to pay a fee), Trudeau can expect many of his 169,000 (and counting) Twitter followers to vote for him. This suggests his total will be well into six figures. None of the other candidates will be able to match his cyber-clout. In my view, Trudeau has already won this race, short of a disaster of Petraeus-like scale.
On Threadneedle Street, deep in the City, Carney will rule one of the pillars of British public service, the Bank of England, which was created in 1694. In the words of The New York Times, this could be the most important appointment in the bank's history. Carney, whose management style is distinctly proactive, will have greater powers than his predecessors because the Cameron government knows it cannot go on with business as usual in global banking.
Before Carney, the most powerful Canadian to be called to serve the British government was the press baron Lord Beaverbrook, an ardent promoter of Winston Churchill and the (British) Commonwealth in good times and bad.
The Beaver reluctantly accepted Churchill's call to serve briefly as the hyperactive minister of aircraft production, to build more aircraft for the RAF, whose needs had been neglected by the Tories in Churchill's wilderness years. Thanks to Beaverbrook, Britain had enough fighters, many of them flown by Commonwealth pilots, to win the Battle of Britain, a turning point on the road to total victory. He was, in Churchill's words, one of "The few."
Another Canadian who soared, for a time, in Britain's establishment was press lord Conrad Black.
The pillar of his profitable media empire was the boring broadsheet The Daily Telegraph, the unofficial house organ of the Conservatives. Lord Black recreated it from the predictable voice of the Home Counties into a lively, provocative rival to The Times, owned by another outspoken conservative-minded son of the Commonwealth, Rupert Murdoch. Thanks to Black, The Tely is a much better newspaper than The Times, which has been downsized.
The most recent Canadian import is a Newfoundlander, Moya Greene, former head of Canada Post. Since 2010, she has run an even older British government institution than the bank: the Royal Mail, created by Charles II in 1660. She has the almost impossible task of reinventing the post office in an increasingly paperless market. Greene and Carney will be the U.K.'s highest paid civil servants, earning base salaries of about $600,000 a year each.
And -- who knows? If Carney excels at the Bank of England and enters U.K. politics, he might succeed another Canadian as prime minister, New Brunswicker Bonar Law, the only foreign-born PM, who served for 211 days in 1922-23.
The Liberals were correct that Carney is prime minister material. But they never dreamed that the country could be the U.K.
This article previously appeared in the National Post
Raymond Heard was an editor on The London Observer, White House correspondent, managing editor of The Montreal Star and head of Global News.