Late Friday, Canada's Aboriginal Affairs Minister, John Duncan, resigned from cabinet. He was a great Minister.
His resignation came after admitting to writing a two-year-old character letter on behalf of a constituent to the Tax Court of Canada in an issue with Canada Revenue Agency. This is a type of action that has been determined as "improper" mere months ago with another similar case by Canada's toothless Ethics Commissioner.
Upon resigning, the now former Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Minster released a press release explaining how "the letter was written with honorable intentions" and that "I take full responsibility for my actions and the consequences they have brought."
That is not really the reason why he resigned. In a position that needs a political actor and bully, he was deemed too soft in dealing with an issue that is gaining much mainstream attention. In a government that mistrusts the media, he was deemed too inadequate to represent them in front of the camera.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty also wrote a similar letter to the federal broadcast regulator in the anticipation of helping a constituent would get a radio license. He defended his right to help a constituent as he wants to "continue to be a strong advocate for the people and community I represent. It is my job."
The Ethics commissioner responded how his action was "improper" and asked him to "refrain from writing such letters in future without seeking approval from her office."
If the Duncan's sin was as serious as assumed, Finance Minster Jim Flaherty would have been the first to be let go.
In 2010, even the Harper government revisited the manifesto of how government ministers should act in situation where they might be in conflict. The manifesto explained how "decisions made by administrative tribunals often concern individual rights or interests, are technical in nature or are "considered sensitive and vulnerable to political interference (such as broadcasting)."
It continued to say how "Ministers must not intervene, or appear to intervene, with tribunals on any matter requiring a decision in their quasi-judicial capacity, except as permitted by statute."
Prime Ministers often use a political bully to defend a policy change. For instance, in 1996, Jean Chretien's Defense Minister was forced to resign over a "letter that he had written on behalf of a constituent" to the Immigration and Refugee Board. The reality was the government was gaining much negative reaction as a result of the Somalia Affair controversy and the government wanted to give the appearance that someone was being held responsible.
Why would there be a double standard to two senior ministers of the same government?
In media interviews, Duncan came across as nervous in advocating for an idea that was really coming from the PMO and out of place in using soundbites in defending government policies much like his successful colleagues such as John Baird and Jason Kenny.
Therefore, one goes while one stays for similar sins. That is unfair yet that is the art of politics where sometimes nothing seems to make sense but can often be a brilliant political calculation.
As long as cabinet positions are concerned, the aboriginal ministry is the least desired position to have in Canada. It has always been that way. You need no substance as most decisions are made from the PMO but you have to be able to communicate and sell the idea. John Duncan was no longer the desired candidate as the government is looking for signature ideas for the aboriginal communities.
In the coming months, the Harper government would also try to come terms with the new demands of the aboriginal communities while trying to sell a new accountability bill. This bill proposes more financial accountability and transparency in First Nations communities.
That would be a tough sell. The Prime Minister needs a political bully to force a controversial agenda and perspective. It is facing a strong opposition from both the community that it intends to help and from the opposition. The Harper government is on the look out for someone like the tough Jean Chretien. Chretien was brilliantly used to help promote and sell the White Paper while he served as Indian Affairs Minister under the very first Pierre Trudeau government in 1969.
John Duncan was not the desired man to force it on them. He is too diplomatic and soft where a bully would help deliver better desired results.
They may not teach us this in political science classes the tactic always seem to work fine in Canadian politics.
That is unfortunate as excellent people will be reluctant to get involved in elected office in Canada. That is unless they can also push a policy from higher up rather than attempt to have conversations with Canadians much like John Duncan has attempted to do.