A move made out of frustration?Canada
Stephen Harper says outgoing Environment Minister Jim Prentice, right, earned 'the highest respect' from the prime minister and all of his colleagues for his work.
Outgoing Environment Minister Jim Prentice won praise from opposition critics Thursday, who saw his departure as a sign of a rift between moderates and hardliners in the top ranks of the Conservative government.
They said Prentice had been stuck in a difficult portfolio once Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed him environment minister.
Deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale said Prentice was a well-regarded MP and his departure raises questions about whether the Harper government is "essentially hostile to the environment."
"So it's not all that surprising that Mr. Prentice would get a bit frustrated in that role," said Goodale.
"Secondly, he is thought of as one of the more moderate and middle-of-the-road members of that caucus and I suspect he was feeling a bit alienated not having very many moderate and middle-of-the-road colleagues in a government that's increasingly extreme in the positions that it takes."
NDP leader Jack Layton had a similar assessment.
"Here's a fellow who worked very hard on behalf of Canadians, particularly with regard to establishing parks, important parks, but I have no doubt that he must have had some frustrations dealing as minster of the environment with Mr. Harper, who has never put the environment as a top priority at all, particularly when it comes to things like climate change and so on," said Layton. "It's bound to have been very frustrating for Mr. Prentice."
Prentice, who announced Thursday that he is leaving politics for a job in the country's banking sector, has long been regarded as one of the most capable ministers in Harper's cabinet.
The Calgary MP was first elected in 2004 and held the Indian Affairs and Industry portfolios before becoming environment minister. Political observers have tagged him as a potential successor to Harper as leader of the Conservative party.
However, Prentice rose in the House of Commons on Thursday to inform MPs he is resigning from cabinet immediately and will quit as an MP by the end of this year.
He is taking on a senior position as vice-chairman and senior vice-president of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, effective Jan. 1, 2011.
"When I entered federal politics in 2001, I made a commitment that my time in politics would last eight to 10 years. It has now, remarkably, been nine years and it is time for me to pursue new opportunities outside of public life.
"This career opportunity will allow me to have an impact on Canadian society, but in a different way."
Prentice, married with three daughters, moves into the private sector with solid credentials. Like political contenders who have made similar exits from other governments, he will face continued speculation over whether he ever intends to return to politics once Harper quits.
In the Commons, Prentice spoke of how he has always supported the Conservatives and he thanked the people of his riding for their support since first being elected in 2004.
"It has been my honour to work with the prime minister, with my cabinet colleagues, with my caucus colleagues and, indeed, Mr. Speaker, with all members of the House of Commons."
Government House leader John Baird will become "interim" environment minister, said a spokesman for Harper. Baird is a former environment minister.
The announcement by Prentice was delivered at the end of question period. He began his brief remarks by saying that he had met with ethics commissioner Mary Dawson and that he had informed the prime minister that he was resigning. Once his remarks were complete to a hushed Commons, he turned to Harper to shake his hand. The prime minister immediately praised Prentice for the work he had done as an MP and minister.
"I know that in all of these functions, he has earned the highest respect, not just of me, of all his colleagues in government, of all his colleagues in Parliament and of all Canadians who have worked with him or dealt with him in the numerous positions which he's held," Harper told the Commons.
Industry Minister Tony Clement indicated that he was surprised by the announcement, and heard about it through media reports only five minutes before it occurred.
"I'm sorry to see to see him go. He's been a great colleague and friend."
Opposition MPs wished him well as he leaves politics. But they also wondered why it was necessary for Prentice to meet with the ethics commissioner before his departure, and some questioned whether it had been appropriate for Prentice to have discussed his upcoming job with CIBC while still in cabinet.
Prentice's director of communications, Bill Rodgers, said the minister met with the ethics commissioner in connection with his plans to join the CIBC.
"He was doing his due diligence to ensure there wasn't a conflict, and there wasn't," said Rodgers.
Layton expressed concern that Prentice is leaving politics for the financial sector.
He said there is a pattern growing where "the upper floors of Bay Street banks and other powerful influences begin to have awfully easy access back and forth as it were to government."
"This is the kind of overly close relationship that I think has a lot of Canadians worried."
Queen's University political science professor Kathy Brock said Harper is losing a strong minister who was assigned some "demanding portfolios."
She said at least the timing was fortuitous for Harper because it doesn't come on the brink of an election campaign, which many believe won't happen any earlier than next spring.
"The timing is better now than later. When you're losing your cabinet ministers close to an election it doesn't look good for your government."
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