Straight Talk
DAVID AKIN - STRAIGHT TALK: Carney's judgment in question

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney

Credits: REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE

DAVID AKIN | PARLIAMENTARY BUREAU CHIEF

OTTAWA - The impartiality of the Bank of Canada governor's office has taken a hit because of what can only be described as a lack of judgment by its current occupant, Mark Carney, to accept an invitation to stay for nearly a week last summer at the Nova Scotia house of Liberal MP and finance critic Scott Brison.

The stayover, first reported by The Globe and Mail Saturday and confirmed Monday by the Bank of Canada, happened while Brison and many other Liberals were actively trying to recruit Carney to run for the Liberal leadership.

Though Carney would ultimately reject those entreaties - he has since announced he'll quit his Bank of Canada governor's job early to take over as the governor of the Bank of England next summer - his summer vacation has put partisan politics into a position which must remain purer than snow when it comes to politics.

For the record, Bank of Canada spokesman Jeremy Harrison says that the bank's in-house lawyer, Jeremy Farr, says there is nothing to see here, that there is no violation of any bank conflict-of-interest policy.

Carney, in responses to questions put to him by the Globe, says about the Liberals who came calling, "I never made an outgoing phone call. I never encouraged anybody to do anything."

This is a Clintonesque defence, a line similar to the former U.S. president's claim that he "never had sex with that woman."

In other words, that such equivocation must be even be used raises an issue of credibility.

Would we find it acceptable under any circumstances for, say, the chief justice of the Supreme Court or the chief electoral officer to vacation with a member of Parliament? Could the auditor general share a ski chalet for a week at with the president of the Treasury Board, even if they were pals? No, for the simple and what should be obvious reason that that kind of activity inevitably leads Canadians to question the independence those individuals must be seen to have to adequately do their jobs.

No one should have had to tell Carney that the price of being the bank governor is giving up vacations with political friends in order to preserve that perceived independence.

My sources on Bay Street shrug at my concerns, noting that Carney's dances with Liberals do not seem to have had any effect on his job of setting the country's monetary policy.

But that is Bay Street's view. Main Street's view is another thing. Canadians may legitimately wonder if a bank governor (or a chief justice or a chief electoral officer) might be tempted to discharge his or her duties in way that benefits his or her preferred political party.

Now that we know about Carney's stay with Brison, for example, what are to make of two speeches Carney made within weeks after that stay which quite clearly were rebuttals to observations made by Liberal opponent NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair about the "Dutch Disease" ailing the Canadian economy?

Clearly, Liberals stood to benefit if the Bank of Canada governor could make Mulcair and the NDP look like they had no idea what they were talking about when it comes to the economy.

Carney's speeches - one to a CAW convention and one to a Calgary conference - were important at the time precisely because they were made by a bank governor who was clearly above politics. But now, knowing these speeches were made while senior Liberals were still in hot pursuit of the governor, the moral authority of the words Carney spoke is weakened even though, as bank spokesman Harrison says, the speeches were arranged well in advance and are entirely in keeping with the bank's long-held and publicized views about various economic phenomena.

Carney was not taking calls from reporters Monday.

Meanwhile, in England, where Carney is headed this summer, Sam Coates, the banking editor of The Times of London tweeted, "I'm not sure Mark Carney would get away with a) holidays with senior political players and b) refusing to answer questions about them."

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