Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Day, Strahl to step down

Tory MPs' exit spurs talk of spring election

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OTTAWA -- Two cabinet ministers and a veteran Conservative MP -- all from British Columbia -- have announced their names will not be on the ballot, whenever the writ drops.

The news, which came Saturday amid increasing speculation a federal election may be triggered in as little as two weeks, indicates the Conservatives are anticipating an election will soon be called, said Kathy Brock, a political science professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

Election rumours have been fuelled by the imminent budget announcement and House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken's rulings last week that were critical of the Conservatives.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper thanked Transport Minister Chuck Strahl, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day and MP John Cummins for their "extraordinary dedication to public service throughout the years."

The departure of these three Conservative stalwarts means there will be four new Tories on the ballots in B.C., after Jay Hill retired from politics in October 2010.

Harper lost another western cabinet minister, Calgary's Jim Prentice, in November last year.

In an interview Saturday night, Day said he determined several months ago not to run again. He also said he knew Strahl and Cummins were standing down -- but did not know they would announce their exits on the same day he did.

Day said he wanted to leave ample time to nominate candidates in his riding.

It takes time to nominate a candidate, and they want to be ready," he said. "There could be an election soon... It appears the opposition parties are trying to force one."

Hill, who was government House leader when he stepped down, said Saturday with three of B.C.'s five ministers now gone or leaving, Harper has an opportunity to put a fresh, new face on his cabinet.

"It's a natural thing," he said. "Of course, you don't want to lose all your veterans at once, but I think it's a good thing to have some renewal from time to time."

To the opposition Liberals though, the announcements are evidence the Tories have been planning for a snap election call.

"I think this shows that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been preparing to pull the plug on his minority government," said B.C. Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh. "But he's lost a lot of depth on his bench in British Columbia. He losing two of his big names in B.C."

When Day closes the door on politics, he will bring to an end a career that has spanned a quarter of a century, taking him through provincial and federal legislatures, where he led the Canadian Alliance, later becoming a senior Tory cabinet minister and holding three high-profile portfolios.

Strahl was first elected to a federal seat in the 1993 election, when he was voted to represent his B.C. riding as a member of the Reform Party, which later became the Canadian Alliance. He eventually managed three ministerial portfolios, including agriculture and transport.

Cummins' time in federal politics stretches back to 1993, when he was elected to Parliament as a member of the Reform Party.


-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 13, 2011 A11

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