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Reports of Toews' exit premature?

Past predictions have been wrong

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Like him or not, Vic Toews has been one of Manitoba's most compelling cabinet ministers.

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Like him or not, Vic Toews has been one of Manitoba's most compelling cabinet ministers.

Vic Toews must be loving this.

Twice in the past two weeks, news reports indicated Manitoba's senior MP and regional cabinet minister would retire from politics. Both times, despite lots of "sources say" confirmation, no retirement announcement was made.

Those who know Toews -- and his compulsive contempt for journalists -- can only imagine the 60-year-old veteran politician sitting somewhere this past weekend with a look of complete satisfaction on his face as some of the country's top journalists struggle to nail down his retirement.

With a federal cabinet shuffle all but assured next week, all signs continue to suggest Toews will step aside. He is not the only Tory on the way out; Marjorie LeBreton, government leader in the Senate, and ministers Ted Menzies and Keith Ashfield have indicated they are leaving politics. Reports last Friday were firm that Toews would also announce he would not run for re-election. Typically, that would result in his being dropped from cabinet.

Is Toews' exit a foregone conclusion? Several times over the past few years, media reports have had Toews either retiring or being dropped from cabinet. Each time, it turned out the journalists were wrong. If we assume the back channels of political gossip are finally right, then perhaps it's time to look back at Toews and his career and determine how he will be remembered.

Toews is, in his own ways, one of the most colourful ministers ever to represent Manitoba in a federal cabinet. That is not to say he has been the most effective or the most popular; there have been other ministers more beloved or with better resumés. However, he is certainly among the most interesting.

Paraguayan-born, Manitoba-bred and educated, Toews has had, by any standard, a great career: prosecutor, provincial MLA and cabinet minister, MP and federal cabinet minister. He is an elegant public speaker and deft at retail politics. However, Toews is also the source of great contradiction and irony, qualities that have added to his mystique.

As a hardcore conservative, he has celebrated the virtues of capitalism and decried the burden of big government. And yet, he has been a public servant his entire professional life and upon retirement, will draw two public-sector pensions.

He is a staunch law-and-order advocate, and has used postings as both justice and public safety minister to emphasize strong, sometimes extreme, views on the Criminal Code, corrections and national security. And yet, Toews suffered the indignity of a conviction for violating provincial election-finance laws.

Toews had been a fierce critic of the vagaries and patronage influences in the judicial appointment process. And yet, in 2008, he applied for a federal judicial appointment in Manitoba prior to resigning his seat or cabinet post. When the plan went public, Toews withdrew his application.

All those ironies taken into consideration, how then should we judge the Toews era of federal politics in Manitoba?

Toews is as tough as they come. Opponents know him as unyielding in his party loyalty and sharp of tongue. Journalists, especially those who were the subject of biting, if somewhat unintelligible, middle-of-the-night email rants, know he does not suffer criticism well.

Perhaps that's why he has been, at times, the object of such derision. Contempt for Toews culminated in Vikileaks, where intimate details of his divorce were published far and wide in an anonymous Twitter attack. Toews got support from many after that attack, although many others suggested Toews, always quick with a nasty retort, was only getting what he deserved.

Cabinet ministers in Liberal governments who served as provincial power brokers before Toews measured their success on how much federal largesse they could secure for the home province. Toews did not succumb to that weakness. In fact, he became infamous for suppressing demands for largesse, or rebuking those who he felt got more than they actually deserved.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a good case in point. A cause for several Liberal regional ministers, Toews disowned the project early on, serving the role of dispassionate bystander rather than vehement opponent. Later in the gestation of the project, when cost overruns required additional federal financing, Toews went from bystander to opponent, even advocating the project, nearing completion, should be abandoned.

Not everyone thinks the museum is a good cause, and no doubt Toews is a hero to those naysayers. The fact is the museum will open despite his neglect and, later, opposition. It's hard to see that as a badge of honour.

This week is the latest cliffhanger in the Toews retirement vigil. Up to now, he has frustrated all efforts to correctly predict his departure. Sooner or later, the laws of probability dictate one of us will get it right.

Although one has to wonder if Toews would stay on just to spite those who are spreading word of his demise.

All we know about Vic Toews leads us to one indisputable conclusion.

You bet he would.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

What do you think is the legacy Vic Toews will leave behind? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 8, 2013 A6

History

Updated on Monday, July 8, 2013 at 6:41 AM CDT: Fixes headline, replaces photo, adds question for discussion

9:31 AM: corrects grammatical error

9:57 AM: Corrects reference to Canadian Museum for Human Rights

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