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Day, Strahl call it quits as Tories clear deck for possible election

Treasury Board President Stockwell Day speaks to reporters in Ottawa, Nov. 18, 2010.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Conservatives are clearing the decks by clearing their caucus, with Treasury Board President Stockwell Day, Transportation Minister Chuck Strahl and British Columbia MP John Cummins all announcing they will not contest the next federal election, which could be called before the end of the month.

With their departures, the Conservative Party, which was born out of the Western-dominated Reform and Canadian Alliance, becomes increasingly Ontario-centric.

The government chose the quiet of a Saturday morning to make the announcement, in part because it will raise questions about the number of senior Conservative cabinet ministers who have chosen to leave politics.

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Late last year, former environment minister and Calgary MP Jim Prentice quit for a senior position at a bank. Shortly before that, former House leader Jay Hill of British Columbia resigned.

Now B.C.-based Mr. Day, first leader of the Canadian Alliance, is leaving, having completed a review of federal programs that will doubtless form part of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's March 22 budget.

Mr. Strahl, who also hails from British Columbia, was also a veteran of the Reform/Canadian Alliance years, and has held several senior cabinet positions, despite having been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005.

"They have served Canadians and their constituents with distinction," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a statement announcing the departures.

Mr. Day said in a statement that "after 14 years in provincial government and almost 11 years at the federal level it is time to move on."

There is much history among Mr. Harper, Mr. Strahl and Mr. Day. Mr. Day, a former treasurer in the Alberta government, wrested the leadership of the new-formed Canadian Alliance, successor to the Reform Party, from Preston Manning, only to face a caucus rebellion led by Mr. Strahl after the 2000 election. From that rebellion, Mr. Harper emerged as leader of the Canadian Alliance, before engineering its merger with the Progressive Conservatives led by Peter MacKay.

There have been rumours that Mr. MacKay, now the Defence Minister, is also thinking of departing, but he insists he will stay.

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With these Reform-era departures of prominent Western MPs, the most senior ministers in the Harper cabinet, along with Mr. MacKay, are Mr. Flaherty, Industry Minister Tony Clement and House Leader John Baird. All three served in former Ontario Premier Mike Harris's cabinet. All three are expected to run again.

The resignations further confirm that the Harper government expects to soon be fighting an election, either because the opposition parties combine to defeat Mr. Flaherty's budget, or because they vote no-confidence. That vote would follow in the wake of House Speaker Peter Milliken ruling earlier this week that the government and International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda were in apparent contempt of Parliament.

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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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