National Column Five issues that will haunt Tony Clement’s candidacy

by Bob Hepburn

Some political leadership candidates are truly inspirational, energetic and brimming with bold, innovative ideas.

Others are stiff, lack charisma, recycle shopworn ideas and are delusional about their chances of winning.

Guess which category Tony Clement falls into?

Clement, who represents the riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, is the fourth candidate to enter the race to replace Stephen Harper as head of the federal Conservatives. He formally launched his campaign Tuesday in a veterans’ hall in Mississauga, telling the small crowd of invited loyalists that he is “tested and ready.”

Clement showed up with a new haircut and glasses but offered nothing new.

He issued no campaign promises, no policy ideas other than to cut taxes and be hard on terrorists, no glimpse of the “optimistic modern conservatism” that he talked about and no real path forward for the Conservatives.

This is Clement’s third bid to head a political party – and it likely will be the third time he fails miserably, even in a field filled with so undistinguished and uninspiring opponents as are lining up for Harper’s old job.

In 2004, he finished a distant third to Harper and Belinda Stronach in the race to be the first leader of the reformed Conservative party. In 2002, he ended up in third place on the first ballot in the Ontario Tory leadership contest won by Ernie Eves.

Despite his long career as a provincial and federal cabinet minister and party foot soldier, polls on the leadership race put him in single digits, far behind former cabinet colleague Peter MacKay, who has yet to enter the race.

In Clement’s case, there are five key factors that will haunt his leadership dream and likely will be impossible to overcome.

First, Clement deservedly earned the title of “The King of Pork-Barrel Politics” for his disgraceful role in doling out $50 million in special projects in his riding that were to be related to the 2010 G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont. Instead, most of the money went to totally unrelated projects far from the summit site, such as renovating bandshells and gazebos, planting flowers, repairing public washrooms and paving roads in his riding.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser later blasted Clement in a report for breaking rules and a lack of paperwork on hundreds of projects.

In announcing his candidacy on Tuesday, Clement promised that if he becomes prime minister he “will respect taxpayers’ money.” He made no mention of how he failed to do just that during his G8 pork-barrel follies.

Second, Clement became an international joke when he enthusiastically killed the important long-form census of 2011. He saw it as an invasion of privacy for asking such delicate questions as how many bathrooms are in your home. The move so outraged Munir Sheikh, the country’s chief statistician, that he quit in disgust. On Tuesday, Clement made no mention of the census, but has suggested that if he had to do it over again, he “would have done it differently.”

Third, Clement is talking up his immigrant background, but he has a lot to answer for on immigration.

Despite being a senior cabinet minister, he did and said nothing over the last few years as the Harper government deliberately dragged its heels in allowing Syrian refugees to come to Canada. He also kept his mouth shut when his cabinet colleague Kellie Leitch proposed a snitch hotline clearly aimed at Muslims where people could report “barbaric cultural practices.”

On Tuesday, Clement insisted that as a 55-year-old white guy who came from England as a child, he understands the needs, challenges and desires of newcomers. He made no mention of Syrian refugees or the snitch line.

Fourth, Clement is a Harper clone – and happily so. Like Harper, he is stiff, devoid of charisma, and uninspiring. He is well-liked by the out-of-favour Harperites and offers voters nothing fresh, from his call to stop funding the CBC to Iran-bashing that voters didn’t see – and reject – in Harper himself in the last election.

Fifth, Peter MacKay will enter the race. MacKay, who is working at a Toronto law firm, is seen by many Tories as more modern, appealing and saleable to voters than any other former Harper cabinet minister. Businessman Kevin O’Leary, a star on the TV program Dragon’s Den, has teased Tories by hinting he might run. He won’t, though. In fact, O’Leary has invited Clement to his Muskoka cottage on Friday to “talk politics.”

So why is Clement doing this?

Ego? Delusional? A sense of calling?

Only Clement knows for sure.

Bob Hepburn’s column appears Thursdays.

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