Stockwell Day kicked off his tenure as the new Treasury Board secretary with a folksy note.
“Hello out there in Treasury Board Board land!” he wrote employees. “As your newly appointed president … I don’t mind telling you I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed.”
Yikes, he exclaimed, all these briefing books are so huge! So much to learn. His grandkids, he said, would be asking what do Treasury Board people do? “Do they take care of treasures?”
And Stock said that he would tell them, “Well, kind of.” And on he went in that chummy vein, closing with an invitation for all employees to contact him directly.
This is strange behaviour for a minister in Harperland. It’s the kind of reaching out rarely seen in a government that is so uptight. But it’s been Stock’s way all along. He is the tension defuser, relaxed as can be. It’s among the reasons he has been successful.
He is a remarkable story, a political Lazarus, a foremost example of the wisdom in the old adage — never give up, no matter how hard life is kicking you. Day, of course, is the former Alliance Party leader who imploded in the space of a year. He was derided as a lightweight, the guy who staged a dripping-wet press conference on an Okanagan beach. A party rebellion forced him out. It was thought he would never be heard from again.
But he quietly made strides, first as minister of public safety, then as trade minister. He’s seen as a straight shooter. While colleagues have turned the Commons question period into a hackneyed circus of partisan exhibitionism, he actually gives reasonable answers.
At Treasury Board he will be on the hot seat, charged with bringing down the spiralling federal deficit. His coolness under pressure will help. It’s about credibility. And Day, who had so little of it some years ago, now finds himself as being among the most trusted performers on the Conservative front bench.
The other big guns are hurting. Environment Minister Jim Prentice has been given little to do on the global warming file except gather fossil awards. Defence Minister Peter MacKay was doing well, but took a big hit on the Richard Colvin file. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson’s charges of the opposition being soft on crime ring hollow. His own government has done more to obstruct crime legislation through prorogrations than have the opposition parties. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is doing better, but his history in the portfolio is tarnished.
That leaves Stock Day. Who would have thunk it?
Lawrence Martin is a journalist and author of 10 books who writes about national affairs from Ottawa.