Published on: 1/8/2013 9:14:54 AM Print | Font Sizes:  Normal Text Large Text

Thank God for Glen R. Murray

By: Michael Atkins

Michael Atkins, President, Northern Ontario Business,
Michael Atkins, President, Northern Ontario Business,

I can hear the gnashing of teeth from Sparks Street in Ottawa to Ouellette Avenue in downtown Windsor. Yes, that would be the MPPs for the Liberal Party of Ontario. The cabinet ministers would add genuine fear to the grinding of teeth. 

Glen Murray has no support from his cabinet colleagues in his quest to be leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario. None. Nobody. Nada.

It gets worse. He has no support thus far from one Liberal member of Parliament. None. Nobody.

Ya gotta be special to get no support from anyone you have worked with.

Now, he’s not alone in the sparse official support category. Eric Hoskins, someone I like and have worked with (a charity named War Child), only has a couple of caucus supporters thus far but he is new to the game. He is sort of a younger Gerard Kennedy (although they are actually the same age), both three years younger than Glen. Eric needs to get beat up a bit before he emerges in a few years older and wiser. Gerard just seems older.

But I digress.

Glen is unpopular for a number of reasons. First of all, he cut his political teeth elsewhere. Although born in Montreal, he was a social activist in Manitoba for years and went on to be a councillor in Winnipeg and then a popular twice-elected mayor of Winnipeg. He started to believe what people were saying about him because in 2004 he resigned as mayor and ran for the federal Liberals in Manitoba. People prefer their political leaders' ambition to be more subtle. If I lived in Winnipeg, I would never vote for him again either. You finish what you start.

After losing the federal election, Murray moved to Toronto and burrowed away on various projects until he got himself elected to the provincial Liberals in 2010.

Glen’s value to us in Northern Ontario is that he is an outsider, a sort of safe rebel. As a former mayor, he gets the need to delegate power to be effective.

The other day at the Thunder Bay Liberal leaders debate, he legitimized 100 years of griping by stating clearly that Northern Ontario should have a regional government that would make decisions on a range of policies that included job training, transportation and electricity prices. I would add to that taxation policy, a variety of resource-related policies, and yes, the spring bear hunt.

His competitors immediately pulled out all those worn-out platitudes of giving the North a voice, but it was Kathleen Wynne who said what was on everyone else’s mind which was “let’s not look like the Liberal Party that supports the idea of Northern Ontario separating.”

Glen had done his job. He made everyone nervous.

I’ve been writing about a regional government for Northern Ontario for 25 years. It is critical. It is now on the table.

Glen, of course, will not win the leadership. In fact, he may not even get back into cabinet. He is too much of a loose cannon for most leaders and his allegiance to an idea might preclude his allegiance to a leader.

When you get a man of passion and ideas you get someone who arrives late and talks too long; you get a focus on ideas when much of the government is about process. You get someone who enjoys the debate more than the management. He drives staff crazy, political colleagues to drink, interest groups to distraction and the result can be chaos.

I remember when I was chair of the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) and Glen was minister of research and innovation. He was coming to Sudbury to announce or perhaps re-announce some funding for NORCAT. For days his schedule kept changing, his staff didn’t have a clue when he would arrive or how long he would stay, and the announcement was on again and off again. But when he got there, he was there; engaged and on the money about Northern Ontario (he had some handy relatives in the North to riff off of) and economic development without notes or a watch.

You can’t live without these kinds of people or rigor mortis sets in.

Thank God for Glen Murray.

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