Chris Alexander: The Conservatives’ golden boy falls

A good, and I think balanced account, of Minister Alexander’s rise and fall:

Alexander gained instant stardom when he was parachuted into this key riding just east of Toronto in 2011. His resumé made him sound like a political strategist’s dream: a young, esteemed diplomat who had worked in the Russian embassy in the early 1990s before becoming Canada’s first ambassador to Afghanistan, and then a UN representative. He was internationally lauded, having been named a “young global leader” by the World Economic Forum, and one of Canada’s “top 40 under 40” by the Globe and Mail; he was even voted “best rookie” by his fellow MPs in the Maclean’s Parliamentarian of the Year poll in 2011.

For a while, Alexander, who took on his Immigration portfolio in 2013, represented the Conservative party’s bright future. Now, at least for the moment, he represents its failures. His entire election campaign was marred by controversy after controversy: from the mishandling of the Syrian refugee crisis and the cuts made to refugee health care, to the vow to create a “tip line” for suspected instances of “barbaric cultural practices,” the campaign to prevent women from wearing a niqab during citizenship swearing-in ceremonies, and revoking the Canadian citizenship of terrorists, Alexander became the face of the Conservative party’s most divisive platforms.

Why would Alexander pursue this path? Some say he was too focused on accommodating Harper’s vision. “He wouldn’t be the first politician who tried to play the game just the way the coach wanted it played, no matter how poorly or well the coach was calling it,” says Tim Powers, vice-chairman of Summa Strategies, an Ottawa consulting firm.

Put another way, Alexander became the punching bag for the Conservatives, by his own choosing. “He decided to take up the role as a more forceful partisan, and I don’t know if that fits his character,” says Powers. “When you see a guy whose career has been built on diplomacy and a persuasive life in a pugilistic position, it can be a conflicting image.”

When Alexander first joined federal politics, many people anticipated a “moderate Ontario Tory,” and instead he “morphed into a Harper Tory in terms of aggression and the full-force assault of selling the message,” continues Powers. “It’s almost as if he had an out-of-body experience as a politician.”

In fact, even during the post-election scrum, Alexander stuck to the party line, telling reporters that the Conservatives have been “good and generous at resettling refugees … We have been ahead of the curve every step of the way.” On the niqab issue, Alexander insisted, “The rule that faces be uncovered is not yet fixed in law. We think it should be.” Right after the scrum, Alexander was rushed out of the Annandale.

There may be more than these polarizing issues at play, too. Some observers believe Alexander’s fall was an inevitable consequence of the “Liberal sweep” happening across the country. His opponent, Holland, has been a veritable force in Ajax, having held the riding for the three terms before the 2011 election—and he only narrowly lost to Alexander then.

This loss is all the more disappointing for the Conservatives because it reverses some of the inroads made by Jason Kenney and others in recent years to attract the votes of new Canadians. Some of the fiercest criticisms against Alexander and the Conservatives were of fear-mongering and of a concerted effort to pit Canadians against each other. In this way, Alexander’s loss comes as no surprise.

If Alexander is to resume a career in politics and, indeed, make a run at the Conservative leadership one day, he will first need to win back a lot of trust. But writing Alexander’s political prospects off, say insiders, would ignore his talents—and the “nine lives” nature of politics. “Here’s a guy who has served in Afghanistan, one of the hardest corners of the Earth, and accorded himself well. He [has] enormous potential,” says Powers. “He might get a time out. But I wouldn’t count him out.”

Source: Chris Alexander: The Conservatives’ golden boy falls

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

One Response to Chris Alexander: The Conservatives’ golden boy falls

  1. Marion Vermeersch says:

    I agree that this account is a good one in relating the short time Chris Alexander spent as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. However, I would have liked to see more discussion of the division caused during that time between Canadians with differing life histories of immigration.
    It appears that Canadians are only lately realizing just how very many people are now in the “second class of citizenship” (i.e. the Vancouver Sun article quoting 863,000) due to the revocation clause. Mr. Alexander may not have been solely responsible for that Act, but he certainly shares a major part of it, and pushed it adamantly.

    I personally have a husband, two children, other family members and friends all now “second class” simply because they had a parent or grandparent who served in the WWII military in Europe, making them eligible for another citizenship.

    I hope that our new government will, as they promised during the campaign, repeal that great injustice to so many people: surely it cannot protect anyone from a “terrorist”. I also hope that future governments will learn from this, and place more value on their own citizens.

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