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Scott Brison quits federal cabinet, won’t run for re-election


MP Scott Brison. - Chronicle Herald file
MP Scott Brison. - Chronicle Herald file

Longtime Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison has resigned from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet and announced he won’t seek re-election this fall.

After 22 years representing the Nova Scotia riding of Kings-Hants, the 51-year-old told his constituents in a heartfelt, open letter posted Thursday morning on his social media channels that he had informed the prime minister that he is stepping down from his role as president of the Treasury Board and as minister of digital government.

Speaking with The Chronicle Herald, Brison said the decision to leave politics was a family one — he wants to be able to focus more of his time on his husband, Maxime Saint-Pierre, and their four-year-old twin daughters.

“This is a decision Max and I made. The reality is that if I ran again, Max would shoot me and I would be dead, and Max would be in jail and I don’t know who would take care of Rose and Claire, so it’s pretty practical from that sense,” Brison joked, adding, more seriously that his family has had to make lots of sacrifices for him over the years.

“I’ve gone at this 120 per cent for almost 22 years, working evenings and weekends and putting my job first and I’m at a stage now in my life where I want to focus on my family and making decisions that are in my family’s interest.”

As for what’s next for Brison, he said he’s still figuring that out.

“I think in all likelihood I will consider opportunities in the private sector. I have a background in business investment banking and private equity — but I’m in no real rush right now,” he said.

“I’ve had a great run, I’m leaving on top. A lot of politicians leave in a body bag or get airlifted off the field. I’m walking off the political stage with my head held high, proud of what I helped accomplished ... feeling good about what my government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done and is doing.”

While Brison wouldn’t rule out a switch to provincial politics, he said it’s not top of his mind

“I’m not leaving federal politics to jump into another politics … my intention is to consider options and opportunities outside of politics,” he said.

Brison said he’s looking forward to spending the remainder of his time in office digging into some constituency files now that he doesn’t have the demanding schedule of a cabinet minister.

“It’s been great to serve as a cabinet minister for two PMs but the greatest honour is being an MP,” he said.

“I have loved being part of the communities of Kings-Hants — the parades and the church suppers and the community BBQs, the high school graduations — really do believe that constituency work is an honour.”

As he prepares to wind down his career in Ottawa, Brison — acknowledging his own past hyper-partisanship — said he hopes to see a less partisan future for Canada’s government with elected representatives working together across party lines to tackle important issues.

“I think the divisiveness and rabid partisanship in Ottawa is worse now than I’ve ever seen it,” he said.

“I wish there was more recognition that on the floor of the House of Commons that we’re all capable of doing good things.”

Family “living testament” that government matters

Brison has represented the riding of Kings-Hants since 1997 and has served as the Treasury Board president in the Trudeau government since 2015.

First elected as a Progressive Conservative, Brison also ran unsuccessfully for the leadership of the party in spring of 2003.

Then, just days following the merger of the Progressive Conservative party and the more right-wing Canadian Alliance party later that year, Brison announced he was crossing the floor to join the Liberal party despite voting in favour of the amalgamation. At the time, Brison said he would only endorse the new party if it adopted progressive social policies.

In Paul Martin’s Liberal government, Brison would go on to serve as the parliamentary secretary to the prime minister and later as the minister of public works.

Brison also led an unsuccessful bid for the leadership of the Liberal party in 2006.

“In my career, I have had a hell of a lot more highs than lows, I’ve been up and down and sideways in my political career … but I’ve stuck to it during some dark periods and I’m glad I stuck with it,” Brison said.

“I’ve been part of some of the biggest decisions facing Canadian government in the last 20 years. … I’ve been able to make a difference in people's lives and the future of my country.”

On top of his long and noteworthy career as an MP and minister, Brison is also one of Canada’s first openly gay MPs and its first openly gay cabinet minister, something he said would not have been possible without the significant social change that has occurred in his lifetime.

“My family is living testament to the fact that government matters,” he said. “When I entered politics I did not have the legal right to marry the person I love and to have children. I’ve been given a unique blessing to be able to shape social progress in my country and to benefit from it in terms of my family. This could not have happened … in any other period of Canada’s history.”

Pending shuffle

To deal with the vacancy in cabinet left by Brison’s departure, Trudeau announced that a cabinet shuffle will occur Monday, just ahead of a cabinet retreat slated to take place in Sherbrooke, Que., from Jan. 16 to 18. At a news conference on Thursday, Trudeau refused to say whether he is planning a small shuffle just to replace Brison or a larger one with multiple ministers changing portfolios. As Nova Scotia’s only cabinet minister, it also raises the question if Trudeau will appoint another MP from the province during the shuffle to order to keep regional representation.

Brison has denied that his decision to quit politics is related to the current controversy surrounding his role in the suspension of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the military’s second-in-command who has been charged with leaking cabinet secrets. Defence lawyers are expected to make Brison a star witness when the case goes to trial in August, just weeks before this year’s election campaign officially starts.

He told The Chronicle Herald that was a non-factor in his decision.

Brison has been accused of pressuring the newly minted Trudeau government in 2015 to suspend a $700-million plan to build a new supply ship, a move that the RCMP alleges prompted Norman to leak secrets to Quebec’s Davie Shipbuilding so it could persuade the Liberals into restarting the project.

He has also denied accusations levelled by Norman’s lawyers and echoed by opposition MPs that he lobbied on behalf of Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding, which wanted the Liberals to cancel the Davie deal and hire Irving for the supply-ship job instead.

With Brison’s name off the ballot, Kings-Hants is wide open in the upcoming federal election. While the Liberals enjoyed a landslide victory there in 2015, with Brison garnering a whopping 70 per cent of the vote, the race was much closer as recently as 2011 when only 1,000 votes separated him and second-place Tory candidate David Morse. Prior to Brison crossing the floor, Kings-Hants had long been a Progressive Conservative riding.

Brison said he’s confident the Liberal party will run a strong candidate that will win the trust of voters in Kings-Hants.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of talented people interested in this opportunity,” he said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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