Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna says her decision not to run again in a federal election was a “difficult” one and that while she plans to take the summer to weigh her next move, her focus will be on working to keep fighting climate change.
McKenna spoke with reporters alongside the Rideau Canal pathway in downtown Ottawa, which is part of the Ottawa Centre federal riding she won away from the NDP in 2015.
She shut down speculation that she is eyeing a possible run in the Ottawa mayoral race, saying her decision comes after reflections during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a difficult decision but it’s the right one for me and my family, and it’s the right time to make it,” she said. “Like many Canadians, living through COVID-19 over a very long year made me step back and reflect on what matters to me most. It was quite simple, two things: my kids and climate change.”
McKenna was also asked about speculation that her decision could be part of a bid to get former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney to run for the Liberals in a possible upcoming election.
She said that was not part of her decision, but added she thinks Carney would be good in politics.
“I’ve been telling him for years he should get into politics,” she said, raising the oft-repeated Liberal refrain that the economy and environment “go hand in hand.”
“Mark Carney’s a good friend of mine. I think he could make a big difference.”
Ottawa Centre is prime political real estate and while not a traditionally safe Liberal seat, it is one where the party is competitive and where McKenna succeeded in taking the seat from the NDP in 2015 and holding it with nearly 50 per cent of the vote in 2019.
The riding encompasses Parliament Hill and central Ottawa, and is home to both a large proportion of federal public servants as well as students at three local universities.
Carney has not committed to running but promised in April, during his political debut at the Liberal party’s virtual convention, to do whatever he can to support the party.
McKenna has been vocal about the vitriol and hate she has received during her time in office, particularly while serving as the country’s environment minister. As the minister tasked with spearheading the government’s climate change agenda, she became the face of policies such as the carbon price.
That frequently made her a target for opponents to those policies, to the point that she spoke out publicly about the threats she was receiving and the security detail assigned to her in response.
In 2019, her Ottawa office was defaced with a spray-painted vulgar slur.
Just last year, her office was again targeted in an incident in which a man berated staff at the office with foul language and derogatory comments about McKenna. The incident was captured in video and Ottawa police launched an investigation.
McKenna was asked on Monday whether the hate and abuse she has received was a factor in her decision not to seek re-election. She said the people attacking women in politics are looking to discourage them from running, and that she wants to encourage other women to seek office.
“I have had my share of attacks, but that’s just noise,” she said.
Ottawa city councillor Laura Dudas, who represents the Innes ward, tweeted her thanks to McKenna both for her work for the Ottawa community and for women in the political realm.
“Your strength in the face of adversity is formidable and I wish you all the best on your future endeavors.”
Catherine McKenney, the Ottawa councillor for the Somerset ward, also wished McKenna well.
“Wishing you all the best in your continued fight against climate change. You deserve a break! And I trust that our paths will cross again in the future,” McKenney tweeted.
Large portions of the Somerset ward and the Ottawa Centre federal riding overlap.
Mélanie Joly, the minister for economic development and official languages, reacted to McKenna’s decision on Monday and said she thinks her cabinet colleague has done important work shining a light on the barriers that make many women question stepping into the political arena.
“It’s always difficult to recruit women to run for politics. Why? Because it takes not only one time or two times to approach them. Actually, it takes 10 times,” Joly said.
“Women candidates are preoccupied with the fact of being able to continue to raise their kids, see their family, and and obviously have a job that is very demanding in terms of time and energy.”
Joly thanked McKenna for her work, and said she has “done a good job in terms of outlining and really putting more light on a problem that many women and different people have to deal with when being a a politician in this 21st century.”
It’s not yet clear where McKenna will go after politics.
Speculation about a possible summer or fall election has been heating up for weeks as tempers flared between parties in the House of Commons, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused opposition parties of blocking legislation from passing.
McKenna said she plans to take time this summer to think about what to do next, but that she will remain focused on climate change and could see herself assisting the government in negotiations as officials prepare to take part in the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Scotland.
That is scheduled to take place from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12 and will see international partners pushing for a global commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century as part of a massive international effort to limit the global temperate rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“That has to succeed,” McKenna said about COP26 — the shorthand for the conference.
—With files from The Canadian Press.