A Rae day on Parliament Hill

Just how ‘interim’ is the Liberal leader?


I’ve used words like “temp” and “stopgap,” I confess, to describe Bob Rae’s job as the Liberal party’s interim leader. But after listening to Rae’s rip-snorting speech to his party’s MPs on Parliament Hill today, I think I’ll be searching for new terminology.

Because he sure sounded like a guy auditioning for the permanent lead role in the third-place party in the House. Billed as half-hour address, the speech stretched for about 45 minutes—and featured a pointedly personal political message.

Rae’s obvious political liability is, of course, the lingering memory of his difficult 1990-95 stint as Ontario’s NDP premier. But given that he’s not supposed to be in the running for the federal Liberal leadership—a condition the party executive imposed when Rae accepted the interim job after last spring’s election—that historic baggage shouldn’t matter much these days.

Yet Rae used today’s event, a closely watched speech setting the tone for the Liberals’ biennial policy convention in Ottawa this weekend, to launch a spirited defence of his old Ontario record, lashing back at derisive comments the Conservatives have lately fired his way.

“Let me just respond very directly to the attacks I’ve seen the last couple of days,” he began. “Of course, it’s true, as you all know, when I was premier of Ontario, the province was faced with its worst recession since the last Depression.”

Rae went on to defend his Ontario government’s record. Did he engage in reckless deficit-spending? Everything’s relative. Rae said he boosted spending 15 per cent over four budgets—compared to a 40-per-cent rise in federal program spending in the first four budgets of the Harper government.

“I was,” Rae declared, “a piker compared to Jim Flaherty and Stephen Harper.”

He also boasted that he spent wisely on infrastructure, including projects that were cancelled after Mike Harris’s Conservatives trounced his NDP in 1995. And Rae noted that key figures from that provincial Tory government—including Flaherty, Tony Clement and John Baird—are now prominent in Harper’s cabinet.

After he got through defending his own record, Rae ran through issues he suggested the Liberals could ride to redemption in a 2015 election that will mark, as he put it, the start of “the next progressive decade.” These ranged from defending universal healthcare and the CBC, to promoting more “open democracy” and a better future for First Nations.

He highlighted the growing gap between rich and poor. “It’s not unique to us. It’s a problem that’s shared across the industrialized world,” Rae said. “The answer to it is for us to create even more  prosperity, but to make sure that the prosperity of the next decade will be a prosperity that is deeply shared across every part of the country.”

By fastening on income polarization—the issue highlighted by last year’s “occupy movement” camp-in protests in many North American cities—Rae might have been taking a page from Barack Obama’s playbook. Last month, the U.S. president said inequality has emerged as “the defining issue of our time.”

But as Obama runs for reelection this year, will Rae be positioning to take over the Liberals for real in 2013? In a news conference late this afternoon, he refused to be pinned down.

Rae said his feisty speech today “merely reflects my enthusiasm for the work I’ve been doing as interim leader, full stop.” As for his agreement with the party executive that as interim leader he wouldn’t stand for the permanent job, he said “I will follow the rules.”

But what if the executive changes the rules? “It’s up to the executive of the party,” said Rae, adding, “I think this is all just idle speculation.”

Speculation he could quickly silence with a definitive comment on his future, but has chosen not to.


A Rae day on Parliament Hill

  1. YAWN and ZZZZZZZ.  

    • Thank goodness for small mercies…noone, absolutely noone wake her please!

  2. “the start of “the next progressive decade.” These ranged from defending universal healthcare and the CBC, to promoting more “open democracy” and a better future for First Nations.”

    If that’s his idea of ‘progress’, then I don’t want him as leader.

    But then I never did.

    • So you are against universal healthcare, open democracy and First Nations? (CBC too, apparently, but that one is fine by me.)

      • These are all old issues.  we decided in favour of them eons ago.

        Actual ‘progress’ would be a good idea.  These ain’t it.

        • I think Rae raised them because he thinks they may be in jeopardy under the current government.

          I didn’t listen to the speech itself (don’t have the 45 minutes to spare at present) but I get the sense Geddes is just giving us a laundry list; Rae may wel have had some ideas on how to move forward rather than backward on these (as an example, even if you agree with the concept of universal health care, there is certainly plenty of room to find ways to improve the system both interms of things lie wait times and in terms of cost of delivery).

    • You don’t need to throw everything out, Emily, when moving forward.  There was an awful lot in that speech–I don’t think Geddes did it justice, but then I don’t think he was trying to give a summary of it.  The speech is on the Liberal.ca homepage if you’d like to watch it yourself.

      • There is no need to ‘defend’ any of those things.  They could use some fixing, but Canadians love them.

        To be ‘progressive’ you need to move on from there.

        • There is at least the possibility that you need to defend those things.  From Harper.  Maybe to put another way, people must know you will defend those things.

          • People also need to know where he’s going from here.

    • “If that’s his idea of ‘progress’, then I don’t want him as leader.”

      Actually the article says that reversing the trend in rising inequality is key to ushering in the next progressive decade. We need a tide of prosperity that raises all boats, not just the yachts — which is the impetus behind the Occupy movement. (Which Liberals would be wise to cash in on.)
      It’s time for the Liberals to change tack. Over the last 20 years they have taken the place of the Progressive Conservative party tearing down a just society brick-by-brick instead of building it up: Mulroney’s neo-con light. Considering free-market ideology has caused all our economic problems — from high government debt, to anemic GDP growth (the 2000s was the worst decade since the 1930s,) to deteriorating living standards, to the global economic meltdown — the Liberals would be wise to champion centrist Keynesian economics that created modern living standards in the post-war era. Milton Friedman is dead (thank God.)   

      • Actually I was thinking more about new technologies, training, education and R&D especially in medicine….plus a global financial architecture that stops the abuse on the markets.
        Things that give people access to the system…more equality.

  3. The strange thing about Rae’s tenure is how so many people actually believe “Bob Rae’s socialist Rae days economically ruined Ontario”. I can see why a public service employee would be angry, but its like budget-cutters don’t even realize how much on their side he actually was. It would warm my heart, as somebody who watches politics, if he did run and if, win or lose, love him or hate him or don’t really care, the silly myths about his tenure were replaced by a more reasoned view.  After the last ten years of absurd messaging from the federal government, it would be nice to see a light shine through.

    • Very true. Rae days were a cost-cutting measure that saved jobs. Harris, Martin, Harper and McGuinty days are spent on the unemployment line. Public sector workers didn’t know how good they had it under Rae until the ax fell. 

  4. “Rae said he boosted spending 15 per cent over four budgets”

    Anyone know how many years those 4 budgets spanned? Using “budgets” as a time-frame is not terribly useful.

    • Not to mention, this federal government’s record has a worse four budget stretch.

  5. “But what if the executive changes the rules?”

    Are there really any rules baring Rae from running? Didn’t Rae just promise that he wasn’t going to become proper leader and now he’s trying to weasel out of his commitment? 

    • Well, we already knew he is a weasel.

      • How about Peter Mackay. Is he a weasel too?

        • And Tony Clement — weasel or not?

          • To call him a weasel is to insult weasels.

        • Perhaps you could save that comment for the post that has anything at all to do with Peter Mackay, rather than the post that is entirely about Bob Rae.  Just a thought.  Unless you’re OCD, in which case, just go on talking about Peter Mackay all day long.

          • Peter McKay sold out his party after promising not to, Rae would just be seeking his party’s leadership after promising not to. Ergo, McKay wins the weasel game.

  6. One would hope that the Liberals would have learned. Don’t go anointing a leader without properly contesting the leadership.
    Maybe it’s time for parties to stop looking for a one man band and start looking for someone who could lead.

  7. I think Rae is the only one who can take on Harper and that to me is an urgent need. 

    • Rae is good at what Dion and Ignatieff were terrible at: politics. They allowed themselves to be bullied by Harper, which made them look weak. They also allowed Harper to define them. Rae is much better at handling himself. As leader of the 3rd party he is coming across as the de facto leader of the Official Opposition. He knows how to play the game, which in the end is the most important quality of all. 

      As for the $10B deficit Rae left behind, that’s nothing compared to Harper’s record: turning a $14B surplus into a $56B deficit with reckless spending and tax cuts. Rae is coming across as someone who can deftly trash Harper’s low-brow propaganda machine.

  8. There is going to be a leadership contest, isn’t there?

    • Well, what you could do is just call Rae the interim Party leader and then have a leadership convention, say in Vancouver, 6 months later. There could be a couple of guys run against Rae, maybe LeBlanc and somebody else, and then at the last minute they could drop out, you know, so you could avoid that messy voting thing.

      I know this has been done before somewhere—I think it should work out just fine.

      • Let’s talk after  your party’s leadership contest to replace Harper.

        • Well that might be a looooooooooooong time.

          • Don’t say that to Jason, it will only upset him.

    • Yes, there is.  And if the new executive agrees that Rae can run in it–and I see no reason why they wouldn’t–he would be one of (hopefully) many.  And then, also depending on this weekend, maybe we can all vote!

  9. And here I thought his long-standing defense with regard to his record in Ontario was that yes, he made mistakes, but he’s learned from them.

    Guess not.

    • You didn’t listen to the speech either, I see.

      • I think he summed it up rather well.

  10. Nothing says “renewal” better than Sheila Copps and Bob Rae.

    I haven’t seen entertainment like this since “Jurassic Park.”

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