Rae's exit robs House of a rare voice - Macleans.ca

Rae’s exit robs House of a rare voice

John Geddes on the departure of Canada’s go-to guy


On the retirement of any significant public figure, there’s always the temptation to declare the “end of an era.” But the thing about Bob Rae, who announced today that he’s stepping down as an MP after 35 years in politics, is that he never managed to make an era his own.

It often seemed that he would. When Rae became the first NDP premier in Ontario in 1990, his stunning upset victory appeared to mark a political watershed for the province. Instead, NDP rule proved to be only a five-year interregnum through tough economic times, which ended when his party went down to horrible defeat in the 1995 election.

But Rae reinvented himself. Emerging as Canada’s go-to guy for high-level inquiries, he worked on the tainted blood issue, studied the state of post-secondary education, even advised on troubled Sri Lanka and Iraq. Out of office, he finally, decisively split with the NDP in 2002. In the process, he showed increasingly centrist instincts by criticizing his old party for failing to follow the example of Tony Blair’s success in pushing Britain’s Labour Party toward the electable, moderate middle.

By the time he joined the federal Liberals in 2006, the fit seemed, if not natural—he had been an NDP premier, after all—then at least plausible. He bid for the Liberal leadership that year and lost to Stéphane Dion. But Rae’s verbal skills were on full display. An hour or so after Dion’s triumph at the  Montréal convention, a veteran Liberal organizer told me, shaking his head, that he couldn’t believe Liberals had passed on a guy with Rae’s rare abilities when it came  to delivering set-piece speeches or improvising comments on the fly.

Liberals had two more chances, had they really wanted him, to change their minds. But they went with Michael Ignatieff and then Justin Trudeau. So it was Trudeau who stood beside him in the foyer of the House of Commons today as Rae, who turns 65 this summer, took questions from reporters on his departure.

It was fascinating to hear which aspect of Rae’s story dominated the question-and-answer exchange. Not his party-switching past. Not his thwarted federal leadership aspirations.  Not any of his policy interests, for instance, establishing stable government in fractured nations (the subject of his book Exporting Democracy). No, most of the questions sought, one way or another, to draw Rae out on the low tone of debate in Ottawa these days, the bitterness of partisan divides.

Of course, he obliged. But listen to exactly what he said: “I think things have become nastier and I think they’ve become more rote. In the old days, there were lots of insults. Mr. Trudeau’s father and I occasionally, even when I was a young kid in the House of Commons, used to exchange comments. But at least they had the benefit of being relatively spontaneous.”

It’s telling that what Rae regrets most isn’t that talk is sometime mean, but that it’s “rote.” He’s nostalgic, when he thinks back to sparring with Pierre Trudeau, not about better manners, but about more “spontaneous” language. This seems exactly the right way to think about it. We often bemoan the way Stephen Harper’s Conservatives refuse to pass on a chance to level a partisan attack in the House. But imagine if those attacks sounded witty, conveyed the personality of the MP uttering them, or at least had the ring of human discourse rather than dull recitation.

Not every politician can rise to the rhetorical challenge. Rae could. Recent examples come to mind. Early last year, when he was interim Liberal leader and still mulling another bid to become the real thing, he invited the media in for a rip-snorting speech to his caucus. (Compare it with Harper’s miserable recent speech to the Tory caucus, also with media in the room, when he tried to quell unrest over the Nigel Wright-Mike Duffy fiasco.)  Rae’s account that day of his record as Ontario premier, which was still threatening then to thwart his federal aspirations, managed to be defiant without sounding too defensive.

When he finally decided not to challenge Trudeau last June, surprising many, his reflections to the media on the outlook for the third-place Liberals was what you’d hope for from a veteran capable of distancing himself just a little from the fray, yet retain the perspective of a partisan.

“Even if you look at the assessments of public opinion, and you penetrate that a little bit and talk to people about what they want to see—do they want to be forced to make a choice between the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement?” he said. “I don’t think so. I think this phony, divisive polarization, which both Mr. Harper and Mr. Mulcair are specializing in, is bad for the country, bad for the world. They don’t represent Canada at its best. I think the Liberal party needs to get its act together.”

That was just Rae musing aloud—no need for notes. Not many on the Hill can match him for stringing together interesting sentences. If he didn’t quite put his stamp on any era, he did, for many who were listening, establish his as one of the most compelling voices across several.


Rae’s exit robs House of a rare voice

  1. Rae has resigned. Happy days are here again but rest assured that we have not heard the last of this big mouth. He likes the limelight too much and just loves to hear himself talk.
    He has a new job lined up where no doubt he will be back in the spot light.

    • Go @#$% yourself.

      • Wow. Did you write that all by yourself? Is that the only response your pea brain could come up with.

        • Mommy wrote it for him

          • He’s struggling to come up with a response that has more than 4 words.

      • Seconded.

        • You obviously did not live in Ontario in the 90s when he was Premier.

          • You obviously were traumatized by it, you might want to get some counselling.

          • Don’t need counseling and not traumatized but thanks for thinking about me. Nice to know that there are the artsy fartsies like your self out there worried about those of us who disagree with your socialist thinking. I just come on here and talk to @ssholes like you and I feel so much better.
            Now put your feet up and suck back on that BC Bud you been smoking.

          • Wow – I am impressed with the originality of that insult – nobody has ever put together that I am from B.C. and that we grow a lot of weed out here before.

          • But if you do have some primo Bud, Jan — QUIT BOGARTING THAT DOOBIE.

          • How about some cedar shakes – I have more connections in that business…:-)

          • Can we smoke ’em?

          • Well, yes in a manner of speaking – they definitely burn. It’s the rolling that might be a problem…

          • Well moron JanBC. I just assumed the BC was for British Columbia but a buddy pointed out it was for Big C***And you do grow a lot of weed out in BC.

          • It took you 24 hours and the help of a friend to come up with that? If your aim is to be an onlne a*ss you will need to pick up the pace.

          • Ontarios politics in gerneral seems to be extremey problematic. The NDP of Rae was not the best, but you can not say anything good about either the liberals of Daulton Mcguinty or the conservatives of Mike Harris

      • you are one sick @#$%

    • Well how about this for a response. What an ill-mannered and ill-informed person you are. His resignation is not a political move, it’s a life choice and it’s time to set politics aside. He has served his office well, with distinction and his acomplishments don’t need to be reiterated here as they are many. Perhaps you could learn a lesson from Rae about grace, he showed it on a great many occasions and it’s an example you could follow. None of the smears you hurl have any merit and if the limelight he was seeking, we would have seen his name up for leadership….twice when he could, he didn’t for a purpose larger than himself…..think about that.

      • Thought about it……you are so badly misinformed

  2. Am I reading that sentence wrong? Because it seems like saying “do they want to be forced to make a choice between the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement?” is the very embodiment of “phony, divisive polarization”. Pundits have written at length how the NDP and CPC are making gains by striding away from the stereotypes that surround their party image. maybe that’s fitting in an era where a premier who stuck it to unions with his Rae days gets attacked for his “socialist legacy”. Heck maybe that’s the “Rae era.”

    • That would be Rae daze

      • QED.

        • QED my eye;

          Mr. Rae and treasurer Floyd Laughren made themselves easily
          accessible to business representatives, many of whom ran Canadian branch
          plants of huge American multinationals, only to be threatened with
          capital blackmail. The premier was warned that their U.S. head offices
          weren’t about to invest further in Ontario unless the government
          abandoned most of the programs it had run on.

          Bond traders declared that slashing government programs to reduce the
          deficit was a prerequisite to Ontario borrowing at competitive rates,
          even though Ontario’s deficit was equivalent to that of Conservative-run
          Alberta. Suddenly the entire media was fixated on the government’s
          threatened credit ratings, never mind that Ontario had the only Standard
          & Poor’s AAA rating in the country. The Social Credit government in
          British Columbia, the Conservatives in Alberta and Robert Bourassa’s
          Liberals in Quebec all had lower credit ratings. Yet only in Ontario was
          the government threatened.

          NDP government decision-makers, while innocent about so much, at
          least understood that the corporate world was not given to bluffing.
          Time after time they responded to the endless corporate blackmail by
          compromising on policies and commitments. In this way, they alienated
          many of their own followers but without ever appeasing business
          interests. They never could.

  3. Go to guy…………thats a laugh

    Rae thought it would be just fine to be the lawyer for a native group suing the feds and be an MP at the same time. Justin, Bob and the rest of the Lieberals have another thing coming.

  4. Could it be that Rae realizes the liberals are going to get pounded next election with “Lets screw the charities” Trudeau at the helm.

  5. We can chose to damn Bob Rae or on this day acknowledge his great public service. I am struck by the many partisan comments. I guess they cannot acknowledge his abilities just their own smallness in a big world. When did Canada become so small; so mean and so petty?

    Why can’t you acknowledge a man of great skill , wit and passion for one day?

    • Hear, hear! He was a terrific speaker, eloquent and quick, and I am thankful for his years of public service. I don’t imagine any of us here carping will ever do nearly as much as Bob Rae, and he will continue to do Great Canadian things. And he did a wonderful job as interim leader for LPC too. Kept them in the news, not easy for the interim leader of the third party.

      • After all he did boost your welfare.

    • show me his abilities

    • Dream on dickhead.

  6. This makes the third time that Bob Rae has quit in the middle of his elected term. Sarah Palin only did it once.

  7. The liberals are going to miss the knowledge that Ray brought to the party.

    You learn from experience how to make things work, and Ray has a lot of that.

    I was never quite confident with his money handling skills, but he is very good at people skills and would have made a great cabinet minister.

    He would have made a great attorney general or house speaker.

    • RAE is his name. Got it > RAE

      • Socialist is his name. got it.>SOCIALIST.

    • Maybe a Lawyer

  8. The last smart guy in the Liberal caucus runs away. I guess he’s seen the Trudeau Liberal Party, and doesn’t like what he sees. Can’t say I blame him.

  9. The Political History of this man is such that I can’t think of anything to write, other than, good riddance

  10. And so goes a man screwed over three times by his own party. He was talked into coming out of retirement with the promise of the Liberal leadership. At the same time, ignatieff was promised the Liberal leadership. Dion squeezed up the middle leaving both men without a crown. Somebody assassinated Dion figuratively because it was definitely an inside job and handed Ignatieff the keys to the kingdom. Bob stood aside quietly knowing Ignatieff was going out in a blaze of glory. Yep. He did. But then the party found Trudeau. I’m not surprised Bob walked out. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Allow myself to be fooled three times??