Barring another outbreak of incredibly ill-timed technical difficulties, ITQ will be at the National Press Theatre when Bob Rae makes the least surprising announcement in Liberal leadership politics since — well, Michael Ignatieff did the same thing last week.
The press conference hasn’t yet begun, but the Raevolution is already underway, and I swear that’s the last time I will type those words, but I just can’t help myself – just inside the doors of the National Press Theatre, starry-eyed supporters have lined the path by which he will make his entrance. Admittedly, it’s a pretty short path – about fifty feet – which means it doesn’t take that many starry-eyed supporters to do so, but still. It’s on. Or, to quote the slogan emblazoned on the buttons they’re wearing: “Ready to Roll.”
I hope that’s not under embargo. If so, I’ll throw myself on the mercy of the court for unwittingly ruining the surprise.
Ooh, from inside the theatre, we can hear the screams – screams of joy, we assume – which can only mean one thing: Uncle Bob has been spotted, striding purposefully towards destiny. That, or it was a practice scream.
Nope, it was the real thing – the camera crews that has been so patiently – and chillily – awaiting his arrival have now descended upon us.
Sixty seconds. (We get a countdown in the NPT. It builds excitement!)
And here he is! Wearing a grey suit and a tie the very same shade of deep burgandy red as my BlackBerry, he’s announcing his candidacy for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. A shocker!
Also Ready to Roll under a new Raegime: “a real Twenty-First Century economy” – and on that note, he’s fine with his “track record in governing” coming under scrutiny – he doesn’t mind it at all. “I couldn’t hide my record even if I wanted to. Damn that lack of some sort of mass amnesia-inducing technology.” (Note: Last bit may not have been spoken aloud.)
Oh, I kid. He looks fine – he’s actually working off a prepared text, which is unusual for him, and sticking to it pretty closely.
Wait,he wants to make Liberal Party membership “absolutely free, now and forever”? *Really*? I have no idea how that will go over with the rankenfile, given the state of the party’s finances. It’s part of the “ethics of inclusion”, if anyone is wondering, which also includes technology, and dropping references to Obama whenever possible.
Bob Rae would like us all to know that there is, in fact, a method to his madness in abolishing the membership fee: There will be a transition plan so “parts of the party that rely on those contributions are not put out of pocket”. You mean the parts that rely on legal tender to operate? I’m sure they’ll be glad to hear that.
A little trip down memoRae lane: Meech, the tainted blood scandal, bringing together Indo-Canadians. “I bring people in,” he thunders – yes, thunders – from behind the new podium that I didn’t even notice until Colleague Wells pointed it out, so focused I was on the tiny screen in front of me. Oh, and Bob Rae, of course.
In conclusion, he’s ready to roll. “Let’s go.”
And – questions! First up, Juliet O’Neil, who wants to know what he would do to address the crisis in the auto sector — and she doesn’t want him to fob us off by saying wait til tomorrow. Which he won’t, he assures her. He has never made a habit of avoiding questions, he says, before moving into a longish recap of how we got here — credit crisis, people not buying cars, basically (and unsurprisingly). He thinks that the Finance Minister should be down in Washington DC, watching what is going on in congress and making sure that any aid package that comes out of the ongoing negotiations in the United States doesn’t punish Canada, or Canadian auto workers.
Wow, this is a really, really long answer.
Okay, it’s not just me – this *is* a really long answer. It’s not an ideological or an abstract question – maybe that’s the problem. As he finally draws to a close, I can hear one of colleagues ask, in a whisper, “But what *is* the answer?” although I guess he may have been waxing existential.
On to CTV, and Roger Smith, who wants him to explain exactly what those mistakes were that he made during the last leadership campaign. Rae, who was not, in fact, born yesterday and does dimly recall how the candour of contenders in the last Liberal leadership race came back to haunt them – or, more accurately, came back to haunt the eventual winner – but Roger isn’t going to let him get away with that. “You’re right, I didn’t win,” Rae eventually concedes. Even so, he says, he was surprised by how well he did – and he believes that his experiences have taught him well.
Also, if he were that bad as premier, he wouldn’t have been asked to head up all those commissions of inquiry and advisory panels. Fair point.
Somehow, I just managed to delete my last update, which was all about Sardonic Uncle Bob – welcome back, you darkly humourous scallawag – who was summoned from the depths of the affable avuncularity when Rae was asked about that unfortunate-for-him poll that was magically leaked to Canadian Press on the eve of this very press conference, which found him to be the least credible of the candidates (and Martin Cauchon) on economic issues, which inspired an entertaining – and highly erudite, yet pointed – rant on the foolishness of putting too much faith in the prescience of the “punditocracy”.
Obama Effect shoutout! Also, he doesn’t cotton to this notion that only youngsters can harness that raw political power – he may be older than Dominic LeBlanc, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a force for change.
Interesting point: He doesn’t get the thing about introducing candidates as “the next Prime Minister of Canada” – they aren’t electing a PM, but a party leader, and the party needs to be fixed. He understands that.
The Toronto Star wonders how he would ensure that removing the $10 membershup fee won’t lead to a flood of instamembers, and Rae points out that in the US, people register as Democrats (or Republicans) by the thousand. Well, yes, but they also have a public primary system, and a completely different process of selecting candidates, but aside from that, he thinks the focus has to be on bringing people into the party, and not immediately shaking them down for $10 or $15. (Apparently, different regions have different rates for membership fees.)
More questions about the poll – Rae notes that the same results, when reversed, would suggest that 80% of respondents think he’d do a fine job managing the economy – and once again touts his experience as a positive, not a negative factor.
“I cheated Juliet out of a followup question,” confesses Richard Brennan – the president of the press gallery and the moderator of today’s news conference. “Well, we can’t have that,” jokes Rae, but he isn’t overly impressed with her question — a followup on the auto sector, in case you’ve forgotten her first one, which she asked so many, many, many minutes ago. He calls it “very loaded”, and once again explains his position, which involves sending Jim Flaherty to Detroit, and Washington DC, and all over the United States, really. Pack your bags, Jim! Anyway, he’s glad to see the minister heading south this week – he thinks he should have been there all along.
Bob Rae chuckles – actually, it’s more of a snicker – at a French question on the infamous Doug Finley memo that surfaced during the last race.
I have to say that he managed to answer that question in a remarkably gracious way. Really, is there anyone – *anyone* – out there who believes that memo was anything other than a lazy attempt at a last minute Sun Tzu gambit? If so, they really, really ought to reread their clearly not nearly well-worn enough copy of Right Side Up.
One more question – really, just one: “I want to get over to the House for Mr. Dion’s speech”, he explains. That’s right – he actually bumped this from 10am to 9am so he wouldn’t be competing with Dion’s Throne Speech intervention, which really was decent of him, all things considered, although I’m sure the other two candidates would have done the same.
“Thank you, everybody,” he says by way of farewell. “Sorry I took so long.” When was the last time you heard a politician even acknowledge that he may have run on a little long, let alone apologize for it?