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‘The most talented Canadian politician of our generation’

BY AARON WHERRY


 

'The most talented Canadian politician of our generation'

Bob Rae. Apparently.

I confess to being underwhelmed. In one interview, he was exceedingly rational. His speech at the Liberal convention was more of an athletic feat than anything else—his ability to speak without notes a neat trick, but the speech itself pretty average. His performances in the House were above average, but hardly transcendent.

He’s no doubt talented. But by what measure is he The Most Talented Canadian Politician of Our Generation?

Probably not even by the measure of his electoral record.

As NDP leader in Ontario, he faced four general elections—winning 25, 19, 74 and 17 seats. In the four elections previous the NDP had won 19, 38, 33 and 21 seats respectively. So aside from one electoral victory that resulted in a disastrous run as premier, his results were entirely average.

He’s participated in two leadership races—winning with the NDP in 1982, finishing third with the Liberals in 2006.

As an MP and MPP, he’s won 10 individual races. But consider the context of the three ridings he’s represented. In 1978, he won for the NDP in Broadview, a riding that had gone that party’s way for 13 years. In 1982, he won for the NDP in York South, a riding that been with the party for 27 years. In 2006, he won as a Liberal in Toronto Centre, a riding the Liberals had held for 13 years.

Twice—by 420 votes in 1978 and by 333 votes in 1987—he came rather close to defeat.

Anyway. All of which is to ask, if he is The Most Talented Canadian Politician of Our Generation, what is the evidence of this? Or, put it another way, if he is The Most Talented Canadian Politician of Our Generation, what exactly has he done with said talent?

(Actually, I suppose this all comes back to something I don’t understand about Bob Rae’s central, explicit pitch: I’m not sure I understand what the practical value of being a Talented Politician is. Obviously, the goal is to win elections. But what exactly are voters supposed to understand about that? What precisely is the average person supposed to find in the Talented Politician angle? What does that mean? Is it supposed to imply something about their ability to govern and lead and manage and protect and all things an elected leader is charged with? Consider, to use an already tired reference, Mr. Obama. He was obviously a Talented Politician. But his pitch wasn’t Barack Obama, Talented Politician. It was Barack Obama, Man of Vision and Judgment and Reason and Intelligence. The Bob Rae pitch continues to be, I’m Bob Rae, a Talented Politician. I’m sure, in the post-Dion era, that has great appeal to Liberals. But I’m not sure what real people are supposed to get from that.)


 

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