Watching Rae bow out: Liberals must be uneasy

Before we move on entirely to considering the Liberals’ next moves, let’s pause a moment to relish Bob Rae’s performance early this afternoon as he announced he wouldn’t be trying to jump from serving as the party’s interim leader to running for the permanent job. Rae lugs around heavy political baggage, and he’s nearly 64 (though he said the age issue is “bullshit”), but all that was on display today was his verbal skill.

He was funny and relaxed and candid—or at least seemed candid, which is just as good, likely better, in politics. He shifted gears from personal asides to serious political messages to partisan cheerleading with dynaflow smoothness. This is a guy who learned his politics when finding an apt phrase on the fly was accomplished with the voice, not the thumbs.

“I’ve had lots of encouragement and lots of people who wanted me to think otherwise,” Rae said of how he finally arrived at his decision not to run for leader. “But I think it’s best for the party, and I think it’s a decision that I feel very comfortable with. It didn’t come quickly, as some of you will know from having watched me skate and then dance and then skate again through many scrums and individual interviews and questions.”

So not an easy decision, even though he suggested it ultimately came down to keeping his word or breaking it. After all, he told the party executive and its parliamentary caucus last spring that if he was made interim leader, he wouldn’t stand again for the big job, as he did in 2006 (when Stéphane Dion won) and clearly wanted to in 2008 (had events not conspired to create a party consensus that all other contenders had to drop out to clear the way for Michael Ignatieff’s coronation).

“Look I would have liked to have won in 2006. I would have liked to have effectively been able to run in 2008. Those things didn’t happen. And then I decided that we couldn’t have a two-year gap after the election of 2011, and the party was set on delaying the leadership. And I said to myself, well, it’s important that we try to do the best, and I thought I could offer the best to the party in 2011 as interim leader.

He continued: “That doesn’t magically transform itself into another job. I think you have to be realistic about that, and be fair to everybody, and frankly respect rules and respect people’s expectations. I know some of you may find it hard to believe, but sometimes you do actually want to do things that pass every possible smell test.”

Note that he didn’t deny that it took him a long, agonized time to rule out making the opposite call—which would most definitely not have passed the smell test—to run despite having pledged not to. This was the candid part: a less sure-footed politician would have clumsily, unconvincingly, let on that he never contemplated trying to weasel out of his commitment.

Having told the tale of why he scratched himself from the leadership race so well, Rae was nicely positioned, as he spoke to reporters from a podium in the foyer of the House of Commons, to hold forth briefly on other matters, too. Not surprisingly, he denounced the government’s bloated budget omnibus bill, subject of so much procedural delay in the House today. But he was perhaps more interesting on the Liberal party’s future, putting his emphasis on how its old centrist positioning, strategically nestled between Conservatives and New Democrats, still has electoral potential.

“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.”

Let’s assume, since it’s sort of his day, that Rae is right about the persistence of a Canadian appetite for a centrist choice on the ballot. Let’s even assume, to make it interesting, that his party is making progress at overhauling itself as an organization. Neither of those things matter much unless the next leader is politically skillful enough to withstand the pincer movement represented by Harper and Mulcair in a 2015 campaign.

But the guy with the most obvious skills—they were on full display today—isn’t running. Even Liberals who didn’t want Rae for good reason—his dubious record as an NDP premier in Ontario, his age (that B.S. concern), his lack of an imaginative policy approach—must have qualms. They might not need him, but they need someone who can pick up some of his tricks of the trade.




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Watching Rae bow out: Liberals must be uneasy

  1. I posit that if keeping one’s word mattered there would have been no election in 2008 or Harper would have lost it. And that we wouldn’t hvae offered a sweetheart deal on softwood lumber only to get punched in the face a few months later with a new set of tariffs.

  2. ““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.”

    My gob was well and truly smacked when I heard about Rae’s decision today. Libs should be uneasy because Rae doesn’t think its worth running for leadership, why doesn’t Rae want to run for leadership? How dim are Liberal prospects for Rae to quit now?

    First of all, which party is the Tea Party in Rae’s feverish imagination? Is it the Cons, the party that’s bought car companies, cancelled multi-billion potash deal, enlarged The State and run massive deficits? There is no right wing party in Canada, we are not represented by any one. Does Rae even know which country he lives in?

    Second, more than 70% of Canadians voted for Cons or NDP at last election, those two parties do represent the best of Canada politics. Rae apparently thinks the majority of Canadians are inadequate rubes and Harper/Mulcair are bad for the world – wtf!? – while bemoaning divisive polarization.

    And hallejuah chorus for Rae this afternoon is pathetic.

    Hup Holland Hup

    • Rae deserves kudos for stepping up and filling the important interim role, and for doing what is against his best personal instinct for the good of the party. I need to point out that the Liberals have raised more money in Rae’s tenure than in the past few years. Yet you begrudge him this recognition, calling people pathetic, even though you would have been first to call him a liar had he thrown his hat into the ring. He’s not a liar, he’s a smart man, and I appreciate his work, and his candour. Why bemoan the state of a race that has not yet started? Your whole comment is irrelevant.

  3. “Before we move on entirely to considering the Liberals’ next moves…”

    Stop right there: why would we do that? I disagree with the premise; who would waste valuable time considering anything regarding a failed, deprecated, dead political party? Besides a member of the Canadian media?

    1.6 million immigrants have arrived since Canada’s New Government took over, those people don’t know or care about “Liberals”. Mourn the dead if we must but let’s move on to “New Canada” and leave “Old Canada” behind.

    • I vote for the “Now Canada” — you know, the one that rejects almost every MP extant — that sad collection of self-absorbed egoists, the lot of them. We really need a champion. Do you see one among the gaggle of sycophants assembled in Ottawa now?

      Oh, and don’t get me started on that “first among equals” jackanapes we call the Prime Minister. He is the oil lobby organ grinder’s monkey — started with a sinecure and will end with a sinecure.

      Canada will never “punch above its weight” with pasty, pot-bellied, self-serving bottom-dwellers steering the “ship of state” — of that I am certain.

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