Parliamentarian of the Year: Bob Rae

When Bob Rae stands to question the government every afternoon, there is a noticeable pause

by Aaron Wherry

Andrew Tolson/Maclean's

Shortly after Bob Rae was first elected in 1978, John Diefenbaker, the former prime minister who remained an MP until his death in 1979 at the age of 83, imparted two pieces of advice: “Don’t take any s–t from anybody” and “Go for the throat every time.”

These might be words to live by, but Rae looked elsewhere for inspiration—to Allan MacEachen, the legendary Liberal, and Tommy Douglas, the patron saint of the NDP. MacEachen was a commanding presence who taught Rae you couldn’t be yelling all the time, that you had to have “more than one gear.” Douglas was disciplined and practical. He cracked jokes and didn’t hold grudges. And it was Douglas who told him to eschew notes when speaking in the House. “Because as soon as you start to do it, he says, you lose all the spontaneity and all the effect,” Rae recalls.

Here are the makings of a master of the House.

Rae doesn’t so much speak as hold forth. The leader of the third party, one with interim in his title at that, he could easily be ignored, relegated to a footnote in the major debates of the day between the government and the official Opposition. He might, at the very least, strain noticeably and unflatteringly for everyone’s attention. But no one holds the attention of this 41st Parliament like Bob Rae. “The House is a raucous place and it doesn’t give much quarter,” says Ralph Goodale, the Liberal deputy leader, “but when Bob gets to his feet, people listen.”

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL LIST OF WINNERS OF MACLEAN’S PARLIAMENTARIANS OF THE YEAR AWARDS

It owes something to a different time. When he asked his first question in the House it was of finance minister Jean Chrétien. When he stood to deliver his maiden speech, he heard heckles from Ray Hnatyshyn and Lincoln Alexander, a future governor general of Canada and a future lieutenant general of Ontario respectively. He moved the motion that brought down Joe Clark’s government and watched as Pierre Trudeau debated the Constitution. The proceedings had only just begun to be televised when he first arrived. The House didn’t seem then to be so ritualistically antagonistic. Discipline of message was not the dominating force it is now.

He is a link to this past. A throwback, even. But he is not yesterday’s man. He is the man entrusted to keeping the Liberal flame. And he is Stephen Harper’s toughest test each afternoon. Witness that day last month when Rae led a reasoned, even heartfelt, debate on suicide prevention—a rare moment of enlightenment in a brutal fall sitting. “I still have this, maybe naive, but I don’t think it is, this notion,” Rae says, “that the House should be a place where big ideas are shared and people are listening to each other and trying to make progress.”

RUNNER UP: John Baird




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Parliamentarian of the Year: Bob Rae

  1. The pause is due to ennui.

  2. FANTASTIC! Richly deserved & hard-earned, Bob Rae truly
    exemplifies “primus inter pares” — with equanimity, humility,
    humour & hard-won wisdom born of surmounting the “slings and
    arrows” of political fortune’s capriciousness … Wonderful to see my
    Toronto Centre MP & Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada publicly lauded
    for the honourable statesman he is! BRAVO, BOB!

    – Mary C. Kelly, Constituent, Toronto Centre

    • You must be in love. You’re blind to any fault.

    • Written like a picture-perfect, pompous, verbose, flatulent Liberal sychophant!

  3. You got to be joking! Its a question of who is more arrogant Rae or Ignatieff. They roomed together in college so they learned together how to portray themselves as the upper crust.

    • You do realize this was voted on by MPs, the majority of whom are Conservatives?

      Take this quote from John Baird (from the post on John Baird winning Best Orator):

      “When I was government House leader and taking questions for the PM, I would always dread when I looked across the aisle to see Michael Ignatieff wasn’t there—and Bob Rae was,” [Baird] says.

      • My comment still stands. See my comment to gtrplyro55.

    • Puhleeze! Who would you nominate? Gazebos Clement? Petey Van Loan? Pierre Polliverre? Rob Anders? Bob Dechert?

      • I wouldn’t recommend any of these clowns. The way the government and the opposition parties are dealing with the affairs of the country I wouldn’t even acknowledge them. Imagine if MacLeans had of said none of these guys deserve the title. Nominating Rae simply encourages him to stay longer.

        • So you’d take your ball and go home?
          I don’t believe anybody’s stopping you.

          • It has nothing to do with me. However, everybody is whining how dysfunctional parliament is and how badly parliamentarians are behaving. By nominating one of these people we are encouraging the same behaviour. Either parliament is broken or its not. If not quit the whining. It is tiresome to say the least.

  4. If Bob Rae gets this award, Parliament must be pretty bad.

    • Why?

    • It is.

  5. I don’t think the pause is due to ennui, they have plenty to do you would think, but due to the incredulity of those in the House that this arrogant, never worked a day in his life socialist is going to resurrect a corrupt elitist organization such as the Liberals. The fact that MacLeans want to call him Parliamentarian of the Year tells you all you need about the magazine, it’s political inclinations and what an irrelevant publication it has become. Time to move on, the Liberal Party is dead, there are real issues for MacLeans to comment on, (the new Canadian reality, for starters) to bring relevance to the publication. You call yourself a “National News Magazine” but you read like Toronto.

    • Before you have a stroke, Macleans doesn’t choose the winners of these awards, they are voted on by their peers. 

      • Excuse my ignorance on who decides the award. Apologies to MacLeans assuming such.

        • at first I thought you were writing about the conservatives when mulroney was through…

  6. Ahhh hilarious! And the Dodo Bird Award goes to ……drumroll please!

    Just kidding Bob, congrats!, if you, or one of your colleagues, come by next Saturday I’ll leave a celebratory bag of cans in the back alley.

  7. This award brought to you by the Bob Rae for Liberal Leader committee.

    “Hi, I’m Bob Rae and I approve this message.”

  8. Why do Maclean’s journos write hagiographies about MPs? Why do we send people to journo school to learn how to be lickspittles?

  9. What a laugh. Like giving the MVP award to the captain of the last place team.

    It’s ok Bob, at least you can say you won something as the Liberal leader.

    • Blame the first place team for doing it then, since they’re the ones who had the most votes.

  10. Here we go again. The media trying to choose the next Liberal leader! All we hear in the media these days is about Bob Rae. 

    • He was chosen by his fellow parliamentarians – what is so difficult to understand about this?

  11. Yea for Bob Rae! As for John Baird, if best orator means repeating the same mantra over and ober, they might as well have given it to Pierre Polievre!

  12. Is this for real?  Bob Rae?  He is everything wrong with Canadian politics.

  13. There is something seriously wrong with the grey matter of whomever is responsible for naming Bon Rae parliamentarian of the year.

    He is nothing more than an opportunistic, self righteous, piece of garbage that stands for everything that is wrong with this country.

    For shame on even printing this refuse!

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