Bob Rae ends the year as the strongest asset of Liberal Party of Canada
By Bruce A Stewart
As 2012 winds its way to its close, the Liberal Party of Canada is squaring away its leadership race and continuing to gather far more press than any third place party has previously in Canadian history.
Aside from spastic nerve flashes of old patterns unfolding here and there in the national media, that anyone is spending time worrying about a party that continues to be without policy alternatives, without local rebuilding that can generally be found, and without losing its illusions (you remember those: Liberal values are Canadian values [exclusively], we are the natural governors of the nation, the next leader is of course the next Prime Minister…) can be laid at the feet of one figure.
The candidate that’s not running: Interim Leader Bob Rae.
You may recall that in the first half of the year, the Liberal spin-doctors kept up a running battle with Rae. Even as the Conservative War Room was busy preparing adverts reminding all and sundry watching whatever on television that Rae was the former Socialist Premier of Ontario (Dalton McGuinty being the current one), Liberals were busy finding ever new reasons why Rae shouldn’t be allowed to turn his interim leadership of their party into the permanent job.
Too old? Too much history? Too obviously in the Conservatives’ gunsights? Too much a part of one faction as opposed to another? You name it, they spun it.
Throughout the whole process, Rae kept his eyes twinkling, his vocal cords smooth, and his chin up. (He also kept focused on the issues of the day, giving good sound-bites throughout, and pretty much ignoring the treatment he was undergoing.)
Rae then, come June, announced he would not stand for the leadership — and immediately became the candidate most wanted.
Since then, Rae has been less visible, allowing those competing for the leadership their moment in the sun, but has been no less diligent in shepherding his party along.
I make no bones about that fact that I have little good to say about Bob Rae most of the time. I thought he’d learned well, after one year in office, the difference between his campaign positions and the requirements of governing with full attention to the situation he’d inherited. The balance of his time as Premier in Ontario provided surprisingly good governance, and did most of the heavy lifting of turning the province around that Mike Harris, his successor, was able to take the credit for.
Rae, in his biography, laid out all the reasons why he was a New Democrat and not a Liberal — and then, after his Bay Street years, returned to federal politics with a party switch. It made him, for the first time, a very public liar about who he is.
Since then, I’ve respected his obvious abilities, and never liked or trusted him.
But his performance in 2012 as leader of his party deserves my kudos all the same.
As for the shiny pony and the eight “celebrities” (you know, the kind that find a home on Hollywood Squares, famous for being has-beens or never-weres), their efforts in seeking to captain the red rowboat have added up to somewhat less (to this point) than perhaps they should have.
True, Martha Hall Findlay has spoken on abandoning supply management, and Marc Garneau entered the race with another overturning of Liberal Party of Canada verities. But by and large most of the reporting has focused on the media favourite, Trudeau junior.
And Justin has not had a good fall. First, with Rae declining to run, he was essentially forced into the race, despite his many statements that he was too young and not ready. (On the second point, he’s probably right, but the Liberal desire for a telegenic saviour outweighs that — and besides, the back rooms that ruined Paul Martin, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, and that didn’t want Bob Rae until they couldn’t have him, would rather have a lightweight they can control than someone with a brain anyway.)
Remember Justin on the gun issue? Waffling around from the admission that the former gun registry was a waste of money and not worth reinstating, to declaring how essential the registry was and should be, all in the space of a day simply reinforced the “not ready for prime time” sense he himself articulated. He has, on issue after issue, either said nothing, done a cliché dump in place of saying anything substantive, or waffled mightily.
Standing for nothing other than being the son of Pierre, he is, of course, leading the others by a country mile in public opinion — which matters, given that the Liberals will allow anyone willing to visit the party’s website and leave their name as a “supporter” (not a member, not a donor, just a general expression of good will) vote come April’s leadership choice.
If there’s any policy he stands for other than “what I said in Québec about Albertans isn’t what I say in Alberta”, it’s hard to see, at this point, what it is.
Justin Trudeau is not the only leadership candidate stuck in the Liberal Party of Canada myth instead of talking about party rebuilding, policy issues and the other matters needed to go from third to second (first being a way off yet). Still, for this party to come out of third, that’s what’s needed.
Rae got it. His efforts this year were focused on getting the party in position to move back into Official Opposition — not government. So he closes out 2012 as one of the very few adults in what is still mostly a gathering of children.