Thursday, January 12, 2012

In the Interim (2)

After ruefully running down the field of candidates for interim leader, here's the conclusion I reached back in May:

But, above all these names, the one that stands out is Bob Rae. Rae is experienced, respected, bilingual, and well spoken. He would keep the Liberals in the headlines and would keep them relevant. It's hard to imagine a better candidate for the job.

Of course, for those reasons, Rae might very well decide to run for the top job. However, he'll be 66 by the time the next election rolls around, and my read of the landscape is that the Liberal membership is looking towards the next generation and a long-term rebuilt. I'm certainly in no position to tell Bob Rae he can't run for leader, and he would make a fine candidate. But a year or two as the interim leader would be an exciting challenge for a man who has accomplished so much over his career.

So it seems very much like a win-win. The caveat I'd place on it is that Rae must recognize this is a caretaker position. So that means no talk of leadership and no talk of merger.

But if he's willing to play ball under those conditions, I can't think of a better candidate for the job.


Since then, Rae has lived up to my high expectations. He has outperformed Nicole Turmel in the House (then again, so have most pages) and kept the Liberal Party relevant in the media. Most importantly, he has embraced his role as "Bob the Rebuilder", going to party functions and spearheading fundraising drives.

Yes, there have been whispers about Rae's ambition to drop the "interim" label, but those whispers haven't come from Rae or even his supporters. Hell, if you read the rampant media speculation closely, there aren't many "anonymous Liberals" saying Rae plans to run. By and large, there's been little reason for Liberals to doubt Rae's word that he won't run for leader.

So as someone who thought Rae would be a fine interim leader and feels he has been a fine interim leader, his speech to caucus yesterday was a bit disconcerting. In it, he passionately defended his record as Ontario Premier, arguing "better a Rae day than a Harper lifetime”. It was a good line and a barn burner of a speech...I'm sure Liberals watching wished they could all travel back in time to 1995 and vote NDP.

This has predictably unleashed another round of "Bob Rae is running for Liberal leader" articles, punctuated by Alf Apps' always helpful musings that Rae should be allowed to run for leader, so long as he resigns 6 months before the vote to "level the playing field". What Alf and others are missing is that by virtue of Rae being leader today, the playing field will not be level in a year, and Rae's speech was a perfect example of why that's the case.

Rae was given a 45 minute podium to make his case for leader in front of caucus and country. He has staff paid for by the party. He gets to lead off in the House of Commons and picks who asks the questions. He assigns critic portfolios. He sets party policy. He travels on the party dime, racking up Super Elite air miles. Together, this gives him a massive advantage over other contenders, which is why he was only given the job after agreeing not to run for permanent leader.

But beyond this issue of fairness, there's the good of the party to consider. In 2006, Bill Graham didn't go around giving speeches about Bill Graham. Rae should be talking about what Harper's government is doing and what a Liberal government will do - not what the Ontario NDP did 20 years ago. Defending the NDP record in Ontario does nothing to strengthen the Liberal brand - it only serves to strengthen the Bob Rae brand and, maybe, the NDP brand. The media story yesterday should have been about the St-Denis defection, Liberal rebuilding efforts, and this weekend's convention - instead, we had to endure more leadership speculation.

Now, Rae continues to say he won't run for leader and he deserves to be taken at his word. And if Harper attacks him, he certainly has the right to defend his record. So maybe everyone (myself included) is making too big a deal over a few minutes in a 45 minute speech. But so long as the media is hungry for Rae leadership stories, Bob will need to choose his words carefully so as to not fan the flames and detract from the Liberal message.

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15 Comments:

  • Did I miss something?

    Where did he say, recently, that he was not in fact running?

    When put the question directly, he equivocates. Which feeds the rumour mill even more because if he wasn't planning on running, it's pretty easy to say, clearly, "I am not running. Period."

    And Rae making it crystal clear he is not going to run would clear the way to all sorts of good candidates to run.

    By Blogger Ted Betts, at 4:15 PM  

  • Was thinking the same thing Ted.

    I don't agree with him running at all.

    By Blogger Jordan, at 4:26 PM  

  • There is no functional leadership race going at this juncture; no end date, no starting line - in fact, no vacancy until a virtual campaign is declared. It would be assinine to give credence to all the journo (and CON-fed) speculation thats about... We agree that Rae is the best person currently to pilot the Liberal party as the interim leader, and that at his age is not the likely long-term answer for the Liberal Party's leadership question.
    As for whether or not he has an advantage for a race that doesn't exist - right now he's keeping the Liberal Party in the headlines and ahead of opposition rivals when they should have the distinct upperhand. Let the dogs chase their tails. When the leadership race is declared then let's put the answer to him.

    By Blogger rockfish, at 4:51 PM  

  • Course it could be that Rae's the best the Liberal's have...

    Sorry, just being pessimistic.

    By Blogger Brian Henry, at 6:35 PM  

  • Nobody else has showcased under Rae, I don't know if it's his doing or not but we do not see the team.

    Dominic LeBlanc and David McGuinty should be able to do just as good of a job as Rae. At least they don't have the baggage.

    By Blogger Jordan, at 9:57 PM  

  • "And Rae making it crystal clear he is not going to run would clear the way to all sorts of good candidates to run."

    Like who? Seriously.

    By Anonymous Dreamin' Team, at 9:59 PM  

  • There are plenty of already known federal Liberals who could run, but may choose to bow out if Rae is running. Marc Garneau has already expressed an interest. Scott Brison has already run. LeBlanc has already run. David McGuinty. Martin Cauchon is hosting a gathering this weekend.

    And those are just the obvious names we know about. There are potential Liberal contenders in the provincial BC and Ontario Libs with cabinet experience.

    By Blogger Ted Betts, at 11:41 PM  

  • For what possible purpose did Rae give the speech he gave in praise of the NDP with himself at the helm if not to (a) set up a scenario for him to become permanent leader, and (b) seek an arrangement with the federal NDP short of a merger but which would effectively see him lead a combined team of the left.?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:14 AM  

  • Bob Rae should shut up about being premier of Ontario. It was a disaster - probably one of the biggest premiership disasters in recent history.

    He should even wear some of the consequences of the Harris days because that was a knee-jerk reaction to having such a terrible progressive premier.

    This is exactly why we have to be more careful when we pick progressive leaders, and why we can't give them a free pass.

    Michael Moore begged us not to elect Stephen Harper back in 2006 when he should have begged the Liberals not to steal money from 1996-2004, because that's what essentially caused it.

    I'm not saying Rae is corrupt, but terrible progressive policies have the same consequence as corruption: you get really bad conservatives a few years later.

    NO to Bob Rae. Trust me.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 10:54 AM  

  • Instead of Rae asking to be compared to Harper, without mentioning deficit as a percentage of GDP, what if he is compared to the NDP in Saskatchewan? If the NDP point out that it isn't NDP governments that are the problem, but rather Rae's incompetence, does that put the Liberals farther ahead?

    By Anonymous Nuna D. Above, at 12:52 PM  

  • Good points, Vollman.

    But how on earth do you get that the Liberals were stealing money from 1996-2004?

    The sponsorship program was suspended in 2000.

    The Liberals weren't the ones stealing the money. It was graft, like the G8, only with more corrupt practice and about 0.5% the size and scope.

    By Blogger Ted Betts, at 1:02 PM  

  • TB:
    I took the 1996-2004 date from Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sponsorship_scandal

    "The program ran from 1996 until 2004, when broad corruption was discovered in its operations and the program was discontinued."

    There was no source reference attached to that statement, though - sorry if I repeated an error.

    Fortunately it doesn't affect my point: In a country like Canada, bad conservatives get elected as the result of poorly-selected progressives like Bob Rae, especially when they get free passes.

    P.S. The sad thing is that Paul Martin probably could have been a great prime minister.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 4:04 PM  

  • I think Bob Rae was a terrible premier, AND I think he'd make a great full-time Liberal leader (and perhaps Prime Minister). I'll take the failure seeking redemption over Mr. Perfect any day - if you listen to Rae discuss any topic related to economics, it is clear that he has learned from his past mistakes.

    Winston Churchill's tenure as chancellor of the exchequer was a disaster. But his time in the wilderness was necessary to make him the great wartime leader he became. Joe Clark was a terrible Prime Minister, but Mulroney's best cabinet minister. Without his 1979 defeat, similarly, Trudeau might not had the impetus to craft a legacy. And the list goes on - the point is that past failures are only relevant when leaders do not learn from their mistakes.

    By Anonymous hosertohoosier, at 9:13 PM  

  • hosertohoosier, I think you're missing an important point.

    Rae PROMISED not to run for the permanent leadership. If he goes back on his word, you can be very sure that both the Conservatives and the NDP will make sure that everybody in Canada hears about it.

    There seem to be a distressingly high number of Liberals who brush that aside as unimportant. They shouldn't.

    By Blogger Vancouverois, at 4:16 PM  

  • Well, now Rae has opened the door to non-Liberals voting for him as the Leader, and has embraced pot - possibly as a means of enticing NDP voters to do just that.

    And all while laying claim to the support of about 75% of delegates to do exactly what he set out to do. How can anyone say they didn't know this is what he was trying to accomplish? How can anyone say the Party doesn't want him as permanent leader?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:15 PM  

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