Bob Rae for Liberal leader? Bad Idea

I’m sure Bob Rae is a good guy.  He’s got a great sense of humour, along with the maturity to be able to admit the mistakes he made as Ontario Premier.  In his latest job as interim Liberal leader he’s shown a great knack for getting attention, a necessity for a third ranked party in a majority parliament. He’s also an interesting guy; politician, musician, University Chancellor.   I just don’t think he’d make a good permanent Liberal Leader.

It’s as much as the party’s fault, as it is any flaw in Rae’s background.  The Liberals in recent years have had an alarming habit of eating their leader.  Have an election; lose it, throw off the leader; Paul Martin to Stephane Dion, Dion to Ignatieff, Ignatieff to Rae.  A certain amount of that is natural; the easy thing to do when things aren’t going well is to replace the leader in the old “buck stops here” routine.  This habit has done more harm than good to the Liberals because it hasn’t allowed them to really establish themselves post Chretien, and Martin.

In the early years of the Harper minorities their identity was as opposition for the sake of opposing.  Whatever Harper said he wanted; the Liberals would say the opposite. It worked to an extent, but in a minority parliament the opposition is also required to serve as a government in waiting.  In other words you can oppose, but be prepared to give us an alternative.  The constant shifting of leaders exposed a real weakness on the policy development front.  How can a political party make policy when they don’t know who the guy in charge is?

History is taking a kinder view of Rae’s time as Ontario Premier.  An argument can be made that he was an accidental Premier.   Ontario faced a severe recession; if he didn’t make the cuts he did we could be in tougher shape now.   At the same time, made the automakers too big to fail, and that virtually forced McGuinty to rescue them with a bailout plan.   My mother was a part-time registered nurse back then, and remembers how badly”Rae Days” damaged hospitals. Because of that she’d never vote for a Liberal Party led by Bob Rae.  How many others there are out there share those attitudes? Canadian electoral math says you need Ontario for a majority government; Rae significantly handicaps Liberal chances of getting those seats.

The 2011 federal election replaced the Liberals with the N.D.P. as Opposition.  For the first time in the party’s history the Liberals are third and struggling for attention.  Rae has been in successful in getting that attention. But the party also needs redefinition; something tough to do when you’re only an “interim” leader.  In his case the task is made tougher by the baggage he has from his time as Ontario Premier.

The question of Ontario aside, Rae has all the qualifications to be a ready-made leader for a ready-made party.  The Liberals aren’t as ready as he is yet, and that’s what makes it a bad idea.

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Filed under . federal politics, Liberal Party of Canada, Michael Ignatieff

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