Bob Rae Liberal leader : girl in convertible worth five in phone book?

Feb 27th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

Laureen Harper and Bob Rae share a joke (or something) at Writers’ Trust of Canada Politics and the Pen fundraising, Fairmont Château Laurier in Ottawa, March 10, 2010.

In today’s Toronto Star Angelo Persichilli alludes once again to the prospects of Bob Rae as a future leader of the still much beleaguered Liberal Party of Canada: “I’m not saying Rae wants his party to defeat the government and force an election to accelerate the departure of his friend Michael Ignatieff.”  But …

Mr. Persichilli goes on: “The Liberal leader is clearly in trouble. While Peter Donolo’s wizardry helped Ignatieff flip hamburgers during the summer, he hasn’t exactly found a way to flip the polls … last week a respected Liberal strategist told me that ‘even if we don’t like it, we have to start looking at Bob Rae as the only person who can successfully lead the Liberal party in the near future’ … This feeling is shared by many other Liberals who have lost hope in the once-heralded prophet from the south.”

Persichilli also urges that “many NDP MPs would not be happy to face Rae in a general election and I’m sure even Stephen Harper would feel more comfortable debating Ignatieff.” My own feeling is that Rae would almost certainly be better at attracting stray New Democrats. But we still have yet to see how Harper vs. Ignatieff might play out in an election campaign TV debate. (Their encounters in the Canadian House of Commons are too blurred by other noise: but even here Iggy does recurrently show some impressive enough debating weight and heft.)

Moreover, Michael Ignatieff is Liberal leader right now instead of his friend Bob Rae, largely because when push came to shove a few years back too many Liberals perceived Rae’s controversial record as Ontario’s first New Democratic premier as too much of a liability. (Cf., eg, Curiosity Cat back in the fall of 2006: “will he allow Harper to frame the discussion as a competition between an efficient government [Harper’s] and a failed Premier, using Rae’s tenure to demonstrate the failures”?)

Of course, still more water has passed under the bridge over the past four years. Already the all-too-short-memoried Canadian body politic may have largely forgotten Bob Rae’s tenure as “the 21st Premier of Ontario from October 1, 1990 to June 26, 1995.” And Stephen Harper has had his own chance to fight the latest great recession using an only slightly kinder and gentler version of the earlier 1990s strategy followed by Bob Rae in Ontario.

Bob Rae certainly has a distinguished career, entirely within Canadian politics — from his 20-year-old work on the Pierre Trudeau Liberal leadership campaign to his controversial but nonetheless historic stint as first NDP Premier of Ontario, to his current incarnation as federal Liberal MP for a riding that was once a heartland of the ancient Tory Toronto (which has now, it seems, migrated almost intact to Stephen Harper’s Calgary of the early 21st century?)

Even so, I count myself among those who believe that the in-search-of-a-new-Trudeauesque-messiah syndrome is one of the federal Liberal party’s key current weaknesses. A month or so ago now, Gordon Gibson from BC was enthusing about the prospect “that a new Ignatieff Liberal message may be percolating … And its first element is ‘the claim that this will be an election about the team, not the leaders.’” This still seems the kind of inspired thinking (from another early supporter of Pierre Trudeau) that “Peter Donolo’s wizardry” ought to be paying more attention to than it seems to be doing.

Bob Rae reading in his home library, February 19, 2010. Photo : Della Rollins.

What about, eg, something like Michael Ignatieff and the 12 Apostles: from West to East, Ujjal Dosanjh, Joyce Murray, Ralph Goodale, Carolyn Bennett, Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy, Navdeep Bains, Denis Coderre, Justin Trudeau, Dominic LeBlanc, Scott Brison, and Siobhan Coady? In this setting Bob Rae is clearly an impressive figure. And the fact that, like Mr. Dosanjh from BC, he also has an earlier incarnation as an NDP provincial premier only adds to the attraction. It all brings to mind some poignant recent words on another only vaguely related subject from the sage of Omaha : “We could get lucky and find an opportunity to use some of our cash hoard at decent returns. That day can’t come too soon for me: To update Aesop, a girl in a convertible is worth five in the phone book.”

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