Rae of hope
“Go home!” several Occupiers shouted on the first day of the Occupy Toronto, telling Liberal interim leader Bob Rae to leave the gathering that was occurring in his riding, because as a wealthy politician he did not belong among the protesters, nor was his presence especially welcome.
The sentiment of the protesters was obvious, but Rae, rather than acknowledging this unpopularity and retreating, pushed onward into the crowd. Later, Rae tweeted, “Spent a couple of hours at St James Park, good conversations with people who ‘want their Canada back’” with no mention of the heckling he received or the animosity his presence garnered.
Some might compare his obliviousness to the blissful ignorance demonstrated by both Michael Ignatieff and Dwain Lingenfelter in this year’s federal and provincial elections, but Bob Rae manages to make this optimism seem upbeat and deliberate rather than desperate and obtuse. More and more, Rae and his Liberal Party are looking like they might be back on the path to regaining some of the ground they lost in May.
That is not to say the Liberal Party will at least become the Official Opposition in 2015, returning the NDP to third-party status and regaining its position as Canada’s second-founding party, but it is certainly a start if the party ever wants to be relevant again. Rae has a long, uphill battle before him, and according to the current Liberal strategy only two years to lay the foundation for rebuilding the party.
Despite his temporary status, his plan actually looks fairly engaging. His move to bring about a National Suicide Prevention Strategy is not only timely, but something that can win him a lot of political capital with very little struggle, as it’s not only a strategy long overdue, but one that cannot really be argued against without looking callous. Rae is also hinting that the Liberals might try to select a new leader in two years using an American-style primary system. While such a suggestion causes many to instinctively recoil from the idea of an Americanization of our democratic process, is actually not a bad idea when it comes to garnering involvement in the party and the election.
What is probably most interesting is that Rae also doesn’t seem to hold any grudge against his party, which passed him over twice for leaders who were considerably less able than Rae has proven to be. In the political landscape of the Liberal Party, which demands instant victory and sends you to the chopping block if you fail, he has staying power that’s uncommon among his colleagues and enough charisma to muster a public image that the Conservatives can’t – or at least haven’t bothered to – smear.
This intrepid attitude has also won him some supporters, and early comments on news stories about him suggest that Canadians are coming around to his style of leadership. Some have expressed anger that he will only be allowed to lead for two years when he is so obviously capable of more than just interim leader in lieu of someone ridiculous and polarizing (see Justin Trudeau or Stephane Dion, part two).
To be fair, Rae has it pretty easy as interim Liberal leader when the top brass of the Official Opposition NDP is absent, caught in an unfortunate and inevitably bitter leadership race. News of Nycole Turmel speaking is limited, while Rae and the remainder of the Liberals take the spotlight. Whether this is indeed because of a lack of veteran New Democrats in the house to speak out loudly or because of a leftover aversion to covering the NDP from its time as the fourth party in the House of Commons, it is certainly beneficial to Bob Rae, making it possible for his voice to be heard in a house where his party can no longer assume it will always be safe. What he’s done is remarkable, and for Liberals, it is certainly a relief after seven years of bumbling, faux pas, and failure.
Bob Rae might not be around long enough to rebuild the Liberal Party, but he is certainly leading it in the right direction for now, and as long as he keeps his careful optimism, he might just leave his mark.