Politics - Federal

Rae Withdraws, Ignatieff is Liberal Leader

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 09, 2008

Michael Ignatieff will be the new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

The stars all aligned behind Michael Ignatieff's steamroller bid to take leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada before the new Parliamentary session opens on January 26. The Liberals, including outgoing lame duck Stéphane Dion, agreed on the need to replace their leader before the new Parliamentary session opens on January 26, and Michael Ignatieff was a shoo-in once Dominic LeBlanc dropped out and backed him.

Bob Rae, the other high-profile candidate to lead the Liberals, agreed with the need to fast-track the process but until today contested its narrowness, saying such an important vote should go out to all Liberal members, not just the party caucus.

Yet given the clear majority support for Ignatieff in the party caucus, it's hard not to conclude that Rae's real grievance was that he couldn't win this way.

In any case, Rae has conceded his leadership bid, presumably deciding that the beleagured Party's need for solidarity trumped his desire to protract the leadership selection process.

The unfortunate fact is that Bob Rae would be disastrous as leader of the federal Liberals. He simply cannot escape the legacy with which he is saddled in the public consciousness. Millions of voters loathe Bob Rae and would rather stay home than vote for a Liberal candidate while he is the party leader. It would be like the recent election - but even worse.

This is particularly unfortunate because Rae has a much better political track record than most people think and would otherwise make an excellent leader of a centre-left progressive party that could actually win a majority in the House of Commons and form a relatively stable new government.

Rae's Hijacked Legacy

I've written before that Bob Rae would make a great Liberal Leader. He's a smart, pragmatic (some would say ruthless) centre-left coalition builder with a long history of working the Parliamentary system to his advantage.

It was Rae who pulled the plug on Prime Minister Joe Clark's ill-fated Progressive Conservative government of 1979 when, as the NDP's finance critic, he attached a no-confidence rider to Clark's budget bill.

It was also Rae who finally finally broke the uninterrupted 42-year run of Progressive Conservative governments in Ontario. After the PC Party won the 1985 Provincial election with a minority, Rae and Liberal leader David Peterson agreed to a two-year Liberal-NDP Accord that promptly defeated the newly-elected PC government in a motion of no confidence and formed a shared government with a more progressive agenda than the Liberals would have had themselves.

When the NDP narrowly won the 1990 election, they inherited an economy sliding rapidly into the worst recession in decades and managed to alienate nearly the entire province as they abandoned campaign promises, ran huge deficits to respond to the recession, tripped on a series of gaffes and minor scandals, and finally lost their own base as they struggled to regain control over provincial finances in their last two years.

Big business and the corporate media always despised the NDP, and their expensive but underwhelming stimulus spending, coupled with Rae's "social contract" and the hated "Rae days" for public sector workers, pissed off nearly everyone else. Proving that a good compromise leaves everyone mad, they went down in ignominous defeat in 1995 to the Conservative Party's faux-populist "Common Sense Revolution".

Big-Tent Progressive or Partisan Liberal?

Rae left provincial politics in 1996 and gradually completed his transition from a left-wing firebrand to a centre-left "middle way" liberal. It was only a matter of time until he joined the federal Liberal Party, and in 2006 he announced that he wanted to unite the centre-left federal parties under a progressive banner to appeal to a majority of Canadians.

So it's no surprise that Rae embraced the recent federal Liberal-NDP coalition and is its most vocal promoter during Prime Minister Stephen Harper's seven-week snooze button on democracy.

Yet the coalition is unlikely to survive Ignatieff's ascension to the leadership of the Liberals. On the advice of his handlers, he has kept his distance from the coalition. More recently, he has made noises to indicate that the Liberals will not vote to topple Harper's government in January as long as the budget includes significant concessions to the Opposition.

Instead, we can expect the Liberals to follow centrist John Manley's advice to focus first on rebuilding the party, filling its campaign coffers, modernizing its structure and preparing a new election program "just in case it is needed" so the Liberals can campaign and win on their own terms without the help of the NDP.

This may be better for the Liberal Party as such, but it will almost certainly lead to another government formed from a party with a minority of seats and further instability from a fractured House of Commons - particularly since Ignatieff represents the more centrist, cautious, Red Tory wing of the Liberal Party.

A Liberal-NDP coalition running as such in an election may well have a better chance of winning a majority - of the popular vote as well as seats in the House of Commons - and a strong mandate to form a progressive government that reflects the values of most Canadians.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Grit (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2008 at 12:36:37

Manley is correct, the Liberals need to get there act together and get the party running smoothly before they're ready to form a government and run the country smoothly. Let Harper take this recession on the chin, it will only help the Liberals when Harper fiddles while people lose there jobs.

Iggy is also correct, rightly or wrongly Canadians just don't want a coalition government, it's foreign to our way of government even if they do it in Europe. If we're going to accept a coalition government it's because we elected it, not because the losing parties played parliamentary games.

Again, it doesn't matter if it's right or wrong, they're the voters and there opinion matters even if they don't understand how parliament works. Iggy has to campaign for the voters we have not the voters he wishes we had.

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By Johnny (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2008 at 12:37:14

Come on, who are you kidding? The Liberal Party is a train wreck ready to happen but just getting closer and closer. To be so desperate to battle Harper and his version of Parliament is so pathetic and obvious to Canadians that it seems that they are completely disorganized and totally out of touch. Whether you like Rae or not, there is a democratic process that should of been followed here, but once again the Liberals appease only themselves. Harper can do no wrong, his mistake was suspending Parliament, if he hadn't he surely would of gotten his majority but I think Quebec scared him straight.

What ever happened to the guy who replaced Copps in Hamilton?

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By Mighton (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2008 at 12:58:34

I guess it was only a matter of time before the libs put out Harper-lite. I guess at least now the right-wing vote is split.

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By Makin Dealz (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2008 at 13:10:12

Interesting that Rae was the biggest critic of having the Lib caucus pick the new leader, but then he stepped aside to let them pick Ignatieff by acclamation thus avoiding an ugly backroom selection process. I wonder what Rae was offered to get out of the way, especially since the Liberal party seems to be swinging back to the right?

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By gullchasedship (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2008 at 20:49:46

Bob Rae gutted the health care system by cutting doctor's salaries almost in half and cutting seats in medical schools severely. We're still recovering and it's over ten years later. My father is a physician, and there was one year when his income tax bill from the previous year was higher than his salary. And he was one of the doctors who stayed.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted December 09, 2008 at 22:34:40

Mr Rae got his marching orders from the higher ups. Sit down and be quiet. I do not like the liberals, I feel they do not represent the people that struggle period, but then neither do the conservatives.

As things get wrose, these political elites will start fumbling over themselves, as the people really start to see just how much they are ignored in their struggles.

These guys represent the elites, the globalists, they are part of a even greater group that will not stop until the people are reduced to slavery.

Do you hear people, they want the poor to work for $2.00 a day, like one can survive on that kind of money in our society, NOT.

Put aside your partisanship and start loooking at the reality. The rich look out for the rich, everyone else is only the fodder, as someone said the other day, Canada has never seen a revolt, maybe it is time that they did.

Wake up people!!!!!!!!!!

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