Friday, October 31, 2008

The Case for Bob Rae as Liberal Leader

In the last year Bob Rae has shown himself to be the most effective spokesperson the Liberal party has. When he was finally unleashed mid-campaign, he led the most effective challenge to Harper of any Liberal. He is so good that he's the guy the media calls to address high-profile issues like the latest cabinet appointments. He is incredibly effective, and yet he has a sense of humor; he's respectful to our opponents; and he is always responsible and loyal to the party. He is the best leadership material we've had in a long, long time.

Don't get me wrong. I don't hate Michael Ignatieff. He just pales by comparison. With two years experience in politics under his belt, he hasn't yet got what it takes. He sounds like the academic he is, and that really puts people off. He has a tough cynical streak which would be a huge improvement on our current leader, but his effectiveness is not quite there.

Yes, there are criticisms that Bob Rae carries "baggage" from his time as Premier of Ontario. I have countered those impressions before and I'll do it again.

So you think Bob Rae did a poor job running Ontario?
When Bob Rae assumed office, the province was faced with an economic crisis -- a deepening recession, unprecedented competitive challenges from a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., high interest rates, an overvalued dollar and a budget deficit of several billion dollars rather than the surplus predicted by the prior administration. Over 300,000 manufacturing jobs were lost between 1989 and 1992.

When the Rae government approached the end of its term, Ontario led the way in growth among the provinces and had one of the strongest economies in the G7. Surveys showed strong consumer and business confidence.

Private sector investment was back with billions in capital spending. Labour productivity was at an all-time high, as were manufacturing exports. Health-care costs were under much improved control as part of a broader strategy that was reducing the deficit.

- Tim Armstrong, Ontario's Deputy Minister of Labor and Industry under Davis, Peterson and Rae. (Read the entire article here.)

Here's some more info about Bob's time as premier:
Back in 1995, Ontario was pretty mad at Bob Rae. The anger was fuelled by the civil service unions, who were furious that he instituted unpaid days off. But the continent was in the worst recession since the Great Depression and Ontario's deficit was so high that it was driving down our bond rating, which in turn was increasing the cost of borrowing for the province. Rae, like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, is socially progressive and fiscally responsible. Recessions are pretty rough times to govern, and I don't think Rae made any decisions that he has to apologise for.

Despite the economic turmoil during his time as Premier of Ontario, Rae accomplished a great deal, including:

- 42% of his cabinet was female (that's by far the best ever in Canada)
- he created child care spaces and extended parental leave
- he enacted employment equity and pay equity
- he raised the minimum wage
- he legalized midwives and birthing centers
- he instituted same sex spousal benefits for civil servants
- he enacted pro-labor legislation (including anti-scab laws)

Read the entire article here.

Do you believe that Rae is unpopular in Ontario? On October 18, 2006, the Globe & Mail wrote:
...29 per cent of Ontarians believe Mr. Rae would be the best prime minister, well higher than the 22 per cent who picked Mr. Ignatieff and the 20 and 21 per cent, respectively, who picked Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Dion, respectively.

"It puts to the test — or to the lie — the notion that Rae carries the most baggage in the province of Ontario and that his five years as premier makes him unacceptable," said Allan Gregg, chairman of the Strategic Counsel.

Here are some quotes from survey reports written during the last leadership campaign:

* "Dryden and Rae are significantly ahead of other contenders among the general public"
* "Rae does comparatively well in Ontario, where he is in first place"
* "NDP voters are disproportionately attracted to Rae"
* "Bob Rae continues to hold a lead in the number of people who say they would vote Liberal or consider voting Liberal if he was leader... In Ontario, Rae enjoys a wider lead..."
* "Bob Rae has increased his potential to draw soft NDP support, which is a very important segment of voters for the Liberal party to focus on."
* To the question, "Which candidate would make the best Prime Minister?", Liberal party members who said they were going to vote in the candidate selection ballots answered Igantieff 16%, Rae 15%; and in Ontario they answered 18% for both. These were the highest scores of any candidates.

Some quotes from the November 29, 2006 Toronto Star editorial, Rae Our Choice to Lead the Liberals:

"Bob Rae stands out as the best choice to lead the Liberals because of his vision, progressive policies and experience."

"Giving shape to his activism, Rae has put forward a wide range of progressive policy proposals. Within the context of a balanced federal budget, he would increase grants and loans for higher education, invest in research and development, make better use of immigrants' skills, invest in "green" power, reinvest in cities, increase income tax credits and child support for needy working families, expand employment insurance and bring in catastrophic drug coverage. On Afghanistan and Mideast policy, he has taken sensible stands. And on the Quebec-as-nation issue, he only grudgingly went along with the misguided parliamentary consensus, saying that it was a debate he would not have initiated."

"He offers the best prospect of renewing the party, moving it boldly forward in a socially progressive direction and giving Canadians the government they deserve."


Anonymous said...

Great post. Bob would indeed make a great leader.

Marc Bernard said...

Qualified or not, I think there's too much ammunition there for the pooping penguins. Even if Ontarians could be convinced to give Bob a try, the rest of the country will believe whatever misleading ad they see on television.

Anonymous said...

I hope Bob has some ideas this time, if he runs. (The Globe today suggests he may well take a pass.) In 2006 he ran on his intrinsic Bob-ness, and that alone. This party is too bad a shape - no clearly articulated principles, no money, no organization - to just elect a guy leader solely because he decided to run.

Also, from the Globe it appears that people who know how to get Liberals elected, in particular Don Guy, see Ignatieff as the best hope. So do a lot of people across the country.

Ignatieff is what we need to win now and to get the best of a new generation of people - MPs, back-room types, and organizers - involved in rebuilding the party for the future.

Rae has a lot to offer, but just not as leader.

Yappa said...

Hi marc -

You make a valid point. And yet the Harper machine doesn't need an old complaint to use against our Liberal leader. They create them out of thin air. The only way we can defend against the "XXX is not a leader" type of attack is to respond effectively. To stand up to Harper, we need a fighter. Both Rae and Ignatieff are fighters, but Rae is more effective, IMO.

Yappa said...

Anonymous at 4:01 -

A Conservative troll, I think?

Bob Rae had a platform. I even mention it in my post (in the final quote from the Toronto Star's endorsement of him).

Anonymous said...

Yappa - Because I don't think that Bob should be leader I am a Conservative troll? You must expect that Bob will run unopposed!

No troll here. I worked for Liberals on the Hill, and in the last few elections. Just like you say about Ignatieff, I don't hate Rae, Ignatieff is simply a better candidate.

As to the Rae platform, there may have been a document last time around, but it certainly wasn't the focus of the campaign, or even discussed in great detail by the candidate.

Look, Rae is a good candidate, Ignatieff is just a better one. That's it. Perhaps I am the only commenter on this blog who thinks so, but there are tons of Liberals out there who agree with me.

Eugene Forsey Liberal said...

Good post.

KC said...

If it comes down to Rae and Iggy, I'm with Rae. I'd like to see who comes out of the woodwork before really jumping on the bandwagon; but as between those two Rae is the guy. Better politician, less foot-in-mouth, more pragmatic, and didn't support the war in Iraq.

I just hope Rae can get past his record in Ontario. I know politicians often unfairly wear recessions, and frankly I think forcing the public service to share in the pain of economic bad times (which Rae did) only makes sense. Public sector wages should not continue to grow while the overall economy contracts.

Having said that Rae undoubtedly made some bad decisions, and fair or not, lots of people blame him for those bad times. We'll see if he can fight back that perception.

On the other hand it would be interesting to see how the contrast between Rae's jovial nature, and Harper's cold aloofness in an election time.

Tootrusting said...

Rae has baggage, Ignatieff has baggage, Dion had a little baggage.

Harper has a ton of baggage.

It all depends how it's handled.

Hopefully we have learned that Lesson.

Yappa said...

To anonymous at 4:33 -

I apologise for calling you a troll. ;-) I'm getting a little cynical about anonymous commenters. In the last leadership race there were a lot of anonymous comments on Liberal blogs that made untrue criticisms of frontrunner candidates, and after the fact I started to think that they were Conservative muckrakers. When you said Rae had no ideas, which seems so patently untrue, it made me suspicious. But I respect different opinions on leadership.

RuralSandi said...

Yappa - I wouldn't trust the rumour mills of the Globe and Mail. Rae has announced he is running, yet the Globe put doubt on it. They're becoming very unreliable as a news sources - gossip, rumour, innuendo and nothing else it seems.

Harper and his gang of negative planning committee probably already have their "attack" packages for both Rae and Ignatieff and are now probably preparing one for LeBlanc.

I think the Liberals should learn from Obama - Obama used a rapid response to the McCain campaign attack machine (Kerry didn't and the negativity festered).

I'm definately not for Rae. Sorry, but I just can't bring myself to his direction with Chretien/Power Corp. and his brother involved. It just smells like the old backroom stuff again and I think the Party has been damaged by all that nonsense.

Remember as well - Rae won in a very Liberal riding - no challenge there.

Anonymous said...

Yappa - no offence taken.

The point of my critique of Rae is not that he has no ideas, its that his campaign was aloof from policy and a vision for the future of the party last time around. I know he's a smart guy, but I, and many people I spoke to in and since Montreal '06 said that he didn't seem engaged in any ideas beyond him being leader. His was a campaign based on personality, experience, and a lot of atoning for the failures in that experience. That, to me, was not a campaign or candidate that seemed to be interested in winning my vote. More like taking it for granted. Maybe this time he will be different, but I still think Ignatieff is better.

Anonymous said...

Everyone has baggage (Frankly, in politics, if you don't have any baggage it likely means you haven't done anything to make you worthy of the job).

But I happen to think that Rae's particular brand of baggage isn't the kind we should handle right now. Fairly or unfairly Rae has been branded as having been a bad manager in a recession and given the economic outlook I'd hate to go into a recession election with someone who has that brand attached.

It's true that the connies are going to try to do a political hit job on whoever emerges but it's much easier for them to do so if the CW already backs it up. I'm no fan of (nor opposed to) Ignatieff, I'm really hoping Manley jumps in actually, but I'd rather he then Rae. Nothing against Rae... I think he just has poor timing is all.

Manchild said...

I am pumped that Rae is a leadership candidate again. He is a very good human being I for one think he did an excellent job as premier of Ontario.

The problem is that the conservatives primarily, and the NDP to some degree, will disparage him relentlessly due to some of his decisions as premier - including Rae Days. Everyone should be reminded that in Manitoba there were Filmon Fridays where most civil servants had to take Friday's off. Gary Filmon was the Conservative premier and very few whined about Filmon Fridays.

Harper has tons of baggage from his right wing past and he got elected. Liberals need to learn how to fight fire with fire.

Yappa said...

Thanks to all. Lots of good comments. But there's one thing we're missing in considering the optics of his time as Ontario premier - Rae has experience running a large province (and running one during a recession to boot), while Ignatieff has no executive experience. Dion was pilloried by Harper, but we shouldn't be fighting the last election. In terms of choosing a leader who is best qualified to be prime minister, Rae is the one.

That doesn't refute people's concerns, but it's still a pretty important consideration.

Anonymous said...

I think Marc Bernard is wrong. It's *only* in Ontario that Rae might conceivably have a problem with his alleged baggage. Outside Ontario, nobody cares.

Anonymous said...

Bob Rae nice guy or not but if he becomes the leader we may as well not run any candidates west of Ontario.
That will be it we wil be done as a national party, forever.
We will never recover from that.
I doubt he can be rehabilitated in Ontario either but we need to rebuild in the west and with Bob Rae as leader we would be done forever.

Anonymous said...

The reality is Rae had the MOST delegates from BC out of ALL the leadership candidates so this idea that he can't play out west is BS. And let's get real here, polls were done in the last election comparing how each of the candidates would run against Harper and Rae did better than Ignatieff in some polls.

It's just as plausible that the NDP could become the official opposition with Ignatieff as leader. While Liberals touted the website the NDP would buy and point out all the similarities in his foreign policy to George Bush. They'll have a field day painting him as the most right wing Liberal leader in history. I don't think the NDP can ever get over 25% of the vote, but I also don't think the Liberals could EVER form govt if the NDP get even 20% in any given election.

And then there's the fact that the Green Shift was HIS idea in his original platform and he wants.

He may flip flop (as Hillary Clinton did on numerous issues in her failed campaign) but it still speaks to his judgment.

Anonymous said...

Yappa: May I just say that I think you're making a mistake thinking that people vote from the position of reason and that if they only knew the "truth" they'd see that reason. They don't, as Lakoff has written, albeit about elections in the U.S. Lakoff asserts that 18th century enlightenment ideas don't work for 21st c politics, so no matter how many articles you quote that refute Rae's reputation as provincial PM, and no matter how much "sense" they make to you, these articles will never alter the opinions, enlightened or not, of the average voter.

You only have to look at the campaigns in recent elections both here and in the U.S. Both rest on rumours and lies. "Facts" and the "truth," and "reason" don't count and even Obama knows that. His campaign is waged on ephemeral ideas, people's hopes and dreams--and that's not appealing to reason but to emotion.


Yappa said...

Hi BC -

All good points. But looking at recent US history, the Rovian strategy is to attack not the opponent's weakness but his or her strength. That leaves the attacked person less able to respond effectively. happened to the Republicans painting straight-arrow Gore as a delusional liar or painting war hero Kerry as a coward.

In that sort of tactic, it doesn't matter what your baggage is: they'll make something up. The Harper Conservatives are very nasty and aggressive, and whoever we elect, they'll come up with a devastatingly cruel line of attack and use their enormous war chest to sell it to the public.

Having said that, I don't think Rae offers any more fodder than Ignatieff or the rest. Choose another low-key, less aggressive type and he'll just get steamrolled as Dion was.

I really believe that we need to focus more on who is the best qualified to be PM, and in that regard, Rae is heads and shoulders above the rest. He ran Canada's largest province during a recession - and no, he didn't do a bad job, he left the province in excellent economic shape (as I argue in the post). Plus, he enacted all sorts of progressive laws like legalizing midwifery (again, see the post for a sizable list).

We also need someone who can fight back, and Rae's 30 years of successful political experience show just how effective he is. said...

Bob Rae is undeniably one of Canada's premier statesmen and could be a force to restore dignity and decorum at home and abroad.

I do not favour a particular leadership candidate as there is no definitive line-up. That said, Mr. Rae was one of the first political leaders I met. To this day he stands out in my mind as intelligent, caring, and sincere. He would definitely bring a lot of good things to the table.

Marc Bernard said...

> It's *only* in Ontario that Rae
> might conceivably have a problem
> with his alleged baggage. Outside
> Ontario, nobody cares.

Nobody cares now, but once the avalanche of "not a leader - too much baggage" ads hit, they'll start to care. People will believe almost anything, as we've just seen. Some folks I've talked to were in a panic about the Green Shift, but none of them could tell me what it was, or how it worked. All their information came from the attack ads.

Think of it as Conservative ammunition, rather than baggage, which is sad, because I think Rae is a strong candidate.