July 15, 2011

'Bob the Rebuilder's' summer project

Nearly five years ago I wrote in this column: "If a member of Canada's Liberal Party awoke this week from a 20-year coma to find Bob Rae as a serious contender for the party's leadership, he or she probably would conclude the following: Rae has come to his political senses, or the party has lost its collective mind."

Well, here we are five years later and Bob Rae, the former New Democratic Party (NDP) premier of Ontario, is indeed leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and some observers would say those comatose Liberals might as well go lights out for another long spell before Rae, or any other Liberal, becomes prime minister.

Rae is the son of a respected Canadian diplomat, Rhodes scholar, labour lawyer, star MP in the NDP caucus in Ottawa, and, in a stunning surprise victory in 1990, head of the first government formed by a socialist party in Canada's most powerful province.

Now, thanks largely to the inability of his former college roommate Michael Ignatieff to win the hearts and votes of many Canadians in the May 2 election, the job of leader of the party that dominated the country for the 20th century falls to Rae. Unfortunately for Rae, his frat buddy has left him to clean up a party that can fairly be described as in a shambles, and, if you believe some commentators, on the verge of extinction. (Which reminds us, what ever happened to the American Whig party?)

The Liberals hold 34 seats in the 308-seat Parliament, making them the third party behind the NDP's 103 (59 of which are in Quebec), and the Conservatives majority contingent of 166.

Rae, who finished third in the leadership contest mentioned in the beginning, behind Ignatieff and winner Stephane Dion — who lasted one election that netted the Liberals 77 seats — offered himself as interim leader and agreed to two conditions: He would not run for the leadership (at a convention targeted for 2013), and he would not seek a merger with the NDP.

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