The Spectacle Blog

Does Canada’s Liberal Party Have a Rae of Hope?

By on 5.26.11 | 9:45AM

Yesterday, Bob Rae was chosen to be the interim leader of Canada's Liberal Party by its remaining MPs and Senators.

Earlier this month, the Liberals lost more than half their seats in Canada's federal election which saw Stephen Harper's Conservatives get a majority in the House of Commons and also saw the NDP supplant the Liberals as the Official Opposition.

Rae was chosen on the condition he not run for the party leadership on a permanent basis. Clearly, the Liberals still don't entirely trust him. After all, he spent most of his political career with the New Democratic Party (NDP). Indeed, when he was elected Premier of Ontario in 1990, it was at the expense of the Liberals. However, Rae fell out of favor with the NDP not to mention the Ontario electorate which unceremoniously tossed him from power in 1995. Rae eventually broke with the party in 2002 and would join the Liberals in 2006. He was not successful in his two previous attempts to win the party's leadership in either 2006 or 2008. Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff won those contests and both men led the Liberals to successive electoral disasters.

The only other candidate was former Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau. Rae is expected to lead the Liberals for 18 to 24 months before a new leader is picked at a party convention. Garneau is widely expected to seek the party leadership at that time.

If nothing else, the Liberals get an experienced hand in Rae. But will it be enough? Has the NDP permanently overtaken the Liberals as Canada's main alternative to the Conservatives? Or can he give Liberals "a Rae of hope"? If the Conservatives don't perform well in a majority government situation and the NDP cannot captalize, it could present an opening for Rae. If he performs well enough, Liberals could reconsider prohibiting Rae from running for the party leadership on a permanent basis. If Rae can somehow manage that and then be elected Prime Minister, he will have pulled off the greatest comeback in Canadian political history.

On a footnote, Greg Weston has written an interesting post-mortem about the Liberals collapse. Of course, from the moment Ignatieff decided to bring down the Tory government and trigger the election I asked what on earth he and his party were thinking not only due to the Liberals' low standing in the polls but his own approval ratings. I remained mystified following the election. Weston notes that when a senior Liberal Party strategist was asked why the Liberals were doing this his reply was, "It's pretty much que sera sera."

Needless to say, I think this will be last time the Liberals seek out Doris Day for political advice.

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