{Bring Back} Those 'Rae Days'?

Caricature/portrait of Liberal 'interim' leader, Bob Rae, who, alongside his Liberal colleagues, held a week-long gathering to try and do a post-mortem on the last election and plot their path back to being the self-proclaimed 'Natural Governing Party'. I met the man and his wife at one of the many social functions for various organizations in Ottawa. He was charming, self-deprecating, and a gifted 'small talker' who quickly engaged in a discussion on his favorite Editorial Cartoonists from Gillray to the present Canadian talent. A cynic might say: but isn't this the stock-and-trade of a politician? What might surprise some was Rae confided that he was working on a book devoted to his hero, 'conservative' philosopher Edmund Burke.

Rae is a gifted politician but his career was plagued either by mistiming or misjudgement [some would say both]. He was seen as the natural successor to Broadbent but grew impatient waiting for the latter to retire and jumped to the provincial stage where he achieved the improbable: an NDP win in Ontario. The night of that election would prove the highlight. His misfortune was to achieve power when the economy was in free-fall and his policy options were limited. The initiatives that were implemented - the infamous 'Rae days' - achieved two diametrically opposed results: they disillusioned the core base of the NDP faithful; while hardening the antipathy of the NDP's opponents who were dumbfounded to find Ontario in the hands of an NDP government. Rae was in desperate need of a 'Second Act'. Having governed, he could no longer abide by the ideological- left NDP rhetoric.

His move to the Liberal fold was not a bridge too far: his brother was a trusted advisor to Jean Chretien, and Rae's experience in government made him appreciate the art of compromise which, for better or for worse, the Liberals claim with pride as evidenced by their self-promoting title as being the 'Natural Governing Party'.

However, politics is a blood sport. Very few politicians survive the change from provincial to federal politics; much less the cross from one party to another. When Rae ran for the Liberal leadership, rank-and-file Liberals begrudged his former membership to the NDP and his legacy of 'Rae Days' in Ontario. They opted instead for Stephan Dion and then his former friend and rival, Michael Ignatieff. Rae's acknowledgement of how his career has passed came in the face of the warm reception he received last week; noting such respect came a little 'too late'.

Rae's legacy? Disappointment or potential not quite fully realized if the curtain were to close right now. And that is how I opted to depict him: he wrings his hands while his lips are pursed in dissatisfaction.

However, 'Interim' Liberal leader may in fact become 'defacto' leader; the NDP in opposition have many tough challenges in the face of Layton's death and a very insecure team; and Stephen Harper is acknowledged by even his party as a charmless man; so a 'Third Act' may still be a reality for Rae.


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