06.23.2013 09:24 AM

In Sunday’s Sun: in Rae’s yesterday walked his future

After big election upsets, like in British Columbia this year — or in Alberta last year, or federally the year before that — political people like to say knowingly, “Campaigns matter.”

Watching Rob Rae disappear down a parliamentary corridor on Wednesday — the arm of Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau draped over his shoulders — we were reminded that campaigns matter, but they aren’t everything.

Rae leaves politics after two stints as a federal member of Parliament — first as a New Democrat, then as an interim Liberal leader.

In Ontario, he was the first NDP premier in provincial history. Whatever he ran for — whatever he campaigned for — he seemed to get. (The big exception being in 2006, when both he and Michael Ignatieff lost to Stephane Dion in the Liberal leadership race. Because Dion ran a better campaign.) Rae reminds us, however, that one’s political past matters as much as one’s political campaign. Sometimes more so.

Rae, and his Liberal acolytes, never liked to hear it. But it was true, nonetheless: Rae’s past determined his political future.

He was, first and foremost, a New Democrat.

Jean Chretien, whose three majority campaigns were run by John Rae, Bob’s brother, tried many times to turn Bob Rae into a Liberal. He did not succeed. Rae was, and would remain for many years, a committed social democrat.

While that decision didn’t hurt Rae in his bid to become Ontario premier in 1990, it doomed him to failure thereafter.

During his half-decade in power, Rae presided over a government that was spectacularly inept.

For year after year, it was buffeted by scandal, economic calamity and social strife. It was arguably the worst government in Ontario’s history.

The genuine fondness many Liberals had for Bob Rae could not erase that stain on his political resume.

The disastrous 1990-1995 NDP reign indelibly marked Rae.

Privately, Rae was often enraged when reminded of this. When far from media cameras and microphones, Rae seemed to be astonished, and angry, that his NDP past had followed him into his desired Liberal future.

His advisers, too. Time and again they were told by other Liberals that Rae could never be leader because of his NDP past and his record. Try as they might, Rae’s coterie could not get the party to turn the page. They were great campaigners, but not that good.

The majority of people who enter politics do not do so to enrich themselves — Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau being top-of-mind exceptions, at least with respect to their expenses — but because they are convinced they are called. They do so because they believe they have been blessed with the twin gifts of strategy and leadership.

Bob Rae was like that. Throughout his political career, he believed his talents, and his undeniable campaigning skills, should have been more than enough. He therefore made certain to turn out for all of the big contests. But the parade always went past him, and all of the medals went to Dion, Ignatieff and, now, Trudeau.

Despite all that, he will be fine. Unlike most politicians, Rae is a very good lawyer. His mediation and negotiating skills will be in demand. If he wants to be a diplomat, like his father was, Harper will not deny him the opportunity.

Liberals (and others) will seek him out for his counsel, or to appear on stages with them. The media will continue to love him, because he is fast with a quip.

But, as his political career dwindles to a close, Bob Rae stands as the embodiment of the notion that campaigns don’t matter as much as politicos believe they do.

What matters most is your record. And, in government, Rae’s was not good. It just wasn’t.

Campaigns matter? Sure.

But, mostly, in political yesterday walks political today and tomorrow.

Ask Bob Rae. He knows.

18 Comments


  1. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /nfs/c05/h06/mnt/72829/domains/warrenkinsella.com/html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Austin So says:

    Really catty.

    It is incredibly disingenuous of you to comment about Rae’s tenure as Ontario premier, as an objective political critic when you were not there Warren, and instead relying on media perceptions and pundits for your judgement instead of fact.


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    frmr disgruntled Con now Happy Lib says:

    Id agree that Mr. Rae, at least in Ontario…..was ballot box poison……He wasn’t so loathed out West here……but mention his name to the Ontarians I had contact with, and the result was usually a string of unpleasantries.
    Sad that someone of such high intellect, passion, integrity, conscientiousness, and from personal experience, warmth……..was passed over for lesser beings.
    I still have the greatest respect for a man who almost single handedly rescued the Liberal Party from near extinction, after the train wreck(at least from an organizational standpoint) that was Michael Ignatieff.
    Mr. Rae made me proud to be a Liberal, and I wish him and his lovely wife Arlene well in all their future endeavours.


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    william Bill Malenfant says:

    a very good political review of this person career.i would like to see more people in this man views in this world of today,let,s hope there is some on the way,Trudeau may be one lets give him a chance and not rip him apart before he has at lease has a few bites at this world that now knows the time you went to the toilet yesterday and everything you done in the past and presume for the weeks and years ahead of how your going to lead….lets give all person the right to enter the field of politics without being put to the gutter before he or she has a chance to show there views to the people


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    GPAlta says:

    I think that a much more convincing argument could be made for the Mike Harris government as the worst in Ontario’s history. Yet some of the worst of them are still popular and powerful federal ministers. Image is everything, and the best liar wins in The Harper Country. Maybe Bob was just not good enough at lying and shifting blame to make it federally.


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    deb s says:

    why is it the public remembers soo much of the progressives errors…but someone like Harper gets forgiven at every turn. Are liberals just harsher critics then conservatives about their own? I Hope people like Harper are remembered for their mistakes more than their lucky moments. But I doubt it…just reading the NP and some poll putting Harper as one of the favoured PM’s of all time. I have to shake my head at the ridiculousness of how the past is repainted in splendor and the errors forgotten, well perhaps its just by the pundits and the media;P
    Bob Rae seems like a prince compared to the likes of Mike Harris, Rob Ford, Brian Mulrooney and any of the Harper contigent.


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      tf says:

      Those are my thoughts as well —
      If Warren’s hypotheses holds true, how did Christy Clark get elected in BC?
      Her history is devastating. From her first foray into politics at the university level to her federal record as a Liberal lackey, her spotted history should have followed her to BC but no one talked about it. How about her many failures as Deputy Premier and Education minister to quitting in the wake of BC Rail? Her return in 2011 has been mired in scandal after failure after backtrack after scandal and still she was elected!!! All because Adrian Dix backdated a memo in the late 90’s.
      I just can’t see how the 2 histories could balance each other and lead to the amnesia about Clark ~


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        deb s says:

        I know…its so annoying. There is soo much that could have been used against Christie. Dix made a fatal error by not going negative. But truth be told, the NDP voters and progressives just do more damage to the party by not bothering to show up. Where as the right wing never seem to miss elections…and they also willingly live with corruption in order to avoid so called socialism…its tragic.
        But that Dix thing infuriated me as they did pull some past indiscretion from the 90’s…the moment that happened Dix should have dumped all over Clarke…it was either his personal failing or he didnt hire the right PR team.
        another thing the rightwing seems to have…cutthroat political teams that go out and win the elections for their candidate …no matter the baggage…its baffling how much folks forget…the media and the candidates should be reminding the public of the past records of the political players.

        but bottom line…the people themselves should become more informed…thats the worst part of it…the public likes to be spoonfed…and its soo easy for the corruption to continue because of it!


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    Swervin' Merv says:

    Rae’s Ontario NDP record did sink him among federal Liberals in 2006, despite support from well-respected pragmatists like Ralph Goodale, before they were sufficiently humbled in national elections–twice–to begin to appreciate his value. As Premier, Rae at least fought until the end (winning his own seat in 1995), unlike McGuinty who bailed after he couldn’t buy a third Liberal majority in Ontario and had to face the music with a minority government!


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      GFMD says:

      Thing is, it sunk him because it had the NDP name attached to it. If he had done everything exactly the same but as a premier under the Liberal party, today he would be prime minister.


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        MCBellecourt says:

        Damned good one, too.


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    Dennis Mills says:

    You nailed it!


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    Mona says:

    I still remember the look on Bob’s young face covered by his huge horn-rimmed glasses when he realized he had won the Ontario election when interviewed on TV. He looked shocked, panicky, unprepared to govern with the disastrous Dipper team with no administrative experience whatsoever. In fact I think he blurted out something that sounded like he was gobsmacked realizing that his ‘government’ would be woefully inadequate if not incompetent. He was frightened at the prospect of governing Ontario and it showed.

    Regardless, Ontario survived somehow and Bob converted to the safety of the Liberal party, likely because he knew he was washed up as a Dipper. Harper feared Bob Rae, and that’s why the CPC produced that preemptive attack ad ridiculing the possibility that he could be the next Liberal leader in the succession from Dion to Iggy and finally to Rae. Instead, in their wisdom, the Liberal party and assorted political votes selected Justin Trudeau. What an ignominious end to Bob Rae’s political career and aspirations.


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      Noodle says:

      Out with the old and in with the new — it’s called generational change and God knows Liberals need rebuilding, remoulding, reforming, rebooting, if they want to recover.


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    Beth Higginson says:

    I believe that the Liberal party owes Bob Rae a lot for staying on after the Stephane Dion and Mchael Ignatieff losses and Mr Chretien also believes that he was a great parliamentarian.

    http://globalnews.ca/news/655782/chretien-on-rae-one-of-the-best/

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