Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae peered into his crystal ball last weekend and predicted that “interesting” times lay ahead in Parliament.
He was right. But, honestly, it wasn’t much of a prediction: Rae is widely credited with being the guy who first called for Canada to keep on fighting in Afghanistan — and well beyond the June 2011 pullout date decreed by Parliament. He knew what he was doing. He usually does.
Rae, more than any other member of Parliament, ultimately influenced the Harper government’s decision to stay in Afghanistan and fight some more. It’s ironic: Hawkish Conservatives who wanted to extend the combat mission are now offering silent thanks to Sgt. Rae for jumping into the figurative foxhole with them, and cheerfully providing cover.
And provide cover he did.
For years to come, political scientists will ponder how a genial, peace-loving former NDP politician was transformed into such a tough-talking hawk. After all, this is the same man who once declared that Canada’s participation in such conflicts “isn’t the wisest and best course for the world or Canada.” He said that in January 1991, when he was Ontario’s NDP Premier, and when the Mulroney cabinet chose to help remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Said Rae at the time: “Is this a cause for which I would be willing to go to the desert and fight for? The answer is no.”
Well, that was then and this is now, I guess. If asked, Rae will have a suitably plausible explanation for his change of heart about all this war stuff. He usually does.
And he certainly was persuasive with Michael Ignatieff, wasn’t he? The Liberal leader came to embrace the same view as his foreign affairs deputy — and as far back as last spring, too.
But the Liberal caucus, and the Liberal grassroots? They’re not too happy. They’re not convinced.
In the second half of Rae’s “interesting” week, newspapers were full of detailed reports of how angry Liberal MPs were — about the flip-flop, about the fact that they weren’t consulted, about Rae’s blase agreement that there should be no debate in Parliament. Most of the Grit MPs refused to speak on the record, however.
The Liberal blogs, meanwhile, weren’t so shy. They’re mad as hell.
One blogger, Burlington, Ont.’s Kyle Hutton, wrote: “Let’s hold a vote. Let’s hold meetings, committee hearings, and hammer out compromises and issues that will benefit our soldiers and our country. That’s the right thing to do.”
Jim Curran, a long-time party activist, was livid: “At a time when the prime minister of Canada just proved he clearly lied to Canadians when he said the mission in Afghanistan would end in 2011, we have the Liberal leader backing him up on his lie … This is a FARCE. Canadians — rightly or wrongly — want our troops home.”
The much-read M.J. Murphy, under his “Big City Lib” handle, was equally blunt: “(It’s a) backroom deal between the Tories and the Liberals … What else can you call it? A deal that, frankly, excludes a good portion of the Liberal Party’s MPs as well as the nation’s citizenry from a meaningful role in the decision.”
Another one — “GritChik,” whose cousin recently enlisted in the Forces — said she was “unbelievably proud” of the military, but not her party. “Through all the political gamesmanship … Harper and Ignatieff have managed to do the one thing I never thought possible: They’re making Jack Layton look like a leader.”
Will the Liberal Party survive all of this internal turmoil? Of course. It’s got a strong brand, still, and some fierce partisans. It’ll get through this.
But for many years to come, Grits will be puzzling over how a piano-playing NDP peacenik became a hard-nosed pro-war advocate. And if they ask him, of course, Bob Rae will have a suitably clever explanation.
He usually does.
— Kinsella is a lawyer, consultant and Liberal Party spin-doctor. He blogs at warrenkinsella.com