In recent weeks, interim leader of the Liberal Party Bob Rae has been accused of being power-hungry, supposedly seeking the future position of permanent leadership. In his address to the Liberal Caucus on January 11th, Mr. Rae defended his reign as Premier of Ontario and discussed what the Liberals need to do to bring down the Harper regime in the future. The enthusiasm, vigor, and dedication he is employing to rebuild the Party are criticized by many as the characteristic signs of an impending race for permanent leadership. Columnist Michael Den Tandt even goes so far as to claim that Rae must “come clean” about his future plans.
The Liberal Party’s devastating loss in the May election, reducing the Party to 34 seats in the House of Commons and ceding the official Opposition to the NDP culminated with Michael Ignatieff revoking Party leadership. Rae was appointed interim leader by the Executive for a two-year term and committed to a non-binding agreement not to run for permanent leadership.
With speculation building that Rae will indeed seek to run as one of the candidates for permanent leadership, the media focus has shifted away from Rae’s performance as interim leader toward the potential advantage he would have in such a race. Additionally, Rae is being accused of contradicting Party policy and reneging on the informal contract.
Does Rae deserve to be facing such criticism? Should the focus be on Rae’s potential campaign for permanent leadership, or on his present performance as interim leader? As Rae argues, the Liberal Party should be focusing on how to win more seats in the 2015 election, regardless of which individual is leading that campaign. Rae does not need to “come clean” about his future plans at the moment, but instead needs to focus on rebuilding the Party and increasing support for it, which he is proving to do.
If the newly elected Executive votes to allow Rae to run in the future campaign for permanent leadership, calling the fairness of the race into question is a misguided opinion. As former President of the Liberal Party Alfred Apps argues, Rae would indeed have an unfair advantage over other candidates due to the large staff, travel capabilities, high visibility, and party records he has access to as interim leader. However, to even-out the playing field, potential candidates could resign five months prior to the leadership race, allowing for each candidate to campaign on a more equal level. Former MP Omar Alghabra agrees that this would help mitigate the unfair advantage Rae has due to his current prominent position.
Former Cabinet Minister Sheila Copps says that the Liberal Party’s constitution does not stipulate that Rae cannot run; thus, the Party’s Executive should not prevent him from doing so despite any non-binding agreement that was made in the spring of 2011. Former MP Mark Holland agrees, arguing that if Rae wants to run he has the right to, so long as the campaign process for leadership during the 2013 primaries is competitive between multiple candidates. Numerous Liberals have already demonstrated signs of potential election plans, including MP Marc Garneau and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, among many others.
No one should “fear” Rae entering the race for permanent leadership, as long as it is a fair race and the Party’s constitution is respected at all times. Criticizing Rae for having a “high profile” at the Biennial Convention, or for conducting himself with too much enthusiasm and focused preparation for the next election is absurd. Rae is carrying out his duties as interim leader in the exact manner he promised he would: with vitality and commitment while simultaneously creating goals for the future position of the Party in the next election.
Rae himself expresses frustration over the focus on his future plans, claiming that at the moment he has no future plans at all. Rae says that he is fully committed to his current position and responsibilities as interim leader and will potentially consider running in the leadership race when the appropriate time comes. He believes the focus should be on Party renewal after its embarrassing 2011 election results.
The Party’s current objective should be rebuilding. If Rae proves to be a champion of this goal, then he deserves a chance at running for permanent leadership. If he does indeed seek to campaign for the position in the 2013 regional primaries in a fair way that does not violate any constitutional rules, then he does not deserve to be criticized for taking on the interim leader position. Thus far, Rae has been dedicated and hard working, and has proven that political experience makes for exceptional political leadership. Given the chance, if Rae successfully awakens a renewed spirit in Party members, then he deserves to have his day in the race for permanent leadership.
– Marisa Corona