Bob Rae: The Most Principled Liberal Leader in the Last 50 Years

Bob Rae never ceases to surprise.

In a recent speech in Saskatoon, reported in the Huffington Post, Bob Rae, unequivocally voiced his support and his Liberal Party’s continued support for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Rae stated, “It’s in our national interest to see that these resources are developed in a truly and deeply sustainable way….I agree with the state department view that says that there’s no net environmental effect of building the pipeline in the United States.”

This is a gutsy and principled stand for Rae to take.

There is significant opposition to Keystone and to Alberta’s oil-based economy within the Liberal Party and among Canadian environmentalists both within and without the party.

Rae could have spoken, like Liberals in the past, out of two sides of his mouth. Like some of his predecessors, he could have been pro-environment, anti-Keystone in Quebec and in the west, pro-oil and pro Keystone.

Rae could have been slippery like NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who wants to be the next Canadian prime minister. Mulcair plays to his leftist Quebec base by being non-supportive of Keystone. And he fatuously criticizes Harper for supporting a north/south pipeline to the US.

According to Mulcair, a east/west line would create more oil-based jobs. In truth, Mulcair would love to see the Alberta oil sands closed down. But he cannot state that publicly or he would lose a large number of NDP votes and seats west of Ontario.

Bob Rae is a true class act.

On two separate occasions, he ran for the Federal leadership and lost. He was the most experienced and best candidate in both leadership races. He should have won.

A lesser man would have taken his political ball and gone home. Retired. With his well-deserved provincial and federal pensions.

While the Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff sought sanctuary back at University of Toronto, after the Liberals’ devastating defeat in the last federal election, Bob Rae soldiered on.

Through political smarts, hard work and humour, he brought back the Liberals from the brink of political extinction. He hammered Mulcair and the NDP on his left. He held Harper and the Tories to account, on his right.

Ironically, his recent actions saved Stephen Harper from political embarrassment.

Recall Chief Spence refused to end her hunger strike unless Harper and the Governor General met with her. Harper refused to personally meet with her. Both Harper and Spence refused to back off from their respective positions.

It would have been an international embarrassment to Harper, the Tories and to Canada, if Chief Spence took ill or died from starvation.

Instead, Rae stepped into the fray and negotiated with Spence a face-saving solution, in which the opposition parties would support and press for her demands. With that written undertaking in hand, Spence terminated her hunger strike.

Rae has kept the Federal Liberals in the political game. He has made them competitive again.

Justin Trudeau should be kissing Rae’s butt, for handing him a revived Liberal party to lead.

In the interests of full disclosure, Bob and I were classmates at law school.

We were acquaintances, but not close friends. I actually thought that he was a silver spoon socialist who was playing at politics. And that he would be eaten up in the rough and tumble of the real world of politics.

Bob Rae proved me and his many detractors wrong. He was not only intellectual and a policy wonk, but he was also an excellent street fighting , grass roots politician. He succeeded in federal politics and was victorious in provincial politics as well.

I also believe that history will ultimately be kind to Bob Rae. Rae should not be blamed entirely for the economic troubles that Ontario experienced in the 90s during his administration.

Bob Rae and the NDP took over an Ontario economy that his predecessor Liberal David Peterson had rendered sick and suffering. Bloated and in debt. Unemployment soaring. Bob Rae tried to stimulate the economy, much like Barack Obama tried to do in this first term of office.

Once Rae realized that this tax and spend approach was further driving Ontario up against a debt wall, he courageously cut back on government expenditures through “Rae Days”.

For decades Rae has been unfairly attacked for doing the right, but unpopular thing. Much what Dalton McGuinty has done ( freezing teachers’ wages) in the twilight of his own administration.

The Liberals and Canada owe you a large debt of gratitude. Enjoy your retirement. Le Gros Bob!!

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