In an announcement that caught political prognosticators off guard yesterday, interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae announced he will not be seeking the post of permanent leader of his party.
It’s a surprising development, given the fact that national political pundits and analysts across the board believed Rae would throw his hat in the ring, in spite of party policy.
As the Globe and Mail reported yesterday, the party’s board of directors was expected to formally release Rae from his pledge, as interim leader, not to seek the permanent helm.
For years the Liberal party has been at odds with itself over questions of leadership. The public and often nasty relationship between former Grit leader Jean Chrétien, and his former finance minister, Paul Martin, caused severe tensions among party loyalists, a situation that did the party no favours.
A similar division had already begun to form between those Liberals who wanted Rae to run, and those in the “anyone-but-Rae” camp that was again threatening to cause further rifts in the party.
Rae was quite right when he said not running was good “for the health of the Liberal party.” That Rae has flatly rejected any run at the top job will no doubt cool rising tensions between those two camps. It also leaves the party in Rae’s capable hands for another year while the race heats up in anticipation of next spring’s leadership vote.
While his decision leaves the leadership up for grabs, with a number of potential candidates considering their chances, it also ratchets up the pressure on Justin Trudeau to follow in his famous father’s footsteps and enter the leadership race.
Publicly, Trudeau has maintained that he has no intention of running for the Liberal leadership at this point. But that, much like Rae’s repeated statement that he would respect party rules in spite of the obvious fact he was certainly considering a run, is difficult to fully believe.
Behind the scenes, Liberal insiders have been suggesting that Trudeau is quietly putting together a campaign team, which flies in the face of his repeated denials.
As the Toronto Sun recently wrote, a few recent national polls indicate that Trudeau may well be the best — if not only — way for the Grits to lift themselves out of their rump, third-party status. An Ipsos poll conducted earlier this month found that 35 per cent of Canadians have a positive impression of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s son. That poll also put Rae in a distant second, which help explain why the interim leader decided to bow out — he saw the writing on the wall. But we digress.
Let’s assume, for a moment, that Trudeau in fact wins the leadership race. Outside of riding on his father’s name to land the top Liberal job, Trudeau will have to do much more than flash his pearly whites at the camera to convince Canadians that he should be their prime minister.
Any new Liberal leader will be forced to recognize that the NDP under Thomas Mulcair is treading on Liberal territory, as the party of the left siphons off Liberal centrist votes. Barring some kind of merger, and if Trudeau is the man to lead, he will have to differentiate himself and the Liberals from the NDP. The best way to do that is to also separate himself from his father’s legacy.
Like Pierre Trudeau, who introduced the disastrous National Energy Program in the 1970s that effectively kick started the western protest movement, Mulcair has angered western Canadian leaders by pointing his finger at Alberta’s oilsands for Central Canada’s economic woes.
By denouncing Mulcair’s divisive tactics, Justin Trudeau would effectively begin the slow process of healing his family’s rift with Western Canada, while reinforcing Mulcair’s missteps.
That said, we would suggest that Trudeau is not necessarily ready for the big chair just yet. A few undisciplined statements Trudeau has made in recent years have shown an immaturity that can only be tempered with more experience and time.
And the last thing the Liberals need right now is another fizzling leader. Even if he is a Trudeau.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 14, 2012