Bob Rae: Interim Liberal Leader Has Led Party To Gains In Ontario In Quebec Ahead Of Convention
As Liberals from across the country gather in Ottawa today for the start of their biennial convention, one question on almost everyone’s lips is whether Bob Rae will eventually turn his interim position as leader into a permanent one.
Few Liberals deny that Rae has done a good job or that, if he chooses to run in the leadership race scheduled to come to a conclusion in early 2013, he would be a good candidate to lead the party into the next election. That he is the best person for the job, however, is far from a consensus opinion.
But more than eight months after the Liberals were handed a drubbing in the last federal election, Bob Rae has undoubtedly kept the Liberal Party’s head above water. Eight months down, 46 more to go.
In those eight months, the experienced Liberal leader has taken advantage of the weakness of the NDP’s front bench. Some of its best MPs are currently occupied by the race to replace the Jack Layton, and by most accounts Nycole Turmel has not done a terrific job as leader of the Official Opposition. However, the New Democrats have not surrendered second place to the Liberals in the polls.
Nevertheless, Rae’s leadership has helped the Liberals make some gains in the first eight months after the May 2 debacle, hitting 22 per cent in national support in December. Though they have a long way to go before they can start challenging the New Democrats as the main alternative to the Conservatives, Rae has put the party on the right track.
However, under his watch the Liberals have not been able to make important gains in every part of the country. The West still remains a dead zone for the party. In fact, in the four western provinces the New Democrats are increasingly challenging the Tories, leaving the Liberals closer to the Greens than they are to the NDP.
Rae has also been unable to increase Liberal support in Atlantic Canada, one of the few regions of the country that, for the most part, stuck with the Liberal MPs they had before the vote on May 2.
But despite these problems, Rae has increased the party’s support in Ontario and Quebec, the two provinces that were crucial in building Jean Chrétien’s majorities. Despite his history as premier of Ontario, Rae has moved the Liberals ahead of the NDP in the province, after the party had fallen narrowly behind in May. They have even been ahead of the Conservatives in a few individual surveys.
And in Quebec, where the New Democrats have dropped 10 points since the election, the Liberals are making gains. Though they are still well below where they polled before the last vote, the Liberals are on the upswing and on pace to regain some of the seats they lost to the NDP in Montreal. The defection of Lise St-Denis, an NDP MP from a francophone riding outside of the metropolis, is also a positive sign for the Liberals in Quebec.
After the disastrous results of the last federal election, the Liberals could have easily slipped deeper into obscurity and surrendered their position permanently to the New Democrats. Though Bob Rae may not be the face of renewal that the Liberals need, he has undoubtedly had success in keeping his party afloat.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.
Recent Federal Floor Crossers
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/10/lise-st-denis-ndp-join-liberals_n_1196406.html?ref=canada-politics">Lise St-Denis' defection from the NDP to the Liberals</a> has put crossing the floor back in the news. Here's a list of other recent federal floor crossers.
The newly elected NDP MP jumped ship to the Liberals just 5 months after the federal election of 2011. St-Denis faced harsh criticism from those who saw the move as disregarding the will of her constituents. Many argued that voters in St-Denis' Quebec riding had voted for Jack Layton and not for her.
In 2005, Belinda Stronach, Conservative MP and daughter of billionaire Frank Stronach, crossed the floor and joined Paul Martin's Liberal Party. She was named Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal.
In 2006, Liberal MP David Emerson joined the Conservatives just two weeks after being elected. He was named Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics.
In 2007, Wajid Khan jumped from the Liberals to the Conservatives after then-Liberal leader Stéphane Dion stated that Khan would not be permitted to continue in his role as an advisor to Stephen Harper.
Carolyn Parish was suspended from the Liberal caucus in 2004 after stomping on a George Bush doll for a "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" sketch. The outspoken MP subsequently decided to sit as an independent.
In 2004, Canadian Alliance MP Keith Martin renounced his party to sit as an independent and announced he would seek to run as a Liberal in the next election. His move was a response to the merger between the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives. He would go on to win the Liberal nomination in his riding and the election and sat in the Liberal caucus until his retirement in 2011.
While Bob Rae isn't technically a floor crosser (he didn't switch parties while sitting as an MP) the interim Liberal leader did switch parties. Rae governed Ontario has the province's NDP premier from 1990-1995. In 1996 he resigned as leader of the Ontario NDP and in 1998 resigned from the party altogether. He returned to politics in 2006, joining the Liberal Party and running for its leadership. He was defeated in his leadership bid by Stéphane Dion, but won the federal riding of Toronto Centre in 2007.
Ujjal Dosanjh shares a similar story to Bob Rae. He served as NDP premier of B.C. from 2000-2001, but later joined the federal Liberals. He served as an Liberal MP from 2004 until his defeat in the most recent federal election.