Daniel D. Veniez Headshot

Why Liberals Need Bob Rae

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This week's echo chamber conversation among political and media "insiders" is about whether the Liberal Party executive will clarify rules which may allow interim leader Bob Rae to run for the permanent job, should he choose to.

Some have written in sanctimonious and self-righteous terms about Rae's "duplicity" and his self-evident intention, they say, to "break" a promise that he made not to run for the permanent job. I find this selective talk by Liberals of the horror of broken promises rather amusing.

Liberals have a long track record in the promises that truly matter to voters. And they are exhausted by Liberal hypocrisy and the nauseating culture of entitlement. So to clear the air a little bit, let's talk about some recent history of Liberal "promises" that are really at the core of why we are now a third place party, shall we?

That paragon of civil liberties and human rights, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, imposed the draconian War Measures Act that authorized the imprisonment of anyone without charge or due process. Trudeau ran an entire election campaign against wage and price controls, won the election against Robert Stanfield, and then promptly imposed wage and price controls. He promised a National Energy Program that would benefit the entire country, but instead ended up sucking the life out of the Alberta economy.

While Chretien and Martin Liberals position themselves as the founders of fiscal rectitude, Liberals fiercely opposed any and all attempts at fiscal responsibility in the Mulroney years.

Chretien never ran on cleaning up Canada's balance sheet. But that is what happened, and Liberals only did because they had to. The Wall Street Journal's editorial calling our dollar the "Northern Peso" was one of many wake-up calls that they could no longer ignore.

Liberals also furiously opposed the Free Trade Agreement, the GST, privatization, and the Meech Lake Accord. Once in power, Liberals embraced all of Mulroney's fiscal and economic policies and became a quiet but aggressive champion of asymmetrical federalism.

And of course who could forget that the party that went to the wall to defend the "Trudeau Vision" of opposing recognizing Quebec as a "distinct society" enthusiastically embraced a House of Commons motion that recognized Quebec as a "nation?"

While Liberals are quick to criticize Stephen Harper for his approach to health care, he did in fact increase and secure long-term funding. By contrast, Chretien-Martin slashed transfers to the provinces unilaterally and without notice.

Before Stephen Harper, Chretien's PMO was the most centralized and controlling in Canadian history. The previous Trudeau government started it all. The Young Liberal "reform" movement of 1982 reflected a desire to inject more accountability in the party and was a response to how Trudeau's small inner circle ran and controlled everything. Sound familiar?

While Chretien proposed to "clean up" government in the wake of some Mulroney-era "scandals," he presided over one of the most sleazy episodes in Canadian political history, the Sponsorship scandal.

The Chretien-Martin governments were cheerleaders for important environmental protection initiatives and signatories of the Kyoto Accord. And then Liberals literally did nothing for years to implement the commitment they signed on behalf of all Canadians.

After Jean Chretien lost the leadership to John Turner, he almost immediately worked to undermine -- rather than support -- Turner during what was until then the most difficult period for any Liberal leader.

Paul Martin, the man who lost the leadership to Chretien, spent his entire ministerial career positioning himself to succeed his boss. When Martin got tired of waiting, he actively organized a coup against his own leader, a sitting Prime Minister of Canada and someone who had led the Liberal Party to victory on three successive occasions. The Chretien-Martin war was a political cancer of the most malignant kind. Opposing sides took no prisoners. They didn't care about the party or the country. The motivation was self-interest, not Canada. Martin may have won, but he and his people destroyed what was left of the party in the process.

The capacity of the Liberal Party to blow itself up knows no bounds. Today, this rump party is at risk of ripping itself to shreds one last time. This time it is not about policy or where we see Canada in the 21st century. It is about -- you guessed it -- leadership. Rather than calling on all qualified comers to join the debate on the future of Liberalism, some are urging one of the most qualified, experienced and talented political leaders of our age -- Bob Rae -- to disqualify himself from the race. These people are talking about this as if being the Leader of the Liberal Party is the most coveted job in Canada. It's not.

Ideally the field will be full of good people, among them current and former caucus members, defeated and future candidates. Unfortunately, we shall see none of the stature of Bob Rae, who I very much hope will run. Justin Trudeau is a genuine Canadian and political celebrity. It's a shame that he has chosen not to run. He would be an extremely formidable contender and liven up the race in many ways. I would also love to see Frank McKenna, Brian Tobin and John Manley run. I would love to see Jacques Menard, a brilliant business leader, run. Or former Quebec premier, Daniel Johnson.

There are many outstanding people out there, but they will not run. Why would they?

It has yet to sink in to for some Liberals that the leadership is a poisoned chalice and the "brand" is profoundly damaged and must be substantively redefined. That is not the job of an amateur or the inexperienced. The organization has been deeply neglected by Trudeau and Chretien and is in a state of dire disrepair. Canadians have tuned out, not because of Rae, but because of all of us. We have been deluding ourselves by not turning the page and focusing on forward looking and thinking content.

We desperately need our best and brightest, including Bob Rae, to step up and run for the leadership of the party. We need a meaningful conversation about Canada's future and the relevance of our place within it.