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It's Not a (Liberal) Party Without Bob

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While on a business trip to Ottawa last week I dropped in to see Bob Rae at his Parliament Hill office. We were alone, and he was in a very reflective mood. I left with the sense that he had made up his mind not to seek the permanent leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. His family were united in urging him not to. But the health and well being of the party was dominating his reflection and our conversation.

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While I have great respect for his decision, I am disappointed that Bob won't run. With Bob Rae as an active participant in a conversation about the future of Canada and the Liberal Party's place in it, you won't get mindless platitudes or speeches written by someone else. You won't get canned talking points written by someone else. What you get is the sum total of the cumulative wisdom and insight -- with scars and all -- of one of the most substantial political figures of his generation.

Politics and governance is a craft, and it is not for everyone. Those that are good at it have learned through many years of learning, trial and error, of refining their craft, and of honing and tuning their message. Unlike a chief executive, for example, all of this happens under the constant and often cynical glare of the media spotlight.

In the profoundly superficial celebrity-laden culture in which we live, everyone thinks they can do a better job than you. Everyone thinks they should be leader of the party. Everyone thinks they are the best equipped to govern. But they aren't. It takes a very rare breed to reach the pinnacle, as Rae has.

He's not Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian. He's an accomplished business leader, author, academic, internationalist, and public servant. He's earned his stripes the old-fashioned way: through his brains, hard work, and incomparable talent and ability.

No one should be kidding themselves: Taking on the role of interim leader was a thankless job. Just ask those that came before. But at the worst possible moment in the history of the Liberal Party, Rae took on the job and performed masterfully. He was at his best in the House of Commons, and was incredibly tireless and resilient everywhere else. Liberals should pause to reflect on where the party would be today had Bob Rae not taken on that assignment. He did so willingly, with enthusiasm, with humour, and with his customary grace and class.

Bob Rae is an honest, decent, honourable, caring, principled man. He did not deserve the nasty and uncalled for shots he has received from within his own party. The man loves his country deeply and cares as much about his adopted party. He became a Liberal after much sober and thoughtful reflection. He understands what it is to be a Liberal much more than most Liberals do. The same can be said of Michael Ignatieff, another unceremoniously discarded and underappreciated leader.

I had not decided whom to support in the upcoming leadership campaign. I'll make that decision when I know who is in the race. I hope that many good people will stand. But I do know this: The race will be less interesting and less substantive without Bob Rae in it.

I am frankly appalled by a party culture that doesn't think twice about unceremoniously throwing good people under the bus. It started with Pierre Trudeau undermining John Turner, and it has not stopped since. But I am happy for Bob and his family. They will not have to be subjected to that again.

Canadians are wise to the Liberal modus operandi of throwing leaders and candidates overboard in the search for the next silver bullet and fad of the month. Nothing will -- or at least should -- replace a party that knows what it stands for beyond getting rid of Stephen Harper.

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