I've always found it quite revealing that Bob Rae rarely ventures out in public without first affixing his tiny Order of Canada medallion to his lapel. You can forgive him for being unduly proud, considering he won it at a time when his professional resume contained little beyond a brief tenure as an NDP backbencher and an equally brief tenure as one of Ontario's least accomplished premiers. In other words, Bob is hardly a stranger to the warm glow of over-praise for under-delivering, which is why yesterday's announcement that he would not be seeking an extension of his term as Liberal boss, and all the fawning retrospectives and editorials that followed, created a spectacle quite consistent with the broader themes of his modest career, feigned pundit shock notwithstanding.
Following Rae's oddly-obscene presser on Wednesday morning, Andrew Coyne prompty tweet-praised him as the "Last friggin' statesman in Canadian politics," while National Post college Jonathan Kay dashed off an article lauding his "principles" and "class." It was all a bit much considering that the ink was barely dry on Coyne's recent eviscerating take-down of Bob's duplicitous leadership doublespeak, to say nothing of the comments page Kay runs, which hasn't exactly been a Rae pep rally lately, to put it mildly.
But if nothing else, the Canadian press is quite good at playing people out, and now that the nicely-dressed ladies have gently ushered Bob to exit stage left, it's that time in our program where the nation's journalists open the envelope of "likely contenders" to replace him.
Since no living human to date has so much as sneezed a passing interest in the Grits' top job, such speculation invariably becomes one of the most flagrant displays of unconscious media bias, as the commentariat breezily pulls names from the narrow Ottawa elite whose presumed right to perpetual power has long ceased to be questioned.
Tasha Kheiriddin expects friendly establishment faces Dominic Leblanc, Marc Garneau and Martha Hall Findlay to "toss their hats in the ring," while in a Wednesday afternoon chat, the Globe and Mail's Jon Ibbitson added David McGuinty, Gerard Kennedy and Jean-Marc Fournier to the mix. No one bothers to point this out, of course, but all six are comfortable denizens of the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal golden triangle. At least two are from outright dynasties.
This rather shallow survey of federal, ahem, "talent," is usually justified on the presumption that whoever assumes the Liberal crown must posess the eastern political class affectation of being "fluently bilingual," a criterion demanded with such forceful insecurity you'd almost think Canada was in danger of contemplating the alternative. Which would make sense, as the alternative has never been more worthwhile to contemplate.
Despite his exceedingly safe picks in the chatroom, John Ibbitson's first post-Rae editorial spouts the surprisingly unorthodox view that the Liberals' future may not require nearly as much blind fidelity to Quebec as party lore dictates. Far from being a must-have component of any electoral coalition, Ibbitson notes that Quebec is really "an outlier province" that "hasn't voted in substantial numbers for a governing party since 1988." Much better to focus on suburban Ontario instead, he says. Worked for Harper, after all.
So strong is the mythos of the eastern saviour, however, that I've actually been hearing rumours that an amateur Montreal boxer named Justin-somebody might be thinking of entering the race. According to Thomas Walkom at the Toronto Star, it's his contest to lose, in fact.
It all sounds a bit silly, but then again so did the phrase "elder statesman Bob Rae."
Follow J.J. McCullough on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JJ_McCullough