Despite the Liberals’ disastrous election result this spring, interim leader Bob Rae told The Huffington Post, on a personal level, he’s had an exceptional and fun year and he’s not closing any doors on the possibility of running for the party’s permanent leadership.
In a year-end interview, Rae said 2011 began with a big disappointment, a “painful” election result that cost the Liberals’ many good MPs.
“Obviously, like all other Liberals I hoped that we would do better in the election campaign and we suffered a defeat. I was one of the 34 MPs left standing,” Rae recounted. “But for me, it’s been a big personal year of big personal changes.”
Rae became the interim Liberal leader in June. Since then, he’s been travelling across the country, trying to rebuild the party riding by riding, while giving his third party caucus a more effective voice in the House of Commons.
“I think I’ve done reasonably well, we’re doing better, we are improving a bit in the polls, I think we are getting somewhere in terms of having an impact, so we’re doing okay,” he said.
A smile on his face, Rae acknowledged he’s having fun.
“I must confess I am having fun. I’m enjoying what I’m doing,” he said.
Rae was given the interim Liberal leader’s job for two years. But, he suggested, he’s ready to do it longer if the party wants.
“I’ve said I’ll do this as long as the party wants me to, which is up until, as of now, it’s up until July of 2013,” he said.
Rae is currently banned from running for the party’s permanent leadership. It’s a condition the party’s executive established because many Liberals — including potential leadership contenders — were convinced Rae would use the interim leader’s position to mount a successful bid for the top job.
The rules, however, could change — something former Liberal MP and deputy prime minister Sheila Copps has suggested. She’s running to be party president and with her blessing and the rest of the new executive, Rae could be allowed into the race.
“I don’t run my life by ifs, I’m just doing what I’m doing and enjoying it and if the party executive in 2012 has a change of mind, we’ll just take that as it comes,” Rae said.
“There is no door to be shut, there is no leadership contest, there won’t be one until the end of 2012 or 13 … I’m doing this job, I’m enjoying doing this job, you know, the party’s rules are what they are, if they change, that’s a decision for another day,” he added.
The Liberals’ new executive will be chosen at the party’s biennial convention in Ottawa this January. Some 2,500 people are expected to attend.
“I think it shows that there is a life and vitality to the party and I think, in many respects, that is even more important than whatever particular results on whatever resolution there may be,” he said.
Liberal delegates, however, will be asked to make some crucial decisions, such as setting the framework for the next leadership race and deciding how that new leader will be selected. The Liberals have a one-member, one-vote system, but Rae and others are championing an American-primary style approach where non-member Liberal sympathizers would be allowed a say in who leads their party.
Key among the Liberal Party’s challenges for 2012, Rae said, is the need to develop a fundraising strategy that reaches beyond the party’s traditional base, especially now that the Tories have ended their per-vote subsidy.
“Right now we are raising about two million bucks, we need to double that in terms of what we raise for the party and what we raise for individual ridings,” Rae said.
The Liberals’ December fundraising drive — helped by former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien's suggestion that the Conservatives may limit a woman’s right to choose and move toward capital punishment — raised more than $1 million, Rae noted.
“I’m a great believer in politics, money follows passion and it’s the passion for the party, it’s the passion for the idea that ends up producing contribution and support and we really do have to get our act together,” he said.
The Liberals seem to be borrowing a page from the Conservatives’ successful fundraising strategy, which capitalizes on lightening rod issues that mobilize the party’s base, such as scrapping the gun registry and decreased funding for the CBC.
Another challenge, Rae said, will be ensuring the party keeps its momentum coming out of the convention. He knows that will be difficult, especially as the NDP leadership race heats up.
However, Rae said he’s not too worried the Liberals will be squeezed out of a now more polarized debate in Ottawa.
“Being actually in third place is, as bizarre as this may seem, it is liberating because it means that you can say a bunch of stuff that perhaps you might have held back from before. And I think it forces us to go back to basic Liberal principles which are really different than NDP principles and they are different from Conservative principles,” he said.
“I think that there is a real prospect for us … (and) I’m quite optimistic about our ability to produce policies that will actually have an endearing impact as we go forward.”
Rae told HuffPost, he hopes the new year brings “peace on Earth and good will toward all people, but perhaps a little bit more good will toward the Liberal Party of Canada.”
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