In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, the 64-year-old said he has no regrets about deciding not to plunge into the current leadership race, which will produce a permanent new leader in April.
While he wishes he'd won the 2006 leadership contest, Rae said he's "quite happy" to have wound up playing another vital, if briefer, role: keeping Liberals in the game after their historic drubbing in the 2011 election, which reduced them to a third-party rump.
"I think the challenge was survival. The challenge was are we going to be able to withstand the triumphalism of both the other parties (Conservatives and NDP) and are we going to be able to convince the Canadian people that it's worth continuing to support us?" Rae said.
"And I think what happened was that there was a reaction from the public and from party supporters that said, 'Yes, we very much want you to be here.' And I was able to, I hope, keep the party relevant and central to the parliamentary debates of 2011, 2012 and for the beginning of 2013.
"So, from that point of view, I take a lot of satisfaction in the job that I've been able to do. ... Certainly, from my point of view, it's been very worthwhile. I've enjoyed the challenge a lot."
That said, Rae added he has no intention of being a back-seat driver once the new leader is installed.
"I don't intend to be sitting on the new leader's shoulder, tut-tutting him or her about what they should be doing. I think it's important for the new leader to have the freedom and the liberty to take charge and do whatever he or she wants," he said.
"I don't have any claim to an exaggerated role. I'm just going to be a regular member of the caucus and, in fact, in many ways I'm looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to some of the freedom that that will give me. I've got some projects in my mind as to what I want to do."
Still, Rae's not sure he wants to sign up in 2015 for another four-year term, which would mean serving as an MP until age 70.
"I haven't decided that yet," Rae said when asked if intends to seek re-election.
"That's a ways off. I mean, I think 2015 is a bit away so I think I've got the time to reflect on that and, obviously, to talk about with the new leader exactly what he or she wants me to do. ... I certainly haven't ruled it out and I haven't ruled it in."
Rae noted that by 2015 he'll have been a Liberal MP for almost a decade — and that's only a fraction of the time he's spent in active politics.
Before converting to the Liberal party, Rae served one term as a New Democrat MP from 1978-82. He left the federal arena to become provincial NDP leader in Ontario, where he served a turbulent term as premier from 1990 to 1995.
Rae, whose recession-ravaged premiership has been the target of Tory attack ads, said the new leader should expect a barrage from both the Conservatives and NDP — both of which have long dreamed of eradicating the centrist Liberals.
Nevertheless, Rae said he sees encouraging signs that Canadians don't want to be forced to make a choice between polarized right and left-wing parties, particularly as the Tories and NDP struggle to contain the more dogmatic elements in their midst.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper risks alienating women and urban voters as the hard-right faction in his party pushes to reopen the abortion debate and further relax gun-control measures, he said.
"If you think that the only way to keep that (Conservative) coalition together is to keep feeding it red meat, it becomes harder and harder if that encounters challenges from the general public."
At the same time, Rae said the NDP seems to have slipped back into its traditional anti-trade, anti-business dogma, after briefly "picking up their game" following the election of Tom Mulcair as leader last March.
He pointed to the NDP's opposition to the Chinese state-owned CNOOC's takeover of Nexen ("they're now the party that's completely opposed to state owned enterprises, which is a novel position for a social-democratic party to take") and its opposition to a foreign investment agreement with China, which he termed "anti-Chinese."
"Their attitude towards trade and towards changing globalization and the way the international economy is changing remains very, kind of, knee-jerk and reactive and protectionist.
"So I don't see the kind of transformation of economic and social policy that I thought one might see, if you're a party that really wants to move into the middle and replace the Liberals," Rae said.
"I don't see any of that happening. In fact, I see a reversion to type."
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