By Ryan McGreal
Published December 09, 2008
Michael Ignatieff will be the new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
The stars all aligned behind Michael Ignatieff's steamroller bid to take leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada before the new Parliamentary session opens on January 26. The Liberals, including outgoing lame duck Stéphane Dion, agreed on the need to replace their leader before the new Parliamentary session opens on January 26, and Michael Ignatieff was a shoo-in once Dominic LeBlanc dropped out and backed him.
Bob Rae, the other high-profile candidate to lead the Liberals, agreed with the need to fast-track the process but until today contested its narrowness, saying such an important vote should go out to all Liberal members, not just the party caucus.
Yet given the clear majority support for Ignatieff in the party caucus, it's hard not to conclude that Rae's real grievance was that he couldn't win this way.
In any case, Rae has conceded his leadership bid, presumably deciding that the beleagured Party's need for solidarity trumped his desire to protract the leadership selection process.
The unfortunate fact is that Bob Rae would be disastrous as leader of the federal Liberals. He simply cannot escape the legacy with which he is saddled in the public consciousness. Millions of voters loathe Bob Rae and would rather stay home than vote for a Liberal candidate while he is the party leader. It would be like the recent election - but even worse.
This is particularly unfortunate because Rae has a much better political track record than most people think and would otherwise make an excellent leader of a centre-left progressive party that could actually win a majority in the House of Commons and form a relatively stable new government.
I've written before that Bob Rae would make a great Liberal Leader. He's a smart, pragmatic (some would say ruthless) centre-left coalition builder with a long history of working the Parliamentary system to his advantage.
It was Rae who pulled the plug on Prime Minister Joe Clark's ill-fated Progressive Conservative government of 1979 when, as the NDP's finance critic, he attached a no-confidence rider to Clark's budget bill.
It was also Rae who finally finally broke the uninterrupted 42-year run of Progressive Conservative governments in Ontario. After the PC Party won the 1985 Provincial election with a minority, Rae and Liberal leader David Peterson agreed to a two-year Liberal-NDP Accord that promptly defeated the newly-elected PC government in a motion of no confidence and formed a shared government with a more progressive agenda than the Liberals would have had themselves.
When the NDP narrowly won the 1990 election, they inherited an economy sliding rapidly into the worst recession in decades and managed to alienate nearly the entire province as they abandoned campaign promises, ran huge deficits to respond to the recession, tripped on a series of gaffes and minor scandals, and finally lost their own base as they struggled to regain control over provincial finances in their last two years.
Big business and the corporate media always despised the NDP, and their expensive but underwhelming stimulus spending, coupled with Rae's "social contract" and the hated "Rae days" for public sector workers, pissed off nearly everyone else. Proving that a good compromise leaves everyone mad, they went down in ignominous defeat in 1995 to the Conservative Party's faux-populist "Common Sense Revolution".
Rae left provincial politics in 1996 and gradually completed his transition from a left-wing firebrand to a centre-left "middle way" liberal. It was only a matter of time until he joined the federal Liberal Party, and in 2006 he announced that he wanted to unite the centre-left federal parties under a progressive banner to appeal to a majority of Canadians.
Yet the coalition is unlikely to survive Ignatieff's ascension to the leadership of the Liberals. On the advice of his handlers, he has kept his distance from the coalition. More recently, he has made noises to indicate that the Liberals will not vote to topple Harper's government in January as long as the budget includes significant concessions to the Opposition.
Instead, we can expect the Liberals to follow centrist John Manley's advice to focus first on rebuilding the party, filling its campaign coffers, modernizing its structure and preparing a new election program "just in case it is needed" so the Liberals can campaign and win on their own terms without the help of the NDP.
This may be better for the Liberal Party as such, but it will almost certainly lead to another government formed from a party with a minority of seats and further instability from a fractured House of Commons - particularly since Ignatieff represents the more centrist, cautious, Red Tory wing of the Liberal Party.
A Liberal-NDP coalition running as such in an election may well have a better chance of winning a majority - of the popular vote as well as seats in the House of Commons - and a strong mandate to form a progressive government that reflects the values of most Canadians.