Friday, July 22, 2005

What About Bob?

You know it's a slow day for Canadian news when stories like this pop up:

Lifelong New Democrat Bob Rae, the cerebral former leader of one of the most unpopular governments in Ontario history, is being touted in some Liberal circles as a possible successor to Prime Minister Paul Martin.

"When people talk about who are potential leaders, Bob Rae's name does make the list," said Senator Terry Mercer, a onetime national director of the party and an ally of former Prime Minister Jean Chretien. "It's been speculation more than (anything). There's been no one come and say look, 'I've been thinking of supporting Bob Rae for leader, what do you think?'"

Nevertheless, Mr. Mercer said the 56-year-old former MP's name first surfaced as a potential candidate six months ago. It has not disappeared since.

Okay, here's the thing: name the last provincial premier to become prime minister of Canada.

Hard, huh? That's because there hasn't been one since 1896, when Charlie Tupper was shoehorned into the post for 2 months, before blowing the subsequent election. (It surprises people that someone was PM for a shorter time than John Turner or Kim Campbell.)

And furthermore, this is Bob Rae we're talking about, Ontario's first NDP premier, who was so bad that it took a Common Sense Revolution to fix everything.

So why do some Libranos think Bob Rae would make a good PM? Here's what the article says:

1. Apart from the regular party contributions, he's pretty much cut his ties with the New Democrats (i.e., he's moved towards the political centre)

2. He's been pretty hawkish, and is on record as bashing NDP security policy (i.e. he won't gut the Canadian Forces in favour of the Canada Council)

3. He's got friends among the Liberals, as well as his brother John who works in the Liberal stronghold called Power Corporation (I'm trying to remember which blogger is the conspiracist about Power Corp. and the Liberal Party -- no doubt it'll come to me)

4. He's used the 10 years since getting whomped by Mike Harris to re-invent himself as an elder statesman

What with bombings in London and the "Red-Headed League" tunnel in B.C., there would be plenty of stories for the front page more newsworthy than this one. This is just a speculation piece, that you pull out when you want filler.

For what it's worth, here are the minuses of getting Bob Rae to be Prime Minister:

1. People still remember his Ontario track record, including the organized labour vote (he forced government employes to take leave without pay), as opposed to what he's done lately

2. As an Ontarian, he'd be pretty hard to support outside of that province (limited appeal in Quebec)

3. Unless he can better publicize his work in the Middle East, he's got no positive track record in international affairs on which he can base a platform

4. The "friends among the Liberals" argument can be flipped, by clever Tories, into charges of cronyism against the federal Liberals in general--which, in the wake of the Gomery inquiry, is difficult to refute

5. He lost to Mike Harris, of all people. That's not attractive to a professional Liberal

6. Given all the grief he took as Premier, does he even want to go back to that kind of partisan-charged atmosphere, magnified on a national stage and augmented exponentially by the blogosphere?

This is not to say that Bob doesn't have a future role to play in federal politics. I'd say he'd probably be on the short list for Governor-General when Adrienne Clarkson finishes her term. He seems to have the snooty, "let them eat cake" look required for the position.

And if that's not in the cards, he might try being a Brian Mulroney impersonator.

UPDATE (10h53 EDT): Adam Daifallah has a nice summary (complete with links) of the media effort to elevate Bob to bigger things. His thinking is that the Toronto establishment want another political star. I think the rest of Canada may feel otherwise.