Ignatieff and Bob Rae: Getting Ready to Take on Stephen Harper

It was a cold day last December when I left my farm one Sunday morning. I had been invited to meet and have breakfast with James Harris, leader of the Green Party of Canada.

Clearly, I was out of my element. I abhor politics but participate in a genre where I’m almost always asked to meet with them. Meeting with Green leader Harris was wonderful. He was bright, articulate, engaging and very gifted at what he was doing. I was always sorry he didn’t win a seat in parliament.

So last week when Elizabeth May won the leadership of the Green party I thought about James Harris. What’s he going to do now? He’ll obviously be a success having authored more than a few books. However his cause has now been thrown to May. She has decided to seek a seat in Cape Breton Island in the next federal election.

How the Greens do is anybody’s guess. But clearly, winning one seat will be a significant litmus test for the Greens. The bigger contest currently going on is for the big prize. The Liberals, who many believe are the natural governing party of this country, are narrowing their focus, as their December leadership convention gets closer. Bob Rae, Michael Ignatieff, Gerard Kennedy, Stephan Dion, who’s it going to be?

For many of you none on that list jumps out at you. There is no Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, Jean Chretien, or Paul Martin who were heavy favourites when hey ran for the Liberal leadership. In many ways it makes the current Liberal leadership one of the most intriguing in years. I won’t say pin the tail on the donkey. However, as December gets closer the cream should rise to the top.

The front-runners in my mind for the leadership are former Ontario Premier Bob Rae and former Harvard University professor Michael Ignatieff. Believe it or not, these two guys were once roommates. We’ll see if enough Liberals can get over Mr. Rae’s NDP credentials. Ignatieff will surely benefit from that.

For a good read on Ignatieff one should google him with Michael Valpy, the talented Globe and Mail writer. Valpy wrote a long piece in last weekend’s Globe and Mail regarding Ignatieff. It was very revealing. If Ignatieff is successful we can expect somebody with an intellect of a Trudeau minus the Canadian credentials. Ignatieff hasn’t spent a lot of time in Canada.

A few weeks ago I got a call from some local farmers who told me Bob Rae was coming to a farm near Sarnia and they’d like me to meet him. So I set off that morning to meet Bob Rae or “Comrade Bob” as one of the farmers said.

Arriving at the farm it was clearly set up for something out of my element. I don’t do politics and this thing was set up for folks who liked this type of thing. We sat around and chatted when suddenly Bob Rae came by and stuck his hand in mine. I greeted him as warmly as I could. He had many other hands to shake.

His speaking remarks to the assembled crowd were very revealing to me. He touched on the NDP and why he is no longer part of them. Having read his last book, “The Three Questions”, I knew a little bit of that story.

He said that he was the only Ontario Premier to have a day named after him. Well everybody laughed. He said what would you rather have a “Rae Day” or a “Harris year?” At the end of the day he said he left the NDP because they are a “party of protest.” He felt he was on a better path now and then he went into a litany of things wrong with Stephen Harper and his government. My attention span drifted at that point. Politics!

I must say I like Bob Rae, always did. As an NDP Premier he came to power at a time when he had little hope of being successful. He assumed office with a burgeoning recession, competitive challenges from the then new Free Trade Agreement. He also had a high Canadian dollar and a huge budget deficit. Over 300,000 manufacturing jobs in Ontario were lost between 1989 and 1992.

When he was defeated in 1995 Ontario was on its way back. The economy was getting stronger, consumer confidence had grown and Rae had helped save many a job in places like Algoma, Kapuskasing and Downsview.

Some say a few Liberal heavyweights are sitting out, not wanting to bet this time on a lame horse. We’ll see. I don’t think Bob Rae is a lame horse, Ignatieff either. Whoever wins come December will have a very good chance of sending Stephen Harper back where he came from.