Those were the Raes

Those were the Raes
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As you may or may not have noticed, the Canadian parliament staged a rather farcical marathon session this week, as opposition parties spent 22 straight hours filibustering the Conservative majority’s so-called “omnibus” budget bill. It eventually passed (surprise!) on a party-line vote.

A hundred years ago, when I was first starting this site, I remember settling on the name “Filibuster” because it struck me as a fairly obscure bit of political terminology you didn’t hear much in casual conversation. There was a popular episode of the West Wing around the same time in which a lone senator was filibustering something or another, and it was considered this highly eccentric, emotionally-charged act of defiance. Today, of course, everyone in Congress is constantly filibustering everything, and the jerkish practice has begun to work it’s way north, as well.

Omnibus budget bills — which is to say, epic, multi-hundred page bills chock-full of endless riders that regulate or deregulate countless unrelated areas of jurisdiction under the vague justification of economic betterment — are not unheard of in Canada, and the ease in which they can be rammed through is very much the product of a flawed parliamentary system that grants far too much power to the majority faction. To righteously filibuster what is, in essence, a design flaw in our system of government thus strikes as little more than shallow theatrics inspired by an opposition that enjoys lying about the degree to which Canadian democracy has “eroded” under Stephen Harper.

So that’s really all I have to say about that.

The more interesting Canadian political news of the last couple of days was that Liberal leader Bob Rae will not be staying in his job for much longer. Rae, as we may remember, assumed the Liberal Party leadership around this time last year, following the extremely solid drubbing the Liberals received in the 2011 parliamentary election, which saw Liberal boss Michael Ignatieff lose his own seat and resign the next day. Rae was promptly installed in his place as acting leader, and many expected the Liberals to follow the anti-democratic precedent set by Iggy himself, who became acting Liberal leader in 2008 (following the drubbing of his predecessor, Stephane Dion) but then swiftly upgraded into “full” leader status through uncontested bureaucratic alchemy.

But on Wednesday Bob said no, the party needed some fresh faces (though he swore at the reporter who asked if it needed a younger one) and agreed to step down following a proper election to pick a replacement. Of course, it sounds like this won’t actually happen ’till the spring of 2013, so “interim” leader Rae may actually wind up leading the party just as long as his two predecessors (as you can see from my handy chart). Lots of Rae days still to come, in other words.

Nevertheless, the press has gushed with much sadness at the departure of this overnight elder statesman, a reaction I can’t regard as anything other than utterly bizarre.

Bob Rae was probably among the worst men the Liberals could have picked to lead them, on an interim basis or otherwise, in the aftermath of their crushing 2011 loss. As a former NDP MP and provincial premier who only hopped ship to the Liberals in the 2000s (which the evidence suggests was mostly a post 9-11 rejection of the far-left’s position on Israel), Rae was a walking existential crisis for the party’s future at the worst possible time. As a man who easily jumped ship from Canada’s one progressive party to the other, the new leader’s very person undermined the idea that the Libs and New Democrats were different enough to justify separate existence. When gossip was spread about his future, it was invariably of the “and-wouldn’t-he-just-be-the-best-guy-to-lead-a-merger” variety — at a time when both parties were aggressively trying to quash such talk.

As a former unabashed socialist (and not just in the phony Obama way, Rae actually denounced capitalism by name on a number of occasions), Rae also saddled his new party to all the ideological baggage of his own largely failure-filled political past, which the Conservatives were predictably quick to denounce with their trademark attack ads.

At the very least, Bob was a never-ending source of distracting side chatter at a time when all attention should have centered on strengthening Brand Liberal.

So who’s up to that task now? The media’s eyes are hungrily turning to beloved prime ministerial dauphin and amateur boxer Justin Trudeau, the only man whom they believe has enough gimmick, passion, and star appeal to give the third-place Liberals one final blast of the defibrillator. I’m inclined to agree, only because the alternatives seem poised to be uniquely awful.

For all intents and purposes, much of the Liberal elite from the Jean Chretien and Paul Martin administrations has effectively written off their former party, with almost all leading former cabinet ministers having happily exiled themselves to comfortable jobs in the private sector, from which they feel no pressure to look back. In contrast to the young, handsome, charismatic Trudeau, other leadership contenders will thus probably entail lots of bland, middle-aged men like Dominique LeBlanc, David McGuinty, and Marc Garneau — unaccomplished back-benchers who exude the tired, perfunctory dullness of unambitious apparatchiks in a party well beyond its prime.

In the past, Justin has repeatedly expressed disinterest in leading the Liberals, but with Rae gone, he’s been sending subtle signals his mind might be changing. And in contrast to Bob Rae, this is one changed mind that might actually benefit the party in the long term.


  1. Bravado

    This seems rather mean-spirited in nature.

  2. James Stewart

    But not inaccurate.

  3. Anon

    Totally. I just can't see what good comes out of blind partisanship.

  4. @MC_Nedelsky

    Did you read this?

  5. Taylor

    Great cartoon, but really, Rae was his own force.

    The media/columnist sadness has more to do with the fact that his retiring really is the end of an era. He didn't "do" sound-bites (which often bit him when he was Premier of Ontario), and is an absolutely incredible off-the-cuff speaker. His swearing is a bit of that, he's just the kind of guy who can get away with it, it just flows. If you browse who endorsed him the 2006 Liberal leadership, you see a lot of the old guard who admired his speaking and abilities.

    His Premiership in Ontario was bizarre, a death of a thousand cuts that saw strange battles with minor groups (Toronto police, for example) blow up into scandals, and an economic collapse that any party would have been deadly for any province. He pulled a complete 180 on policy and got basically "whipsawed" for the last three years of his term.

    That's not to say he was an ideal politician, as JJ alludes to, he was patrician to a fault, and noted for being the most stand-offish and petulant in the overly gentlemanly Ontario legislature of the pre-Mike Harris years. This probably has more to do with his exit of the NDP than Israel (A former NDP MPP I've talked to said that everyone in caucus thought he was faking being a New Democrat while leader). Man burned some serious bridges.

    So, I think columnists don't admire him, and that this isn't some elitist bias game, they just really just wish for the more interesting days before the idiotic "Tim Horton's" branding of today's political scene. If he would have stayed, I'd guess he would have won 50 seats the next election.

  6. JonasB

    Is it odd that I get a Ron Paul vibe whenever J.J talks about Rae?

  7. Jake_Ackers

    Isn't that point of a opposition? To stop the majority from steamrolling every single bill they want into law? I'm glad the filibuster is used. If it wasn't there would be even more stupid laws.

    I don't know how it works in Canada but in the USA you can stop a filibuster with a cloture. 3/5 of sworn in Senators are needed. So if its a bill that clearly needs a vote (even if 3/5 of the Senate is not for the bill but at least 3/5 want a vote) it will get one. I think its a good practice albeit its used for every little thing now. Which on the face of it seems better because there is way too much spending and useless laws.

  8. Yannick

    JJ seems to believe that the opposition parties are there to rubber-stamp what our Dear Leader has in mind for us next.

    When it's impossible to stop the vote, you can't blame them for throwing everything they do have at it. That's their job.

  9. J.J. McCullough

    My point was that it's disingenuous to pretend Harper is single-handedly destroying Canadian democracy when he's merely exploiting his own absurdly powerful office in the same way ever other PM before him has. The opposition parties don't promote democracy within their own caucus, and I have no doubt they'd be acting the same way if they were in power. This requires a more serious examination of the fundamentals of the Canadian parliamentary system rather than cheap, short-term theatrics.

  10. Yannick

    I agree that a majority cramming through bills is the same old business as usual.

    The charges about Harper destroying Canadian democracy have little to do with party-line techniques and more to do with the extensive changes the man is bringing to the country. Short-term theatrics is all the opposition can do, in this case.

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