Bob Rae has finally moved out from behind the shadow of, first, Stéphane Dion and, more recently, Michael Ignatieff to lead the Liberal Party of Canada on an interim basis for the next year and a half to two years. Behind closed doors today, thirty-four Liberal MPs and 45 Liberal senators chose Mr. Rae to lead them in Parliament and in their efforts to rebuild the party’s base and tackle its fundraising.
“After the worst election defeat in our [Liberal Party] history, it is vital that we come together as a party, and engage directly with Canadians about what matters to them. … We cannot afford to get caught up in internal wrangling.”
– Bob Rae
There’s little doubt Mr. Rae will be, as Liberal MP John McCallum puts it, “a strong performer in the House, someone who can speak in sound-bites to the media, has good political instincts [and] who can compete with NDP leader Jack Layton and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.”
How effective Mr. Rae will be in rebuilding the Liberal brand, however, is in doubt. The very existence of the federal Liberals is far from guaranteed as they have sunk to 19 per cent of the vote, and many do not believe they have bottomed out.
When the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was nearly wiped out in 1993, it never recovered, and ten years later it became merely a footnote in the history of the Reform/Canadian Alliance/Conservative Party. At the time of its merger with the Canadian Alliance in 2003, the federal PC Party held only 15 of 301 seats in the Canadian House of Commons, never having held more than 20 seats between 1993 and 2003. A similar fate might be awaiting the Grits.
The Liberal Party of Canada now finds itself with 34 seats. Relegated to third-party status in the House for the first time in its history, the party is confronted with myriad questions about its purpose and future. Fundraising, always a major issue for the Grits, has been made more challenging with the Conservative Party’s decision to end the $2 per vote taxpayer subsidy. The way forward for the Grits is shrouded in uncertainty.
When he announced he would run for interim leader, Mr. Rae agreed to forfeit the permanent leadership, if the Liberal executive decides the interim leader can not run in the next leadership convention. The Liberal Party’s national board unanimously agreed to postpone the vote for a permanent leader to sometime between November 1, 2012 and February 28, 2013, and party delegates will be asked to vote on that time frame at a special convention in June.
Interesting times have overtaken the Grits.