Bob Rae is out

And good for him. Today, the interim leader of the Liberal Party, the past leadership candidate for the same, and the former NDP Premier of Ontario announced that he won’t be seeking to make his current job permanent. No, Rae will not run to be leader of the Liberal Party and carry the Grits into the next election. In the end, he kept his word that he would not run, despite the fact that the party executive was ready to bend space and time in order to allow it.

Why did he dance and skate, as he remarked, through so many scrums and interviews on his leadership intentions? Perhaps Rae recognized that despite its legacy status, Parliament’s third-place party had an uphill battle when it came to generating news coverage for its activities and positions taken in the House of Commons. If Rae were perceived to be a “lame duck” leader with no clout, the press would have just passed over him knowing that any of his pronouncements were temporary at best or lacked legitimacy at worst. By leading everyone on until now, it is certain that he was able to shine a brighter spotlight on his party.

It won’t surprise you to hear that we at the National Citizens Coalition think that Rae made the right decision. While we do wish him well in his future life, if Rae were to become Prime Minister, it would have been a nightmare scenario. During a recession in Ontario, Rae worsened the province’s standing rather than improved it. The NDP has always feared Rae because of his cross-partisanship and ability to draw socialists and centrists together. A Rae leadership would have done more to unite the parties of the left. Even this week, Rae and Mulcair were singing from the same songbook when it came to bailing out Spanish banks and the Eurozone with Canadian cash. Throwing good money after bad is a hallmark of the worst in fiscal management. As Europe seeks to discredit capitalism by rescuing bad investments, flattening risk, increasing sovereign debt while thumbing their nose to calls for spending restraint on entitlements, an amalgamated Canadian left within striking distance of power would only embolden and encourage these instincts at home squandering our hard-won advantage.

But Rae as Prime Minister, or now that he’s out, any Liberal for that matter? That is indeed projecting far into the hypothetical future. Indeed, the Liberals haven’t even found their foothold yet to rebuild their party to challenge the NDP for opposition status. But yet, that is the next task that they face. Rae’s exit will allow an open and fresh leadership race that won’t likely be haunted by any phantoms from generations-past. Granted, Justin Trudeau’s name carries a lot of baggage west of Ontario (and in Quebec) but with Rae out, we will likely see full generational change in the lineup of Liberal contenders.

This will excite some Liberal partisans because the Liberal Party will be a blank slate, without foundational policy to anchor it in any way or another. This will also be to the benefit of other parties that will easily define the Liberal Party for their purposes as well.

So we’re talking merger?

The news over the past few days has been Liberal-NDP merger. This is all talk and serves to undermine Michael Ignatieff as leader of the Liberal Party. Over the past month, there’s been renewed talk of coalition between the Liberals and NDP and this was spurred on by a couple of polls indicating that a Michael Ignatieff led coalition would lose to Stephen Harper, a Bob Rae led one would tie and — just for fun — a Jack Layton led coalition would win. Another poll was released to suggest that a majority of Canadians would support a coalition party against the Conservatives (you gotta love those leaderless ideal-leader poll questions!)

The problem is, however, is that the electorate wouldn’t be asked as they were by their friendly dinner-time-calling pollster friends. Michael Ignatieff has explicitly said (at least in his latest iteration) that he would not run as a coalition during the next election and that the numbers post-election would govern his choice.

When we ran against the coalition (extra-writ) in December 2008, what most Canadians found offensive about such a proposed coalition was that the separatist Bloc Quebecois would be given a veto on government of Canada decisions (as a partner to government). Furthermore, an election result returned just six weeks earlier would have been overturned. While constitutional, most Canadians felt that such a move lacked moral authority; Stephane Dion had dismissed any talk of coalition during the election campaign and then was ready to form one after the ballots were counted. A coalition was forced upon Canadians without consultation or consideration, but worse, it was done so after it was explicitly stated that it would not happen.

Fast forward to today. Michael Ignatieff’s problem during any future election will be the big question mark placed upon him by voters (helped by the Conservative Party) that asks if he has different intentions in his mind than what he utters from the stump. He’s been for the coalition, then against, then for one if necessary but not necessarily, then against, then for but only after Canadians decide against his party. Canadians rejected Stephane Dion because they were unsure of his uncertain carbon tax (and leadership) during tough economic times. Now, a question of political instability still looms and Michael Ignatieff is doing nothing to firm up confidence in his leadership.

Make no mistake, coalition talk (and merger talk) at this time serves no other purpose than to undermine the leadership of Michael Ignatieff. In fact, winners from such musings are Stephen Harper, Bob Rae and Jack Layton. Michael Ignatieff has had few perceived victories since taking the helm of the Liberal Party. His now famous “your time is up” bellicose utterance to Stephen Harper is now a cliche in Ottawa circles. The summer season can spell death for opposition leaders as they clamour for the media spotlight and Michael Ignatieff is about to embark on his summer tour with no gas in the tank. Consider that while Michael Ignatieff was trying to find his feat during prorogation, Stephen Harper hosted the world at the Olympics. While Michael Ignatieff uncomfortably flips burgers with all of the enthusiasm of a dyspeptic turtle this summer, Stephen Harper will be hosting world leaders at the G20/G8 summits and the Queen during Canada Day to boot. Michael Ignatieff will emerge this summer a faded version of his grey self or with Rae’s daggers in his back.

And now there’s talk of merger with mere weeks of Ottawa spotlight left for Michael Ignatieff? This is nothing more than to give the party something to chew over while they consider their leader’s long-term viability. The Liberal Party will not merge with the NDP. The party’s grassroots put up with enough as they told their Central-Nova activists to stand down against Elizabeth May during Dion’s cooperation deal with the Greens. One cannot imagine 308 (times 2) riding associations trading horses for the right to run their chosen candidate — most have already been nominated. Consider too that the Liberal Party of Canada is the most successful political party of western democracies over the past 100 years. A mere four years out of power is no time to get desperate, lads.

Rae’s real prize is convincing the left that he can lead them to power, but as leader of that historic Liberal Party. With Rae in the Liberal top-spot, Liberal-NDP switchers will go Liberal leaving the NDP a shadow of itself. Is merger on the table? No. But talk of a merger sends a signal to all that the Liberal Party is not content with itself and when you do the math it’s a question of leadership, not its constitution.

Paul Zed to run Ignatieff campaign

I’ve learned tonight from sources close to the Ignatieff team that Paul Zed will head up Ignatieff’s leadership campaign as his National Director. Zed is the former Ignatieff 2006 national Liberal leadership co-chair and a former Saint John, New Brunswick MP.

UPDATE: An reader points out that Zed’s been the one doing media on how Ignatieff isn’t a fan of the coalition.

Ignatieff leadership gain of LeBlanc and the scuttling of the Liberal-NDP coalition?

News that is late-breaking tonight suggests that Liberal MP Dominic Leblanc will drop out of the Liberal leadership race and endorse Michael Ignatieff. It is rumoured that Leblanc will provide Ignatieff with an additional nine members of the Liberal caucus in what is shaping up to be a backroom leadership election by caucus. Leblanc’s move over to the Ignatieff camp should be smooth for Leblanc supporters as some senior east-coast Liberal organizers who were initially eyeing Frank McKenna for the top job of that party chose Leblanc instead. New Brunswicker Steve McKinnon, who would have backed McKenna has blazed charted the waters for martime Liberals to sail over to Ignatieff.

This late development means that Bob Rae, who is beating a path coast-to-coast promoting the coalition concept, finds himself further behind now that Ignatieff enjoys an even more comfortable lead among caucus colleagues. Somewhat ironic is the fact that the coalition deal was struck out of a sense of urgency (or opportunity) to topple the Harper government and that this sense of urgency is also driving the Liberal party to select a leader via caucus selection. Strategically, Rae should now advocate for a period of Liberal introspection, an abandonment of the push to a coalition with the Bloc and to have a real (yet delegated) full-blown leadership election. As it stands, Rae would fare worse under the urgent scenario than that which allows the Prime Minister to stay in power for now.

And why not? Some time for the Liberal party to heal might do them some good. Joining up with the NDP erodes the brand of both parties and upsets each ideological base. True, those that seek power despite principle would rather see Stephen Harper evicted from 24 Sussex tomorrow. However, for the longterm livelihood of the Liberal party they ought to take some time out to rebuild, to fundraise and to craft an original policy platform – one without the word “shift”.

If Michael Ignatieff does assume the helm of the Liberal Party through caucus selection, the January throne speech/budget combo should pass through Liberal abstention. Poll numbers are showing poor support for a Liberal-NDP coalition and Ignatieff himself has never been warm to the idea of coalition. Besides, don’t you get the sense that Iggy is the sort who plays the long game rather than leaps before he looks? A number of Liberals in caucus have privately expressed concerns over the coalition proposal and most scenarios of how a coalition would play out are unknown and therefore should be somewhat worrisome to most.

For Mr. Dion, the coalition concoction was to be his magical elixir which promised new life. Realistically, his leadership prospects have been long dead. For Mr. Rae to avoid a quick demise, he should insist upon a delegated leadership election as planned meaning that the coalition ought to be on hold for now or done like Dion.

Liberal leadership race heats up

In my last post, I speculated that New Brunswick Liberal MP (and son of a former Governor General) Dominic LeBlanc would throw his hat into the ring for leadership of the Liberal Party. Today, LeBlanc became the first MP to announce his intentions to seek the leadership running between Ignatieff on the relative right and Rae on the left of the party.

I’ve learned some other details about who might back a LeBlanc bid for leadership. I suggested yesterday that a Martin adviser such as Steve MacKinnon would back LeBlanc. With McKenna expected to remain outside of the race, I mused that MacKinnon may go LeBlanc. However, I’ve learned today that the former national director of the Liberal Party will likely back Ignatieff while communications gurus from Paul Martin’s PMO such as Scott Reid and Tim Murphy will be more likely to back the New Brunswick MP while a Liberal insider I spoke to expects John Duffy to go with Rae.

If Ujjal Dosanjh enters the race (if he survives a putative court challenge for a recount), he is expected to do so for the purpose of gathering BC delegates for Bob Rae.

Conservatives and New Democrats I have spoken with have previously feared a bid by Bob Rae. Conservatives believe that Rae will unite and polarize the left while the NDP fears massive hemorrhaging of their membership for Rae. Recently, however, Conservatives are more bullish on their future against a Rae-led Liberal Party as the Global Economic Crisis has severely diminished Rae’s futures on the leadership market. Conservatives would easily remind Canadians of Bob Rae’s tenure during Ontario’s last economic recession and would make the case that Rae days would soon return.

As for second tier candidates, Ruby Dhalla is considering a bid. Sources of mine in Brampton–Springdale have told me that even during the election (before the knives were in Dion’s back), Dhalla told Punjabi language radio that she would be running for the Liberal leadership. Dhalla is seen to be on the right-flank of the Liberal Party and backed Ignatieff’s bid during the 2006 leadership race so unless her candidacy caches fire, she may be building proxy support for the other Liberal professor.

Woe for my love of a great comedy, Justin Trudeau is not expected to jump into the leadership race. Indeed, the son of the former Liberal Prime Minister has not yet got his feet wet in the House of Commons. Trudeau is expected to back LeBlanc as the current standard-bearer of the next generation of Liberal leaders. Trudeau backed former Ontario-cabinet minister Gerard Kennedy for leadership in 2006. Kennedy is testing the waters for entry into this contest, however, many believe that as Dion’s kingmaker, Kennedy may sit this one out to put some time between this aberration and his ambition.

Yesterday, former Chretien finance minister John Manley tested the waters in a most self-deprecating way but found none to dive into as he metaphorically suggested. The author of the Harper-initiated Manley Report was seen by many Liberals as betrayal to a weakened, embarrassed and voiceless party on the opposition benches. Manley may find redemption in his party by organizing for a front-running candidate and this would have the benefit of keeping his name in the minds of Liberal partisans.

Ironically, Dion’s election as Liberal leader may see more longshots enter this race. Ambitious Liberals with at least an ounce of name recognition may see a divided field and plan a run up the middle. LeBlanc’s entry into the race gains credibility because he is first to announce. Others may see that LeBlanc is planning a Dion-like charge up the middle as Dion had done and work to position themselves as a more palatable consensus candidate. Ottawa politicos are guessing that the field of candidates will be necessarily narrow due to a shallow and parched pool of donors. Since leadership contenders can carry previous debts into the next Liberal race, the Liberal base will again be tapped for sparse cash from not only the next crop making the case to be the Liberal Party’s next PM, but from those that are resume building and those paying down old debts during an economic crisis.

UPDATE: Ruby Dhalla’s office contacted me and they would like you to know that Ruby Dhalla did not state that she was running for leader on Punjabi radio. So, for now it’s a matter of she said vs. they said. (UPDATE: I’m now concluding that these Brampton–Springdale sources are likely inaccurate. My sincere apologies to Ruby Dhalla on this point.) Also, Dhalla’s office wants everyone to know that the image above is doctored and that Dr. Dhalla did not pose for the photo. They asked that I remove it. However, I will not comply as the image is obviously satire.

McKenna or LeBlanc?

The word late tonight is that either Frank McKenna or Dominic Leblanc will be entering the race to replace Stephane Dion as leader of the federal Liberal party. McKenna has stated to friends that he’s not particularly interested at this time, and I’ve learned that McKenna feels that with the economy in its current shape, he doesn’t want to challenge Harper in the current economic climate (in other words, he doesn’t want to strike at the confidence of Canadians by challenging the PM’s direction on the economy as the head of TD Bank). A partner at McInnes Cooper, McKenna’s former law firm has confidence that McKenna will enter the race, however, others have told me that the former New Brunswick premier will not be leaving the corporate sector to rebuild a party’s finances and ideology from the ground up.

This is good news for Dominic LeBlanc, who covets the top job of Trudeau’s party. LeBlanc would have likely deferred to McKenna if the elder New Brunswicker wanted to throw his hat into the ring. However, with McKenna not interested in the top job, this clears the way for Leblanc. If Leblanc enters the fray, I’m hearing that he’ll have the support of Justin Trudeau and the organizational muscle of Paul Martin’s team. Martin’s braintrust includes Liberal Party heavyweight Steve MacKinnon, who is close to McKenna. An alternative theory is that Leblanc is entering the race on McKenna’s behalf as a stalking horse to build the organization and team for a late entry by the former Premier.

Sincere advice for the Liberal Party of Canada

To my friends in the Liberal Party, it’s been a rough few years hasn’t it? A bitter family feud between the Martins and the Chretiens made Hatfield vs. McCoy look like the Brady Bunch vs. the Partridge Family and the accidental election of a third-rate leader bent on control and unnameable to caucus advice has lead to your worst popular vote share in your party’s long history. The NDP is resurgent and the Greens have become a temporary home for your base as they recoiled with shame as the party of Trudeau, Pearson and Laurier became the party of the clueless, the ambitious and the corrupt. True, you may have truly found your basement of support this election, but the foundation is cracked and some nice red paint and roses won’t cover the mold.

From the time of Trudeau, your party has had an unhealthy fixation on personality over policy, indeed style over substance. Turner and Dion were short hiccups for your party but Martin’s tragically ironic countless priorities and Chretien’s empty record (not going into Iraq is not the same as real constructive accomplishment) will, unfortunately for your partisans, provide a high enough dose of the addictive drug that is power. In Stephane Dion, the aberration is not solely based on his failure to obtain power, it is also rooted in his attempt to introduce a bold policy and for you this provided terrible symptoms of withdrawal.

And, now you sit at a familiar crossroads that looks like December 2006. Nothing has progressed. Indeed, you are arguably further behind now that Canadians have reaffirmed what was at first a flirtation with a Harper-led Conservative government but one that now has a firm legitimacy in the minds of the electorate. Is your hunger and perceived entitlement to power enough for you to latch onto the peripheral distraction of personality, or is it time to figure out what your party stands for?

Just minutes after Mr. Dion conceded defeat on election night, the knives came out. In truth, you’ve never in recent Liberal history had a more honest and sincere politician lead your party. Unfortunately for you, any ruthlessness of his political instinct focused inward on your caucus that he could barely control rather than outwards towards Stephen Harper in not only a policy-based direction, but along a shrewd political path to remove him from that top office that you covet.

But then again, for at least my lifetime, your party has been about power despite policy. Yet the political landscape has changed and as you charge and foolishly dismiss your right-wing opponents as ideologues, they come to the arena ready to do battle, and they fundamentally do so with ideas.

For a party that has reached the depths of intellectual bankruptcy, the tendency is to attack on the unsubstantial, on a raft of policies that do not exist in a hidden agenda, and on fear of the unknown. To be sure, such tactics were employed by the Conservatives as they fought to retain power, yet they did so on a strong foundation of their ideas that you decry as ideology.

In Dion, you finally had a leader who stood for more than fear, you had a leader who stood for an idea. Dion’s Green Shift policy was a real though flawed plan, with the policy benefit of bridging the ideologies — at least on the surface and despite the increased spending — of fiscal conservatism and environmental protectionism. Given the right leader and the proper political circumstances, the plan could have been a winner for a Liberal government in waiting. Blessed with a charming silver-tongued salesman of a leader, your transition team would have been aiding with the formation of a cabinet this week, instead you hit rock bottom on leadership and you’re about to go back to the cold comfort of a slick huckster without a product to sell.

The Liberal Party of Canada needed a Conservative majority more than the Conservative Party did. At first glance, you seem to be keeping the Tories close to but short of real power. In truth, the advantage here is Harper’s. The Prime Minister will keep a penniless Liberal Party on the verge of electoral war, as you prepare most of your efforts on election readiness rather than policy development and an exhaustive thorough leadership search. In the next few months, you will be rushed in selecting a leader and preparing for the next campaign. Saddled with financial debt and a deficit of policy, your Liberal Party is a starved beast; vicious and hungry but unfit for the long game.

Political pundits of all stripes have said that minority governments are now the norm. With four parties in the House of Commons, three of which are on the left, Canadians — depending on their view — are either blessed or condemned by this fortuitous circumstance or frustrating stalemate. On this, where you stand is where you sit and for Harper and his caucus that comfortably crowds the government benches, he has minority advantage and you will bleed without opportunity to heal.

What should you do? How to stop the ouroborosian process of urgency followed by poor results followed by urgency, disaster, debt and self-consumption? Break the cycle yourself and go into self-imposed exile. Typical wisdom suggests that governments defeat themselves and you are certainly not in a position to play the futile role of the ignorant to this rule. The Conservative Party found its genesis after a right-of-centre period of introspection, autolytic destruction, and the reformation of policies, communications and politics. Indeed, the Reform Party helped break down the big-C Conservative institution, return it to the crucible of the movement and temper it with a grassroots approach to policy. Reform didn’t destroy conservatism, it helped it get its soul back. My Liberal friends, you need to leave the political arena, and start a process to rediscover what it is that you stand for. The Conservative Party is rooted in the conservative movement whereas the Liberal movement, if it exists, is rooted in the Liberal Party. If Canadians are to give your party a serious look and return it to power, it must rebuild its foundation first.

Frank McKenna watch

I’ve learned via sources close to Frank McKenna that he’ll be having dinner with supporter, trusted advisers and longtime friends in Fredericton tonight.  Is the former Premier of New Brunswick gathering a team to run for the Liberal leadership?

RELATED: Steve Maher of the Halifax Chronicle Herald reports this morning,

On Nov. 25, [Bill] Clinton will join Mr. McKenna in the Moncton Coliseum for a talk on the world economy. When Mr. McKenna set that up, midway through this election campaign, he would have been able to guess that Mr. Dion was in the middle of losing the election.

Current Liberal leader Stephane Dion called a press conference earlier today for Monday where he is expected to announce that he’ll be stepping down. Apparently, he has been delayed in his announcement as he has been negotiating the transfer of his debt to the Liberal Party as a condition of his cooperative departure from Stornoway.