Despite Rae’s solemn pledge not to run for the permanent leader position, this news comes as a bit of a surprise in the wake of last week’s reports that he had all but declared. Rae himself acknowledged he’s given the matter serious thought, having made us all watch him “skate and then dance and then skate again through many scrums and individual interviews”.
While I think we would have been better served without the skating and dancing show, Rae should be applauded for his decision. Rae’s candidacy would have unleashed a divisive leadership race centered on the issue of when it’s ok for a politician to break his promise – not exactly the sort of contest that screams “renewal” to Canadians. The Liberal Party will be better served with Rae representing the party in the House, while the next generation of Liberals criss-cross the country signing up supporters.
This was no doubt a difficult decision. No matter how low the Liberal Party has fallen, Rae can be forgiven for dreaming of a leadership win followed by a series of miraculous events that allow him to stumble across the finish line first in 2015. After all, this is the man who “accidentally” won the 1990 Ontario election. Saying no today meant saying no to ever being Prime Minister – not an easy decision to make for someone who has lived and breathed politics for over 40 years.
At the same time, saying no to that dream secured Rae’s legacy. You’ll recall in 2006, many Liberals snered at him as a “tourist” in the Liberal Party, assuming he would pack his bags if he lost the leadership. Since then, Rae has twice won under the Liberal banner and has given thousands of hours of his life to the party. In 2008, he graciously stepped aside after caucus crowned Ignatieff interim leader in the wake of the coalition crisis. Rae could have easily gone negative, running for the permanent position against the establishment (hell, I would have voted for him), but he backed his old roomate for the good of the party. Today, Rae again made a difficult decision, placing his party above his ambitions.
The end result of this is that Rae will hold the interim title for 2 years – nearly as long as Dion and Ignatieff held their permanent positions - only Rae’s record will not be stained by electoral embarassments. He will hold a leadership role in the rebuilding process, and will be given his fair share of credit if his succesor makes gains in 2015.
Rae now instantly becomes one of the most respected Liberal Party elders in the land. That may not get you a portrait in the Parliament Buildings, but as far as legacies go, it’s not a bad way to wind down one’s political career.