There are several reasons behind my choice. In the first place, I have believed for years that the Liberal party of Canada must undergo a profound and radical renewal, not only of its internal culture but also of its ideas. Especially in Quebec, as the last two federal elections have shown with stark clarity, this obligation has become an urgent necessity.
Bob Rae comes from outside the party but he possesses, in addition to a fund of political experience, a deep knowledge of the entire country -and particularly of Quebec and of the francophone spirit and culture. He can ensure that the sorely needed renewal will take place if he wins the leadership race. In the realm of ideas, he displays precisely the blend of social progressivism and economic practicality required to deal with present-day realities. At the level of the party's internal culture, his stainless integrity is just what the Liberal party tragically needs: for there must be a radical break with the attitudes and behaviour which have been so disastrous for the party.
As a specific example of Bob Rae's integrity, I can mention that he has always categorically refused to copy the games and tactics used by certain other candidates over the past year--for example, when they publicly declared they were not interested in the leadership while setting up a campaign organization. Bob Rae would tell his would-be supporters that the leadership was not yet open and that he would not manoeuvre behind the current leader's back. He also categorically refused to discredit other candidates through personal attacks (although some rivals did not hesitate to attack him). That was not his style, he declared, and it never would be.
Bob Rae believes there must be a true debate over ideas during the contest, but that Liberal unity must be preserved. Bob Rae also understands that the federal Liberal party--notably in Quebec--must no longer be an empty shell without a single idea of its own, no longer an entity controlled by apparatchiks and mercenaries who are there only because they are paid. It is worth noting, as an example of his attitude, that he refuses to allow into his organization any of the mercenaries who have acquired a dubious reputation by selling themselves to the highest bidder--for example, those who were quickly purchased by Stronach and who just as quickly switched to the Ignatieff camp. (This rather surprised me: Ignatieff's lofty words on the necessity of a break with the party's old culture had me believing that he wouldn't want such dubious people around him.) These persons have sapped the party's energy; the fact that some candidates have already recruited them indicates that if they win, the same persons will again have a preponderant influence within the party. Yet these are the people who, when installed in the "headquarters" of the party's Quebec wing, plainly abandoned the grass-roots Liberal militants in regions of the province which were difficult for the party. I categorically refuse to consider the possibility of the federal Liberal party continuing to be controlled by such individuals. At least one can trust Bob Rae because, on this score, his choices and actions are fully consistent with his words and thoughts.
Another reason to support Bob Rae is that he has real political experience. He is familiar with government, and as a former provincial premier is perfectly knowledgeable about the needs of the provinces. But, of course, every kind of slander is being spread about him in connection with the hard times he had to face when in power in Ontario. It is time to set the record straight on this matter. One must remember, first,that Bob Rae was elected in early September 1990 after his predecessor, David Peterson, had called an early election two and a half years after having won a very substantial victory in 1987. Furious about an unexpected and unjustified electoral campaign--a summer campaign to make matters worse--the people of Ontario voted massively against the Peterson government and elected the NDP under Bob Rae.
It was the NDP's first victory in the history of Ontario and no-one was more surprised that Bob Rae. But the reason why Peterson had called the election became clear only when Bob Rae took up the reins of power. Peterson knew that the provincial deficit was about to rise precipitately and that a recession was coming. The election was called in haste so these facts would stay hidden from the people of Ontario; Peterson counted on easily winning another mandate before the state of the province's finances surfaced.
Bob Rae, in the very first days of his mandate, faced a colossal deficit which greatly exceeded the forecasts announced by the previous government. The economic recession came soon after, and cuts in federal transfer payments to the provinces also began to produce their dire effects. Thus to claim that Bob Rae bankrupted the province, as his opponents imply, is both a slander and an act of gross hypocrisy. He responded to the situation in a socially responsible way, undertaking the necessary budgetary restrictions without laying off employees and without reducing educational, cultural, or social programmes. The unions, however, reacted stupidly. They would never accept any compromise and they vigorously attacked the Rae government. Bob Rae faced them down even though practically everyone was against him--not only the unions, but also doctrinaire Bay Street financiers for whom there was but a small step between a social-democratic government and the Soviet Union!
Considering the particular circumstance and the depth of the recession at the time, Bob Rae was a responsible premier. His adversaries, for their part, were much less so. Of course he committed mistakes, as do all governments. Today, if one knows the long and consistent path Bob Rae has followed, one realizes that he is sufficiently humble and lucid to have learned from his mistakes--an important asset for anyone who wishes to lead a national party and an entire country. At the very least he has practical experience with matters of state, another asset which can help him avoid repeating certain errors. The federal government could well benefit from the lessons Bob Rae has learned.
Some of Bob Rae's opponents imply, rather craftily, that the Liberal party would lose Ontario if he were its leader. This argument is totally wrong, a symptom of bad faith. First, Bob Rae would be attractive to a large section of NDP voters in that province as well as those--very numerous in Ontario--who support the Liberal party as a bulwark against Tory social conservatism.
Also, another large part of the Ontario electorate has supported the Liberal party -up to now- because it is seen as the spearhead of national unity and as the federal party with the most influence in Quebec. But the Conservatives have now made considerable advances in Quebec and the Liberals have achieved their worst results ever. If the Liberal party does not have at its head a leader who can truly speak to the people of Quebec, the important fraction of Ontario voters who place national unity high in their agenda will simply prefer the Conservatives in the next election: these people voted Liberal mainly because they thought Liberals could still defend federalism in Quebec. The result would be the loss of a great number of seats for the party, as is clear from the narrow majorities the Liberals obtained in some Ontario ridings.
Bob Rae is the only candidate for the leadership of the Liberal party who can reach the citizens of Quebec. He is a progressive with a fiscally responsible approach. His values of social justice, tolerance, and openness strike a harmonious note for many people in Quebec. Also, Bob Rae has always been profoundly loyal to the province. He vigorously supported the Meech Lake accord, and has steadfastly maintained that Quebec is, and always will be, a distinct society. Bob Rae is not just a perfectly bilingual speaker: he knows Quebec, he understand the soul and culture of Quebec. He believes that Canada's francophone dimension, the heart of which is Quebec, must be recognized and nurtured; this is proven by his acts and his commitment.
As a former provincial premier he understands the needs of provinces and the sacred character of their jurisdictions; he can therefore offer a balanced approach when it comes to the role of the federal government and its responsibilities towards the provinces, notably in the matter of federal-to-provincial transfer payments. Thus Bob Rae possesses the openness of mind, the understanding, and the resources which would allow the federal Liberal party to rebuild its credibility in Quebec. By so doing he could consolidate the Liberal vote in Ontario, preventing voters there who are concerned with national unity from moving to the Conservative camp and attracting a large part of the NDP vote (Bob Rae as Liberal leader would be Jack Layton's nightmare).
Of course, slander about the Ontario situation will rain on Bob Rae's head. That is why the facts about the financial situation he had to confront in Ontario must and will be systematically clarified. Anyway, politics will always mean strife. We will have to put up a fight in Ontario as in every other part of the country: such is the reality which every leadership candidate must face. That is why the argument about Bob Rae causing a Liberal defeat in Ontario seems, to me, cowardly, pernicious, and irresponsible. If we do not have a leader who can attract voters in Quebec, then the Liberal party will sustain major losses in Ontario. And Bob Rae is the only person who can realistically win over Quebec. This is already apparent from the numbers and quality of young people who are joining the party for the first time in Quebec, who are doing so in order to support him--and are consequently ensuring that the party has an infusion of fresh ideas.
We must also consider the various dossiers which Bob Rae has dealt with in the last decade, which speak loudly about the range of his capabilities. There are so many examples that I can mention only a few:
(1) After the tainted blood scandal undermined the credibility of the Canadian Red Cross, Bob Rae took charge and restored the credibility, transparency, and efficiency of the Red Cross--a task believed impossible at the time he took it on.
(2) In Toronto, the construction of a concert hall for the city's symphony orchestra turned into a bottomless money pit. Tens of millions of dollars were lost. Bob Rae took on the dossier and put the project back on the rails in a financially responsible way.
(3) Bob Rae was given the task of coordinating the investigation into the complex affair of the Air India bombing which cost the lives of hundreds of people in 1985. He presented his report last December. The victims' families, observing his commitment, his loyalty towards them, and the way he fulfilled his responsibilities, asked him to extend his involvement further. This shows how, after seeing him in action at close quarters, the victims' families appreciated Bob Rae's leadership qualities.
(4) With much of his time devoted to the Forum of Federations, Bob Rae has played a crucial role on the international scene, using that organization to help wind down the civil war in Sri Lanka and also to deal with the current situation in Iraq, where he was asked to advise politicians on the drafting of a new constitution. In these complex and sensitive international issues, Bob Rae has made pivotal contributions and displayed strong leadership traits which augur well for someone desiring to become Prime Minister of Canada. When one realizes the positive role which our country can have in the world, here is a fact which certainly cannot be ignored.
Examples like these abound--one can find many more without having to search for very long. I need only mention a long article in the Globe and Mail last July which called Bob Rae "Mr. Fix-It" on account of his talent for resolving complex issues and bringing sound financial stewardship to a number of organizations and companies.
Another fundamental reason to support Bob Rae is that he is one of the rare candidates to have exercised true leadership in the cause of national unity. If he is a candidate, in fact, it is very much because of his concern for the unity and future of Canada. Even after quitting politics in 1996--when he certainly had no thought of returning to it--Bob Rae opted for national unity. He showed his committment in several organizations and always brought the issue to centre stage, when most other candidates seemed oblivious to it.
Bob Rae did more than demonstrate his own quality as a leader on the national question: he inspired a multitude of other people to become committed and to play their part in keeping the country united. He has constantly appeared on the front lines, here in Quebec and elsewhere, to make citizens aware of how important is this issue.
I have been able to count on him whenever national unity was involved, as have many other people preoccupied with the same question. In fact this was the question which led to my meeting him in 1997; since then his support has always been loyal, solid, and constant. He was there for us while so many others were simply unknown to us. Michael Ignatieff, for example: apparently he is in the race to "save" Canada, but where was he when it was the time for committment at home, especially in the decade following the 1995 referendum? I really do not know where he was, except that he has taught at Harvard and, recently, wrote articles approving Bush's war in Iraq (a fact which, need I say, would not help the Liberal party gain new supporters in Quebec if he were its leader). But I know that Bob Rae was on the ground, with us, and that he inspired many people who became committed. Bob Rae has a sound record on this question. He has shown that people can count on his profound knowledge of Canadian realities and of Quebec in particular.
To sum up, I am convinced that Bob Rae is the leader we need, not only for the Liberal party but for the country. We need the leadership qualities he has always displayed. We need his loyalty towards Quebec and francophones in all parts of Canada. We need his practical experience in administration, including the lessons he has learned from his mistakes--errors which he has the courage and integrity to admit. We need his capacity to inspire and mobilize the forces of renewal and the youth everywhere in the country.
We must also consider that Bob Rae as Prime Minister of Canada, during an eventual referendum campaign in Quebec, would be a nightmare for the sovereignists. Imagine an intelligent, progressive Canadian Prime Minister, deeply familiar with the people and culture of Quebec, extremely well informed on constitutional issues, aware--through direct experience--of the needs of the provinces yet profoundly committed to a strong and united Canada. Separatist leaders must be praying at this moment in hopes that the Liberal party will choose anyone but Bob Rae. The same could not be said of many other candidates.
I urge Liberals to give serious consideration to Bob Rae's candidacy, to keep in mind the leadership qualities he has amply demonstrated. I invite all those who hold dear the unity of our country to do the same, for Bob Rae has what it takes to be the leader of our country--and the talent to inspire others to be leaders as well. I have seen the man in action at close hand. I have seen how his acts agree with his thoughts, how much leadership he has shown for over ten years on behalf of our country's unity--all the while taking the attendant risks.
This is why I have chosen to support him. Because Bob Rae is a man of his word, experienced, thoughtful, and committed.