mercredi, avril 12, 2006

Stephen Harper's «dream opponent» could become a nightmare

Voici un article publié par l'analyste et commentateur politique Larry Zolf, de la CBC. Je joins aussi un article-portrait sur Bob Rae publié en juillet 2005 par le Globe and Mail:

CBC News Viewpoint April 11, 2006
Larry ZOLF

Now that Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion have declared they are seeking the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, look for Bob Rae to become the next establishment candidate.Rae, a former Rhodes scholar whose political résumé includes stints as an NDP MP and premier of Ontario, said as much at a recent Liberal gathering in EdmontonAnd he is not without resources.

Rae has the Chrétien wing of the party solidly behind him, as well two of the former prime minister's closest advisers: Eddie Goldenberg and Rae's own brother, John, who is the real brains behind Quebec’s biggest francophone business complex, Power Corp.Greg Sorbara, who recently stepped down as finance minister in Dalton McGuinty's Ontario government, will be onside, as well as current cabinet minister George Smitherman.

But if Rae can mount a winning campaign, it seems no one will be happier than Conservative strategists, who say they are salivating at the prospect. Rae's NDP government in Ontario, they say, ran up a $1-billion deficit and tried to put welfare people on a means test. He set the party back 20 years after securing the NDP's first and, to-date, only majority government in the province, they say, and he'll do the same to the federal Liberals.As well, they add, Rae has never been in Liberal politics and doesn’t know the party, while his former socialist positions will earn him the suspicion of right-wing Bay Street Liberals.

The Conservatives, however, are putting too much weight on Rae’s NDP past. They would be wiser to focus on their own leader's Reform past, which will surely come to haunt Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Quebec.As a Reformer, Harper was anything but Quebec friendly. He opposed a distinct society for Quebec, voting no to both the Meech Lake and the Charlottetown accords. He also attacked Bill 101, Quebec's Magna Carta of French-language rights.Harper fought for English language rights in Quebec and for the right of French parents to send children to English schools, while attacking the concept of bilingualism. Harper said Quebec was unilingual French, while the rest of Canada was unilingual English. He accused former prime minister Brian Mulroney of trying to shove French down English throats, and attacked him for putting Lucien Bouchard and separatists in his cabinet.

By contrast, Quebecers will likely find Rae’s credentials impressive. He strongly backed both Meech Lake and Charlottetown, butting heads with Pierre Trudeau in the process. As Ontario premier, Quebec nationalists hailed him as both a friend and a critic of the hated Trudeau.

Simply put, Rae understands the people and culture of Quebec far better than the prime minister.Today, Rae is a highly respected Bay Street lawyer, whose expertise is often sought by governments: he led probes into high university tuition costs and the Air India bombing.Rae is promising to rejuvenate the Liberals, uniting the party's progressive factions behind a new deal for Quebec that would be far more inclusive than anything Harper has to offer.

Rae is offering an alternative that is deadly serious. His candidacy should put the fear of the Lord into Harper and those backing his right-wing agenda.Rae would get the Liberal left and the Liberal centre, while stealing a great deal of votes from the NDP. From his Bay Street perch, he would be able to deal effectively with right wing Liberals and big business.

In Quebec, where Harper is a very recent convert, Rae could team up with Ignatieff, Dion and Denis Coderre, forming a quartet that could impress Quebecers with their knowledge and empathy towards Quebec nationalism. They could campaign on Harper’s previous anti-Quebec stances.Leading a united Liberal revival team in Quebec, the Raes and Power Corp., with its extensive networks in Montreal and Winnipeg, could outflank Harper.

Finally, it would be well for the Conservatives to remember that in 1979, it was Bob Rae's no-confidence motion that brought down Joe Clark's minority government. In the Ontario legislature, Rae helped end a 40-year Tory dynasty.As Liberal leader, knocking off Harper might just be another Rae coup.

The comeback kid

By Michael VALPY
The Globe and Mail
July 16, 2005

Ten years ago, even his own daughter was calling him 'toast' after his fractious stint as Ontario's first and only socialist premier. Yet this week he was the toast of Ottawa, jetting off to Baghdad to help draft Iraq's new constitution amid news reports that he could be Canada's next governor-general. What on earth happened? MICHAEL VALPY chronicles the resurrection of Bob Rae:

The Deputy Prime Minister of Canada is standing outside the House of Commons, enumerating the qualities of the Honourable Robert Keith Rae. Her list is long -- he's candid, compassionate, courageous, articulate, knowledgeable, intelligent, and on and on and so forth. Suddenly, Anne McLellan halts, seemingly struck by what she has been hearing herself say. "You know," she reflects, "we do not have many statesmen like that. . . . It is a very small pool. You can count them on the fingers of two hands." Maybe, she amends, on the fingers of one hand.
Statesmen. Canadian statesmen.

Stephen Lewis. Peter Lougheed. Roy Romanow. And maybe people like Donald Macdonald, Mike Harcourt and Lucien Bouchard in Quebec. Add Gerald Caplan, if you're not limiting yourself to elected politicians. People who really have dedicated their lives to the public good.

And, at the top of the list, put Bob Rae -- the man Ontario voters tripped over themselves in their haste to fire 10 years ago as the province's 21st premier, branded an incompetent menace to the economy by the business community, rejected by droves of New Democratic Party supporters, who stayed home from the polls on June 8, 1995, rather than vote for him again, and smacked around in the woodshed by his political allies.

Compare that grunge of the past to today's portrait of Mr. Rae as a respected and superbly talented elder (although, at two weeks short of his 57th birthday and wickedly fit from tennis, "elder" doesn't seem the right word) statesman, as upright and shiny as TV's Man from Glad (whom he looks like, if you squint) -- a national and global Mr. Fix-It whose stature in the public square seems equalled only by that of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter across the border .

In fact, so ubiquitous are his footprints in civil society that no one, not his friends, colleagues, executive assistant, wife, maybe not even Mr. Rae himself, is entirely sure what all he is engaged in.

This week, he's in Baghdad, invited by Iraqi parliamentarians to offer expertise on a federal constitution for their country, as a Canadian Press report tips him as a leading contender to succeed Adrienne Clarkson as governor-general.

A few weeks ago, Ms. McLellan appointed him to advise her on what to do about the Air-India bombing in the wake of the failed prosecution. Before that, the Ontario government commissioned him to hold hearings and report on its postsecondary-education disorders. A few years earlier, he mediated the bitter aboriginal-fishing dispute in Burnt Church, N.B.

He has been a key negotiator in ending Sri Lanka's civil war, produced a rescue plan for the Toronto Symphony, trekked into Sudan and (wearing a flak jacket) Iraqi Kurdistan to offer useful prescriptions on governance, represented the Canadian lumber industry in the U.S.-Canada softwood dispute, acted for the Canadian Red Cross in resolving the tainted-blood scandal.

He is chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, chair emeritus of the Royal Conservatory of Music, national spokesman for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada, former member of Canada's security and intelligence watchdog committee, participant in the Canada Transportation Act Review, chair of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, founding member and former chief executive officer of the global Forum of Federations (which is why he's in Iraq), director of the Canadian Ditchley Foundation and the Trudeau Foundation, panel member of the Canadian Internal Trade Disputes Tribunal . . .

"It seems to be the way my skills have come together," Mr. Rae says self-consciously and a little awkwardly, speaking by mobile telephone from a car nosing through traffic somewhere in Montreal, taking him between meetings.

"I guess it's because it's what I know and what I care about . . . and I still have a passion for the country, and that's always been a great part of my life."

Or as Hugh Segal, executive director of the IRPP, political scholar and Conservative Party éminence grise,puts it: "He is intrinsically such a mensch [Yiddish for someone principled and decent]. It exudes from every pore of his body."

It is intriguing that, removed from politics, Mr. Rae has acquired a public stature he did not have during the five years he unexpectedly led Ontario's first and only NDP government. It's almost as if the man has been born again, recreated -- which, if nothing else, is a commentary on the lenses through which Canadians view their politicians: Pierre Trudeau achieved full iconic status only after he had left Parliament.

Who is Bob Rae today, minus the label of partisan politics sewn into his jacket? "He's moved a bit, he's changed a bit," says Arlene Perly Rae, his wife, "but he's still him."

He still, for one thing, connects with people. For example, one day not long ago, Mr. Rae flagged a taxi in downtown Toronto. "You look like Bob Rae," the driver, an Ethiopian immigrant, told him. "I am Bob Rae," he replied. The driver was ecstatic. He called his father on his mobile phone: "You'll never guess who I've got in my cab. Bob Rae!" He asked Mr. Rae to talk to his father, which he did. He drove Mr. Rae to his destination and refused to take a fare. Mr. Rae insisted on paying, but the driver insisted on not being paid: "I can't charge Bob Rae."

Each night as premier, Mr. Rae is driven home from the office in the company of an armed Ontario Provincial Police bodyguard, who refuses to leave until he has safely entered his house. Shortly thereafter, however, Mr. Rae comes back out the same door to take the family dog for a walk, bodyguardless. As well, his home number is listed in the Toronto telephone directory.

If Arlene Perly Rae says her husband has moved, where has he moved to? Way, way beyond partisan politics, says University of Toronto political scientist David Cameron, a deputy minister in Mr. Rae's government who now works closely with him in Sri Lanka and has just returned from Baghdad.

In Prof. Cameron's view, being liberated from the constraints of political partisanship makes Mr. Rae more effective in the public square. "He brings stature to what he takes on. The fact he is a former senior politician means he can connect with people. He can make full use of his political experience with how things work, how you move an agenda forward. He really functions enormously well."

Prof. Cameron says he has been intrigued watching Mr. Rae work without a supporting phalanx of civil servants: "He has a very fine mind. He can analyze. He can communicate. He is very efficient. He states his opinion very quickly, not folded into diplomatic cotton wool. He cuts to the chase very fast. He has all these wonderful gifts. And, of course, he writes [reports] himself."

Hugh Segal observes that he has gone from partisan to mellow. "It's interesting how similar Bob Rae and Bill Davis [Ontario's famously serene, Conservative ex-premier] have become. Mellowness shapes him. It's his capacity to get beyond people's positions to their fundamental interests because, in the end, that's where you find solutions."

Mellowness. Toronto financier Jack Rabinovitch, a close friend, recalls sharing his personal maxim with Mr. Rae a few years back: You can't be mad and smart at the same time. "He said, 'Why didn't you tell me that 10 years ago?' I think he's matured quite substantially."

Mr. Rae and Prof. Cameron are in Sri Lanka, waiting to speak to the leader of the Marxist People's Liberation Front. Mr. Rae silently studies a large portrait of Lenin hanging on the wall, then turns to Prof. Cameron and says, deadpan: "Do you want to initiate the discussion on the Gotha Program or shall I?"

Karl Marx's critique of the Gotha Program, drafted for the United Workers' Party of Germany in 1875, sets forth his theories on the dictatorship of the proletariat and the transition from capitalism to communism.

Bob Rae agrees that he has changed in some ways. "I've been, in a sense, through the political mill and I've had a fairly challenging ride, let's say. I think it's given me a certain perspective. I think that I've learned -- that I'm learning -- how to just sit and listen. There's a certain value of patience, and that's something I had to learn, that's come over a long period of time."

For example, he fell short of pleasing everyone this year when he conducted his review, a sort of mini-royal commission, of postsecondary education in Ontario. Public meetings were raucous and passions often steamy. But Mr. Rae made it a civil dialogue. He knew how to handle a crowd. He knew how to listen.

And the families of the victims of the Air-India explosion -- angered by the failed criminal prosecution and the government's refusal to establish a public inquiry into the case -- came away from their first meeting with Mr. Rae acknowledging that they felt he had listened to them. He had tears in his eyes.

Robert Keith Rae grew up all over the world as a diplomat's son. He enrolled at University of Toronto and became best friends, and engaged in student politics with, another diplomat's son, the public intellectual Michael Ignatieff.

He met Arlene Perly in the offices of the student newspaper; the two married a decade and several intervening romances later. He won a Rhodes Scholarship and went to Oxford. He discovered political purpose and direction working in a social housing project in England. He returned to University of Toronto and entered law school.

In a 1978 by-election, at the age of 30, he was elected NDP member of Parliament for the Toronto riding of Broadview-Greenwood. He served as the party's finance critic until he resigned his federal seat in 1982, having been recruited by Stephen Lewis to lead the Ontario party. To everyone's surprise, including his own, he became premier in November, 1990. Legend has it that he called Mr. Ignatieff on election night and said, "You'll never guess what just happened," and broke into uncontrolled laughter.

The period of his administration coincided with the province's worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It also, as Toronto Star political columnist Thomas Walkom wrote in his critical and best-selling 1994 book Rae Days: The Rise and Follies of the NDP, marked a defining moment in Canadian politics: the "Rae experiment" in reinventing democratic socialism, at a time when the left around the planet was free-falling out of fashion.

What Mr. Walkom described as the Rae government's betrayal of "the hopes of all those who fought for and believed in the alternative to the orthodoxy of the Liberals and Conservatives, the banks, the Business Council on National Issues and the editorial board of The Globe and Mail" -- and Bob Rae called political pragmatism in the face of tough times -- resulted in a tumultuous half-decade of public management and internal bleeding the NDP has yet to stanch fully.

For five years, the air over Canada's industrial heartland turned blue (not socialist rosy pink) from the venomous debate over such issues as the NDP's decisions to abandon a commitment to public auto insurance, approve casino gambling and make reining in the deficit a priority over job creation and other social spending.

There was also the party's refusal to link trade with human rights in China -- despite Mr. Rae's strong advocacy, as a federal MP, of sanctions against apartheid South Africa -- and, above all, its decision to reopen public-sector collective-bargaining agreements and compel public employees to take 10 unpaid holidays, the so-called Rae Days.

Forgotten in the din were many of its progressive social policies, including employment affirmative action for women and members of visible minorities, and the building of social housing during a recession, and the fact that Rae Days meant no Ontario public servant lost her or his job.

When the NDP vote in Ontario in the 1993 federal election fell to just 6 per cent, the Rae administration was blamed. Janet Solberg, an influential party member and Stephen Lewis's sister, was quoted as saying: "There's a whole group of people out there who . . . feel betrayed by this government." Mr. Rae later wrote: "I had long felt that I was in the unenviable position where the left felt my brain had been captured by Bay Street, and Bay Street thought I was some kind of Maoist." Shades of the Gotha Program.

The Premier comes home from approving the province's first toll highway in 1993 to find his daughters have stretched a ribbon across the stairs and are demanding $5 each time a parent goes up or down.

Two years later, with an election looming and his party flopping in the polls, Mr. Rae convenes a breakfast-table discussion to prepare his family for a possible "change in their situation." As he begins to explain, daughter Judith looks him in the eye and says: "Dad, you're toast."
Mr. Rae quit political life soon after his government was defeated, having no idea what to do next.

John Fraser, master of U of T's Massey College, offered sanctuary, as he has to many bruised politicians, media people and writers and, at Massey, he wrote a memoir, From Protest to Power: Personal Reflections on a Life in Politics.

He also became an adjunct professor in U of T's law school and joined a Toronto establishment law firm, Goodmans LLP. In 2002, he announced he was "parting company" with the NDP over its rejection of the Third Way moderate socialist policies of British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, its opposition to the World Trade Organization, its denunciation of "any military action against terrorism whether by the United States, Canada or Israel," and the description of Israel as a terrorist state by Svend Robinson, then the party's foreign-affairs critic. The party no longer possessed, he said, "a vision of social democracy worthy of support."

And his career path now? "The funny thing about this life," he says, "is that it really depends on the next phone call. You don't quite know who's going to ask you to do what. It's always interesting."

He is Mr. Fix-It. He golfs. He plays tennis. He reads. He plays piano. He has a great marriage. His wife says he is "a fabulous father" to their three daughters. And he makes jokes in speeches about being a recovering politician. (The first time he used the line in public, it cracked up Bill Clinton with whom he was sharing the stage.) "Recovering? I don't think he's recovered," Ms. Perly Rae says over coffee at a sidewalk café one smoggy Toronto morning. "He didn't quit political life. He was fired. He would have liked to have stayed on."

And although Mr. Rae says unequivocally that he is not looking for a political job, his wife describes him as "politically homeless" at the moment, and says he could be drawn back into politics if Quebec's separation were to become an issue again. "That's when he yells at the television. He's really a passionate Canadian."

Mr. Rabinovitch paints his friend on a bigger political canvas: "I really think he has the ability to be a prime minister, if he got into the right party. If I was Paul Martin, I'd do like Pearson, I'd bring in people like him."

The reference, of course, is to one of the great mythological stories of Canadian politics, how former prime minister Lester Pearson revitalized a sad-sack Liberal government in 1965 by recruiting Quebec's "three wise men" -- Jean Marchand, Gérard Pelletier . . . and Pierre Trudeau.

And there is that Trudeauesque air of a different drummer to Bob Rae. Mr. Segal, chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney in the 1990s, talks about an image of Mr. Rae that sticks in his mind: During the 1992 Charlottetown constitutional conference, the premier of the country's most populous province is sitting alone in a room with Canada's aboriginal leaders, with a computer on his lap, helping them shape constitutional language they could live with. "He was one of the few leaders they trusted," Mr. Segal says. In fact, he has been one of the Canadian political establishment's strongest and most radical proponents of aboriginal self-government.

More than a dozen years later, Anne McLellan, explaining why she chose Mr. Rae for the Air-India assignment, says: "It's the two sets of characteristics he brings, the personal and professional. He's a man of tremendous ability, a man of candour and frankness; he's courageous at articulating right and wrong; he's a man of considerable compassion, and a man who understands the importance of not losing sight of people. He's also a clearly talented lawyer, with some understanding of security and background knowledge of transportation and an expert on how government works."

Mr. Rae says he just likes solving problems. "I've always liked to try to find solutions. I enjoy it when somebody says to me, 'I've got a problem, do you think you can solve it?' Sometimes you can, and sometimes you can't. The challenge of doing it I always find enjoyable."
Why are a politician's skills useful? "To provide some leadership, you have to have the ability to convey a vision of what you want to accomplish and then get other people to come along with you, never lose a sense of direction . . . I think the reason why politics come in for such large criticism is that sometimes people don't see a sense of direction.
"They don't see a sense of purpose, they don't see a sense of what this person is truly trying to accomplish, and I think a good political leader is somebody who has that ability, and obviously the ability to inspire others and get other people to do good things."

And why has he left partisan politics behind? "I find that I can do my work most usefully -- the various jobs I get asked to do -- if everybody understands that I don't have a partisan axe to grind. I'm interested more in talking to people from all levels of government and all parties. "I mean, I'm a social democrat, and I think everybody knows my value-set and where I'm coming from intellectually and morally. But I don't consider myself to be as much of a political partisan as I did when that was what I did. I don't think you can be a little bit involved in a partisan political party; I think you're either in it or not in it. And right now I'm not in it, and that's just the way it is."

The Deputy Prime Minister, musing about statesmen, observes: "These people who have transcended partisan politics and continued on in public service, are incredibly valuable to us as a society."

Meaning Bob Rae might move into Rideau Hall? Resurrected in 10 short years from the country's most unpopular politician to the Queen's representative? "I have not at all been approached and I don't expect to be," says Mr. Rae.

And it does, well, assume a lot -- like the Prime Minister being willing to appoint two members of the Toronto glitterati (Mr. Rae and Her Excellency are much sought-after as guests on the clever dinner-party circuit) back to back, and the Canadian labour movement saying all is forgiven over Rae Days. Although, on that last point . . .

Canadian Auto Workers chief Buzz Hargrove, who notably said of the Rae government, "nothing has done more damage to the cause of social democracy in Canada," says he plans to invite Mr. Rae to talk to the union's executive board about his "fair and balanced" report on postsecondary education and the "world issues he's seen face to face. "I've always had a great deal of respect for him . . . and I've been incredibly pleased by his role in [such issues as] the Red Cross. He's older and wiser now. I'm sure some of the decisions he made back then he would've made differently now."

Yes, resurrected.

Michael Valpy is a senior writer with The Globe and Mail.
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