Better Late Than Never

Rex is giving the Liberals a hearty round of applause for finally picking the right leader. Better late than never.

Rex is giving the Liberals a hearty round of applause for finally picking the right leader.

Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode

Politics is not a generous game. Ambition, almost by definition, demands selfishness.

The career of Bob Rae, at least the latter day portion of it, inclines me to think neither of these observations applies to him.

Recall when Michael Ignatieff, or his backers, finessed the capture of the Liberal leadership - got their guy past all challenges and past a real leadership race. Bob Rae - who alone could have kicked up a really justified storm over the matter - quietly and without public rancour put aside his own interest and accepted Mr. Ignatieff as leader. Can't think of very many who would have done the same.

And now - now that the Liberal party is no longer the sleek hip convertible that drives straight to 24 Sussex - now that it's pretty close to the political equivalent of a write-off and a wreck - who volunteers for the job of taking it over, re-engineering it, and standing up for it in its worst days? Well, Bob Rae again.

This is as much generosity as politics is likely to demonstrate.

Rae was twice - twice - turned down for the leadership of the Liberals. He was, in contrast with to Mr. Dion or Ignatieff, the only one with real and tested political skills. Certainly he had more to offer that the latter in real Canadian experience, and the former in political intuition and sheer mastery of communication. Rae is one of the few natural Parliamentarians - knows Canadian politics from both the provincial and federal level - and has wandered through defeat to a larger view of politics and the country.

But having been turned down by the party, he doesn't turn it down - taking on as he has the now unglamorous, largely thankless task of interim leadership. He could simply have walked off stage. Others have.

Would have been interesting for Justin Trudeau, say, to have given it a whirl. If he really wanted to demonstrate how deep his commitment to the party is - that his standing in the party is more than mere inheritance - then picking up its leadership at the lowest point would have been - dare I say it - a challenge worthy of his father. But then, most of those Liberals who would have run for leader in a trice in happier times, are only too eager to hand over to the reins now that it's shrunken, demoralized and on the ropes.

There are more ironies here than we can count.  Rae would easily have done better than Ignatieff in the last election.  Rae picked in the post-Martin convention might even have toppled Stephen Harper. The Liberals declined his skills, when those skills would have been of maximum advantage.

But he - with a sense of duty that almost seems old-fashioned - though duty should never be the case - is here to pick things up again.  

Generosity of spirit. Such a rare thing in politics - I thought it worthwhile to underline it.

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.