U.S. contrasted 'forceful' Rae, 'meek' Ignatieff: WikiLeaks

U.S. officials found Bob Rae to be forceful, eloquent and dominant, especially in comparison to then Liberal leader and former rival Michael Ignatieff, according to leaked diplomatic cables.

Cables released by WikiLeaks offer candid impressions of 2 Liberals

Diplomatic cables released by whistleblower site WikiLeaks reveal U.S. diplomats saw Bob Rae, left, as more forceful and eloquent than former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, right. (Canadian Press)

U.S. officials found Bob Rae to be forceful, eloquent and dominant, especially in comparison to then Liberal leader and former rival Michael Ignatieff, according to leaked diplomatic cables.

Both men met with David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, on Oct. 23, 2009, and left American diplomats with a distinct impression.

Their relations "remain clearly tense, with Rae arriving late and then immediately dominating the conversation, while Ignatieff sat back almost meekly," says a cable marked "confidential."

"Rae was by far the more forceful and eloquent of the two and showed little deference to his party chief, without at any time displaying any rudeness or personal animosity.

"He came across as better read and more substantive than Ignatieff, who stuck mostly to pleasantries and generalities."

Though the intended topics of the luncheon meeting of Liberal party members and the U.S. ambassador were bilateral issues, such as trade and climate change policies, the diplomatic cable strays into a candid summary of impressions of Rae and Ignatieff.

Jacobson's name is listed on the document, but it's unclear whether he penned it.

It is one of dozens of cables, part of a batch released to CBC News by whistleblower website WikiLeaks, that mention Rae. Often, the diplomatic notes refer to Rae in his capacity as Liberal foreign affairs critic or to his two failed leadership attempts in 2006 and 2008.

Rae's 'sole ambition'

One cable from late 2009 — a year after withdrawing as a Liberal leadership candidate to make way for Ignatieff — says Rae "privately insisted that his sole remaining political ambition is to be Foreign Minister."

Comments Rae made about Ignatieff are detailed in another diplomatic cable.

Behind closed doors, Rae commented that the Liberal caucus felt "considerable reluctance to face the voters of the summer, but had been disinclined to try to overrule the relatively new leader," according to a June 16, 2009, cable. That summer, Ignatieff was threatening to force an election over employment insurance benefits.

Ignatieff, Rae is quoted as saying, had made up his own mind on his brinkmanship approach without much, if any, consultation.

"Michael is an intellectual who is also a politician," the cable quotes Rae as saying. "He does his own reading, makes his own analysis, and then comes to his own decision."

Indeed, the bitter rivalry between the two after the 2006 leadership race was "already the stuff of Liberal legend," one diplomat writes as the second leadership race in just over two years was underway in late 2008.

Rae's past as the NDP premier of Ontario weighed heavily on Liberal MPs and party members as they mulled their leadership options.

Rae 'would keep merger option alive'

Among the facts under consideration, a Dec. 8, 2008 cable says, was that "Ignatieff's selection would likely be the death knell of the Liberal/NDP coalition, whereas Rae's selection would keep this option alive."

Ignatieff was appointed leader in early 2009 after Rae withdrew his name from consideration. Ignatieff resigned in the wake of his and his party's defeat in the May 2 election. Rae was elected interim Liberal leader  by the caucus and the party's national directors this week.

Even when Stéphane Dion was at the Liberal helm, U.S. diplomats were taking note of Rae's powerful political presence. In early 2008, Dion's Liberals began showcasing Rae and Martha Hall Findlay after they snagged seats in byelections as the party prepared for a possible fall election.

U.S. diplomats mused that the two additions, particularly Rae, to the Liberal front bench might be a "double edged sword" for the embattled Dion.

The eloquence of Rae, they said, might eclipse Dion in question period.