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Bob Rae on Michael Ignatieff

In a wide-ranging, three-part interview with The Real News Network Senior Editor Paul Jay, (, Bob Rae, Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic and former Premier of Ontario, discusses the Liberal Party leadership crisis in the waning days of 2008 and his views about his new leader, Michael Ignatieff.

In the first segment of the interview released April 16 on , Mr. Rae asserts that the executive of the Liberal Party left him no choice but withdraw from the leadership race or face a destructive fight.

In the second segment of the interview, to be released on April 17, Rae is asked if he thinks the collapse of the effort to create a coalition government was a lost opportunity for change in Canadian politics.

In the third segment of the interview to be released on April 18, Rae is asked his opinion on Ignatieff’s thesis of “imperialism light” and his leader’s public defense of the Iraq war.

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network and our series of interviews with Bob Rae. Thanks, Bob.

BOB RAE, FOREIGN AFFAIRS CRITIC, MP (LIB.): Good to be with you.

JAY: So let’s pick up the story. So now the Liberal Party executive has ordained Michael Ignatieff as its leader. Some people in the press and outside called it a bit of a coup against the process, meaning the process of a real election in the Liberal Party for a leader. At any rate, as you said, they made their decision, and you were stuck with it, and so was everyone else. Then what happens to the whole issue of the coalition government? Because the coalition government had quite a bit of support in Canada as feeling like a fresh kind of politics.

RAE: The coalition had support, it had detractors, and it had a whole bunch of issues associated with it. And, again, when Michael became the leader, it was a choice the party—if you like, the party executive, the party leadership—had made with respect to where they thought things should go. And basically the decision—Michael made the decision that he didn’t think there was sufficient public support for the coalition, because public support was pretty heavily divided across the political spectrum and all the polls showed quite strong opposition to the idea in Western Canada, quite strong support for the idea in Quebec, and sort of Ontario and the Atlantic provinces were a bit of a wash. I think Michael felt that that was not the basis upon which he wanted to form the government. And, I mean, you could ask him, but, I mean, I think that he made it pretty clear that he felt that he would have had to spend a ton of his time justifying the legitimacy of what had taken place and thrown the country into a political turmoil, because this whole issue of how minority governments are formed and how coalitions are formed is—it doesn’t happen very often, but whenever it does, it does cause a sense of political or constitutional crisis to emerge. And I think he felt that given the severity of the economic crisis, given the growing challenges and in fact the government’s recognition that, whoa, what we thought in the end of November, that’s not true anymore—we’re not in surplus, we’re in serious deficit, we’ve got to respond. And, again, the momentum was moving across the world for governments to respond together. And I think Michael’s judgment was that he thought we would end up losing a lot of ground and he would lose a lot of ground if we went into government under those circumstances. And that was the decision that he had made.

JAY: I mean, a decision—I guess it’s a little naive to think it would be anything else, but very much a partisan Liberal Party decision. There was a lot of discussion outside the partisan politics that in fact this coalition government would have been very good for the country, ’cause it would have created an opportunity for a whole fresh approach to the crisis. I mean, you at one point, I think, after Stéphane Dion stepped down, where it was the—you were actually the spokesman for the coalition for awhile.

RAE: Well, I mean, there was a gap, I mean, there was a vacuum there. I mean, the leader at that time—. I mean, I guess my view is is that the leader—you know, if you want to make things work, you support the leader; and I supported Mr. Dion. So when he said the coalition, I said fine, we’ll work hard for that. And, obviously, because of my own background, I’ve been a member of the New Democratic Party for a long time and knew a lot of the people in the party, and I felt there was quite a lot of support in the Liberal Party for the idea and what we were trying to do, and in the broad country I felt there was support. But, frankly, that’s sort of like arguing about last year’s snow. I mean, the decision was made—and I think on a perfectly fair basis—by the new leader to say, well, wait a minute, there’s a whole lot of other issues out there.

JAY: But did it not bother you at all that this, first of all, was seen? Like, there’s a reassertion of sort of the elite of the Liberal Party to get to politics as usual (this coalition government was opening up politics, from some people’s point of view, for a fresh breath of air), to get back to the politics we always know. And how did you feel about it personally? And I know you’re in a position now you have to support the leaders. So I don’t know how—.

RAE: No, no, no, no. But it’s also perhaps a difference in philosophy or a personal approach to things. I don’t have a whole lot of time at this point in my life to worry about my feelings.

JAY: No, but what’s good for the country, not just the Liberal Party.

RAE: What’s good for the country, in my view, is to replace the Conservative government. And once Michael had said, “Well, the way we’re going to do it is a different way. We’re not going to do it the coalition way. We’re going to wait for an election, then we’re going to have an election. We’re going to defeat them that way.” It’s not up for me to turn around and say, well, you know, that’s wrong, or that’s not the best way, or this way is, here. History will judge all of these things, and there will be lots of time to reflect on it. We’re in the middle of the game right now; we’re in the middle of a very challenging process to replace the Conservative government. And the way I do that as a working politician is to say, okay, let’s go forward. Other people—the media, commentators, other people—may sit back and say, “Well, we have lots of time for reflection,” say, “Well, what about this and what about that?” But I don’t have the time to do that, and I also think it’s a complete diversion from the real issue, which is: how do we replace the Conservative government? There was an opportunity to do that one way. That opportunity was not taken. Fine. And now we have another opportunity, so let’s make sure we take that one and let’s make sure we don’t—. But this point about division is very important, because I feel very, very strongly that one of the things that has hurt the country has been a division in the Liberal Party which has been allowed to exist for a long period of time, which has aided the forces of the right. The forces of the right have been able to exercise power and take over power because the forces in the center and the center-left and whatever allowed themselves to be divided. And we can’t let that happen again.

JAY: But part of the fight that’s been taking place in the Liberal Party is a very legitimate fight between the left and right of the Liberal Party. And that’s part of what this whole convention and process over the last year was about. Like, where is the Liberal Party going?

RAE: If I may say so, that’s sort of, like, your opinion, which is fine.

JAY: Well, I can only give you my opinion.

RAE: Well, that’s good.

JAY: But I will also give you some evidence and see what you think of it. And I’m going to do that in the next segment [of this] interview, ’cause we’re going to go back to what Michael Ignatieff thinks about foreign policy and what you make of that. And the question is: replace the Conservative Party with what? And that will be the topic of the next segment of our interview with Bob Rae. Please join us on The Real News Network for that.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Bob Rae - Bob Rae served as Ontario's 21st Premier, and is currently the Liberal The Hon. Robert (Bob) Rae - Liberal Member of Parliament in Canada for the constituency of Toronto Centre. Rae is the Foreign Affairs Critic, Member of the House of Commons Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan and Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. He has also been involved in international missions for Canada assisting peace efforts in Africa and South Asia.As a partner at Goodman's, one of Canada's leading international law firms, Rae's clients include major corporations, trade unions, charitable, NGOs, and government organizations. He has extensive experience in negotiation, mediation and arbitration, and speaks and consults widely on issues of public policy.