Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Whispers of uniting the left growing louder

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OTTAWA -- For nearly a year, it was a foregone conclusion that interim Liberal leader Bob Rae was going to run for the permanent job.

Rae promised he wouldn't do so when he was named the interim leader a year ago. But in politics, rules are generally made to be broken, bent or otherwise amended to suit the circumstances and whims of the day.

The party executive was hours away from voting on a motion to let Rae run when Rae told his caucus June 13 he wasn't going to do it.

There are a number of reasons he decided to bow out. Rae will be 67 when the next election is held and it's going to take much more than one election to drag the Liberals up from their current depths.

There was also party unrest about whether Rae was the one.

Yes, he is one of the most skilled politicians in Canada today and can rev up a room like few others. But he has enough baggage to sink the good ship Liberal before it even leaves the pier.

When the Conservatives turned their advertising guns on Rae last winter, it helped stir up resentment among some Liberals who didn't want to spend money defending Rae's record as the former NDP premier of Ontario.

Rae's departure from the race suddenly threw the contest wide open. Justin Trudeau, who has the family pedigree and the charm to be a leader but lacks experience, is the perceived front-runner even though he hasn't committed to running yet.

The list of others giving it a once-over is growing and now includes MPs David McGuinty, Marc Garneau and Dominic LeBlanc, and former MPs Martha Hall Findlay and Martin Cauchon.

The biggest problem for the Liberals is they still haven't figured out who they are. Six years after getting the boot from Canadians, their bitterness at losing power is matched only by confusion as to how it happened.

There has not been enough inward reflection and too much stomping of the feet wondering how voters could have possibly picked the Conservatives over the Liberals.

Adding insult to injury is the Liberals aren't even the bridesmaids anymore. They barely have guestbook duty.

The NDP is the potential government in waiting, and the Liberals are battling just to stay relevant at a time when it is getting harder to distinguish between them and the NDP.

Which shouldn't shock since the NDP is led by a former Quebec Liberal and the Liberals are led by a former Ontario NDPer.

Last week, the NDP, Liberals and Green party Leader Elizabeth May were united in efforts to embarrass the government on its attempt to amend 60 pieces of legislation in a single omnibus budget bill. They were united in efforts against the shutting down of the Experimental Lakes Area. They united to criticize a plan to close or reduce services at Riel House National Historic Site.

Opposition parties generally share distaste for whatever the government is doing but not always for the same reason. Last week, the refrains coming from all the parties were so similar they could have been crafted in the same room.

Enter stage left: more talk of mergers. Talk of a unite-the-left movement was strong following the 2011 election, and has simmered mostly under the surface in the months since. The main party players keep ruling it out, but every so often, someone says something that kick-starts the talks.

Recently, a small group of people in Winnipeg Centre held a meeting to talk about the idea of co-operating with the Liberals. Several riding associations in Ontario are promoting the idea of the NDP, Liberals and Greens running a single "unity" candidate in the next election.

A poll released last week by Postmedia showed nearly two-thirds of Liberal supporters and 57 per cent of NDP supporters back the idea of a merger.

When the Liberals were in power, it was said the NDP and Conservatives had one thing in common: They both hated the Liberals. The Liberals and NDP have more than just hatred for the government to unite them.

Many MPs from both parties say the unrest among their constituents is growing. If that's true, the movement to unite the left will continue to generate steam from below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 18, 2012 A12

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