Bob Rae's exit from the federal political stage last week has prompted many comments and reflections on his contribution to Canada. That's not only fitting, it's timely. Such sentiments celebrate a career well spent and challenge the politicians he leaves behind to incorporate some of the exemplary qualities he brought to public life.
With less and less civility evident in our parliamentary exchanges these days, Rae's ability to debate the issues without resorting to personal attack will be missed.
Rae's political career had many twists and turns. He started out federally as an MP under the New Democratic Party banner and switched to provincial politics, where he served as leader of the Ontario NDP. He became premier of that province when his party formed government following the election of 1990. He later joined the federal Liberals.
In retrospect, his 1990 electoral victory could well have been the blessing that morphed into a curse. Assuming power during a recession, his government took measures that proved unpopular and later, after he became a federal Liberal and was touted as a leadership contender, his opponents used his handling of the Ontario economy to undermine his leadership capabilities.
Nevertheless, political friend or foe, those who knew Rae throughout his public life have acknowledged his keen mind, his sense of fairness and his commitment to his country. It's no surprise that as he leaves federal politics, he'll assume responsibilities as chief negotiator for the Matawa Tribal Council in talks with the Ontario government concerning the development of a mining project in the northern part of that province.
The irony of Bob Rae's political journey is that in spite of the fact he never became the permanent leader of the federal Liberal party, he was the interim leader that held the party together during what was arguably its darkest period. He watched as both St©phane Dion and Michael Ignatieff were chosen for the top job, yet it was in their aftermath, amid electoral ruins, that his skill as a leader became most evident. Following the 2011 general vote, when the party was reduced to mere third-party status in the House of Commons for the first time in its history, it was Rae's depth of political experience and skill as a parliamentary debater that saved the party from succumbing to obscurity. Had the party been under the direction of a less experienced, less self-assured leader, it's conceivable it would not have maintained any profile in the House at all. Rae was frequently in the news, eloquently challenging government on its decisions and policies. Federal Liberals owe a debt of gratitude to Rae for taking the helm during a time when they needed a calm and steady hand.
The recent parliamentary sitting proved to be one of the nastiest in recent years, with political opponents on both sides of the House frequently resorting to personal attack rather than confining their questions and answers to the issues. Bob Rae distinguished himself by not engaging in that dynamic. He was a well-prepared, articulate and skilled debater whose conduct and style serve as an example for other politicians, regardless of their political allegiance.