The Liberal Party has chosen the delegates to its convention in Montreal and we are down to four possibilities. To no one's surprise, Micheal Ignatieff is in first place, followed by Bob Rae, Stephane Dion and Gerard Kennedy. The good news is that they will provide the foundation for a strong front bench and creative policy alternatives.
The conventional wisdom is that Ignatieff is the choice of the party's aristocracy. However, past history has shown that receiving their blessing is not necessarily the path of wisdom. John Turner or, of late, Paul Martin offer cautionary tales.
The prime directive of Canadian politics is that, while all political coalitions eventually implode, centre-right coalitions are counter intuitive to the Canadian experience. Over reliance on market solutions and socially consevative public policies do not fit a country whose geography is immense but whose population is the size of some southeast Asian cities. Centre right coalitions did not give us Medicare and the Canada Pension Plan. In fact,they didn't even give us a flag.
Canada's survival as a nation has depended on the kinds of public policies to which the Amerian economist Jered Bernstein has assigned the acronym WITT (We're in this together.)
So the question is, which of the four candidates can build the most geographically diverse and most stable centre-left coalition? The answer is that Bob Rae is the best choice for the Party. His time in the NDP provides him with a track record on social policy. And, while some claim that is his prime weakness, I would argue that it is that background, as well as his attempt to think outside the tradionally socialist box, which indicate his ability to build a viable, stable coalition. He will lose some support in Ontario. Strong unionists, who remember his Rae Days, will reject him for breaking contracts. Committed conservatives will lambast him for simply not downsizing a bloated provincial labour force. In fact, his policy was an attempt to cut expenses in the face of rising costs and shrinking revenues while keeping people at work. He left the NDP because he came to believe that its traditional economic and fiscal policies were increasingly out of joint with the times. And, for that, he carries alot of political baggage. On the other hand, his history indicates a rare kind of courage. While Ontario is admittedly problematic, he will draw support from the prairies, from British Columbia and the Maritimes. He has spent a lot of time on the constituional file, is fluent in French and understands what runs deep in Quebec politics -- qualities Mr. Harper simply doesn't possess.
Add to that wit and a refusal to take himself too seriously and you have an antidote to the "heroic" leader who takes Napolean, or perhaps, more accuately, George Armstong Custer, as his model. He is a man who is suited to the job. And, if the Liberals do not win a majority in the next election -- a distinct possibility -- Rae will be there for the long haul.