A true political warrior leaves the stage

A true Canadian political warrior, Toronto Liberal MP Bob Rae is leaving the stage.

Whatever opponents think of his political stances over the years, his departure is a loss.

He was the interim Liberal leader after the disastrous 2011 federal campaign and gave the demoralized party some hope.

He led the New Democratic Party to its only provincial victory in Ontario in 1990.

He was a civil, erudite debater in politics — a credit to his political class.

I would not have written that in 1995 when his disastrous term as Ontario’s first NDP leader ended in his defeat.

The province slid into recession (undoubtedly not his doing entirely) during his term, but he also did something no Conservative or Liberal leader had dared to do before — broke contracts with civil servants to impose unpaid days off to try to deal with the deficit.

Rae Days ruptured the connection between the NDP and Ontario’s workers that has not been repaired to this day.

But in the broader view of the past 35 years of Canadian history, Rae has been a stalwart.

As a New Democrat MP elected in 1978, he was the finance critic who moved the non-confidence motion that brought down the Progressive Conservative Joe Clark government in 1979 and led to the Second Coming of Pierre Trudeau.

He had a way with words, once during the high interest days of the early 1980s calling then-Bank of Canada governor Gerald Bouey “Bouey the 16th,” a clever reference to the impervious French king Louis 16th who helped trigger the French Revolution. The line even made Trudeau laugh.

After his defeat in Ontario in 1995, his wife Arlene famously asked: “How do you know when you no longer are in power? You get into the back of a limo and nothing happens.”

Rae laughed at the line.

As a lawyer, he spent his years out of politics still doing public service, including heading a commission on the 1985 Air India bombing. He now goes off to represent northern Ontario First Nations in land claims.

Rae became an ally of Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien and in 2006, he got the political bug again, joined the Liberals, ran for the leadership and lost to the hapless Stéphane Dion.

Still, he ran for office and was elected a Toronto Liberal MP, ran again for leader in 2008 against his former University of Toronto roommate Michael Ignatieff, lost and still stayed on as MP.

He attained his dream of leading a national political party when the demoralized Liberals asked him to be leader after the Ignatieff debacle.

And then against all expectations, he decided not to run to become permanent leader, throwing his support behind Justin Trudeau.

Through it all, Rae suffered the slings and arrows of his critics on the right and the left, took it all with good humour and was one of the most articulate speakers in the House of Commons with a sense of decorum and history.

When he left June 19, Rae lamented the lowered tone of debate in the Commons and the mean-spirited attacks that now often substitute for debate.

He also noted that the Commons in past periods (Macdonald, Diefenbaker and Pearson eras come to mind) was also a place that did not lend itself to teaching children about the virtues of democratic debate.

“It is a blood sport and I accept that,” he said.

In losing Rae, the House of Commons loses the most experienced and self-deprecating member of its ranks.

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