Bob Rae’s reasons for not running for Liberal leadership: analysts weigh-in

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Bob Rae shocked the nation on Wednesday by announcing that he wouldn't seek the permanent leadership of the Liberal Party. He told reporters in Ottawa he would continue as interim leader until next spring, when the party chooses a new permanent leader.

"I think it's the best for the party and it's a decision I feel very comfortable with," Rae said, adding that his health and personal life are in good shape and didn't factor into his decision.

So why did Rae make this decision and was it the right one for the much-maligned third party? Moreover, how does his decision affect the prospects of other potential candidates?

Here's what our panel of political experts thinks of it.

Tim Harper, Toronto Star political columnist:

"I think Rae was getting push back from inside the party on what would have been painted as a broken promise not to run if given the interim job.

He may also have heard footsteps from Justin Trudeau who today opened the door for a leadership bid, saying no, but adding 'if and when I change my mind, you will be told.'

[In addition] the voting system the party adopted at its January convention would seem to favour a candidate such as Trudeau. By allowing 'supporters' to join party members in voting for the leadership, name recognition and Trudeau's 'celebrity status' give him an advantage.

One thing I will be looking for is whether a candidate emerges who calls for merger with the NDP or, at least, strategic co-operation in select ridings.  There is a sizable and important constituency in the Liberal party which supports merger, led by Jean Chretien."

Warren Kinsella, Liberal insider and Sun News Network political analyst:

"Rae made the right decision. For a party looking to renew and reform, Liberals need new blood and a new way of thinking.

There needs to be a vigorous and respectful race. But there is no question that Trudeau is far ahead of any other candidate, long before this race even begins. He will be tough to beat."

Frank Graves, president of EKOS research:

"I believe [Rae] was concerned by the charge that he would have been violating his earlier commitment not to run. [For] a man of honor this must have weighted heavily.

I also think Mr. Rae may have concluded that it was time for fresh faces and that he should concentrate on handing off a healthy party and help the next leader to regain power.

He remains, however, arguably the most gifted natural politician on the federal stage today.

In simple political arithmetic, the odds of other contenders are all enhanced by his departure. But at another level, the overall quality and impact of the race may be diminished with the absence of a candidate of his luster.

Of the remaining candidates, it is very early, but Mr. Trudeau may well be the most charismatic and attractive of the current field. Liberals would be well advised to abandon the fallacy that their return to glory is merely a matter of finding a new leader-saviour. The problems of the LPC are structural and have been evolving on a straight line descent from the 50 point regions they polled in a decade ago.

Our polling suggests Canadians believe the Liberals will rebound but their poll line from the past year looks more like a flat line cardiograph than a renaissance."