by Tim Harper
Before Justin Trudeau arrived to rebuild the foundation, the Liberal house was sagging badly and threatening to collapse.
It remained standing because Bob Rae held it together.
Now that Trudeau has moved that Liberal house into an elite neighbourhood, many are wondering why there is no room at the inn for Rae.
Rae, a political survivor with the stitches to prove it, would likely be the first to tell you there are no obligatory rewards for those who ply his trade, but what makes this case rare is that the former interim party leader and Ontario premier has let it be known through associates he would have welcomed the chance to represent this government in Washington or at the United Nations.
Liberal sources say Rae offered to make any contribution the new government might find helpful.
There have been discussions, although not directly between Trudeau and Rae. No promises or offers have been made, and Rae is certainly not campaigning for a job. But his view, on the outside, looking in, is a subject of much speculation.
“Rae almost guaranteed a role in Trudeau government, insiders say,” blared one headline in the wake of the Liberal victory and it quoted senior Liberals crediting Rae with the hard work that led to the Trudeau
victory, touting him for Washington, the UN, London, Israel, or as head of the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
He was passed over for Washington and the UN.
Trudeau, who took the baton from Rae, rebuilt the moribund party, invigorated its fundraising and took it to last October’s improbable majority, has the unfettered right to choose – or reject – anyone he wants in his inner circle or as a representative abroad.
Our political culture seems to know what to do with former leaders or leadership rivals. We make them travel.
Brian Mulroney made Joe Clark his external affairs minister. Former Liberal leader StÈphane Dion shows signs of becoming a shining global affairs minister for Trudeau. Barack Obama made Hillary Clinton his secretary of state.
But what about those who held the undermanned front lines of battle until the white knight could saddle up?
Trudeau reached back into the comfortable Dalton McGuinty bullpen and chose David MacNaughton for Washington. MacNaughton co-chaired Trudeau’s Ontario campaign last autumn. He was once the principal secretary to McGuinty and was succeeded by Gerald Butts, who now holds that post for Trudeau.
The UN post went to Marc-AndrÈ Blanchard.
Rae, the son of a diplomat, spent part of his youth in Washington and would have been a natural fit for a job that has gone to politicians in the past, including Stephen Harper appointees Michael Wilson and Gary Doer and Jean ChrÈtien appointee Frank McKenna.
He would have been the same natural fit at the UN, where in recent years former politicians Stephen Lewis (a Mulroney appointee) and Allan Rock (a Paul Martin appointee) served with distinction.
There had been suggestions that Rae may have alienated some around Trudeau by resigning his Toronto Centre seat, but senior government officials adamantly deny there is any bad blood and say this rather awkward dance is merely a matter of finding the right fit. Rae’s resignation actually allowed Trudeau’s team to reach out to a hand-picked candidate – International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Jobs are being filled, and senior government officials still laud Rae even if his post-election contribution is unfilled. Nobody is saying never, they maintain.
Previous interim leaders Bill Graham (who stepped down to allow Rae to run) and Herb Gray had better fates after holding the fort, but Rae is 67 and this government is focused on generational renewal.
Rae did Trudeau and his team the biggest of favours by getting out of the way, bowing to the inevitable and realizing it was time for the younger, flashier Trudeau.
Until then, in his interim post, he expertly grilled the Harper government, made himself endlessly available to the media, spoke out on many progressive issues Trudeau inherited and travelled to sell the
Liberal brand – something he continued right through the 2015 election.
The job as interim Grit maintenance-man-in-chief fell to him after the Michael Ignatieff debacle.
Friends say Rae is not sitting by the phone. He has a full plate, as a lawyer working as a negotiator for First Nations, work on diplomatic and international commissions and public speaking. He has written a
book since leaving politics.
He is not miffed; he does not feel snubbed, they say. Is he owed something by a party that wouldn’t be where it is if Rae didn’t roll up his sleeves and don a hard hat when it was needed?
So far, I guess not.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter:@nutgraf1
Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services