Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Bob chat

Since you likely haven't heard enough by now...:) Along with a good number of fellow bloggers, I dialed in and was able to participate on the call. Luckily, I "raised my hand" early enough to get a question in and thanks to the magic of James Bowie, it can now be reproduced here. Let me preface this by saying that I have spent a bit of time since the call feeling as if I had asked a totally boneheaded question. But now that I read it, it wasn't as boneheaded as I thought. Because it elicited a response that did what I had hoped, that is, jump beyond the easy, "I'm not going to second-guess" response, but give a sense of what kind of political judgment Bob Rae has to offer. So here it is:
The third question was about political judgement. "Do you believe there were missed opportunities in the last parliamentary session, with respect to the position the party took on Afghanistan? Or with respect to the timing in bringing down the government?"

His answer here is very interesting, so I'll reproduce it verbatim without comment:

"I think the challenge for the Liberals, for us, has been that having been in government for a long time, I think, is that the transition into being in opposition is always difficult. I first saw this when I was in the NDP as the finance critic in the late 70's and early 80's when Joe Clark's government was elected. The NDP caucus was a much more effective opposition than the Liberal caucus was, because the Liberal caucus was, you know, were just recovering from being in government for a long time, didn't enjoy being in opposition, and frankly didn't know how to do it. So, I think that one of the skills I can bring to bear is to say 'Well, I've done both.' I've been in government and I've also been in Opposition. And I've brought down Tory governments; I've brought down two. So I know how to do that. I know how to make people think and focus on the political issue.

"I'm not sure, I mean, I think the Afghanistan issue was a difficult one for the Party. I think in fact what we did had real integrity to it. We did actually get the Conservatives to change their position, which for the point of view of the country was the right thing to do. The Conservatives were never, were not, interested in a fixed date or in changing the mission or in really engaging. And I think the fact that they had to change is significant. I don't think their heart's into change at the moment, but certainly we made some progress there.

"But as to the question of the timing of the election, when to bring the government down, that's always tricky in a minority parliament. I don't really feel like second guessing those decisions now. I do feel like saying to people, 'some of the political smarts and skills and judgement over the years have been pret-e-good, even thought they were criticized at the time..."
So there you go, make of that what you will.

The half hour time limit was unfortunate, I imagine the discussion would have become much more fulsome had there been more time allotted. (Mr. Rae had to catch a plane.)

I'm looking forward to future exercises such as this from all of the campaigns.