It's sad to see this kind of pointless dust-up so early in the race for the Liberal leadership. So much for all that talk of civility between the two leading candidates.
I have no insider information on this as I'm about as far removed (by choice) as a partisan Liberal can get from the internal machinations of leadership campaigns. But it does seem odd that the three main candidates would've agreed to participate in the forum two weeks ago without knowing how the forum was going to be run. Bob Rae claims he had no idea that the media was going to be barred from the discussion. So you agree to participate in events without fully knowing what those events entail, Bob?
Warren implies that this whole kerfuffle (my word, not his) is merely part of Bob Rae's strategy to attempt to paint emerging frontrunner Michael Ignatieff as somehow Stephen Harper-lite and to go negative first out of the gate. Rae's comparisons to this weekend's Tory policy convention in Winnipeg, where most party discussions took place behind closed doors, and pointing the finger squarely at Ignatieff for shutting out the "public" from today's forum, make Rae's strategy obvious.
If a consensus is emerging this early in the race that the next leader should be Ignatieff over Rae, then it's clear that the only way Rae can win this thing is by demonizing his former roommate. That's a shame. Ignatieff will have to be careful not to be seen as wanting to protect a substantial lead at all costs and avoiding public scrutiny to do it. If Ignatieff's goal is to prevent Rae from getting any traction in this race, shutting down public exposure to himself and his message isn't probably the best way to do it.
Ignatieff now enjoys enormous advantages. It seems most of the Kennedy and Dion people are heading over to him. Grassroots party members like myself remain as hesitant as ever to anoint a former NDP premier the leadership of the federal Liberal Party. For many Liberals, Bob Rae remains a non-starter, an eloquent, likeable, capable, endearing candidate, but a non-starter all the same.
How many Liberals will be swayed by these kinds of attacks today? If it's a strategy by Iggy to keep the dialogue as brief as possible so as to maintain as strong a lead as possible, I think it may backfire. Rae may find himself getting the traction he so desperately needs if he keeps this up. Hopefully, the Ignatieff team will re-adjust its plans and show greater willingness to be flexible in future. Opening up what could be the only leadership forum before the end of the year wouldn't have been such a bad move. But now Iggy's opened himself up to Rae's attacks.
Ignatieff should remember this isn't going to be a coronation and all Liberals still want to be reassured that the guy they rejected in 2006 has learned a lot and is now a better politician. It's obvious that the more chances Rae has to share the stage with Ignatieff, the better it is for Rae. If Ignatieff wants to solidify his emerging huge lead, the best way to do that would be to debate Rae and Dominic LeBlanc as much as possible and show Liberals like myself that their pro-Ignatieff inclinations are correct.