Bob Rae Gets an Opportunity to Shine With Layton on Leave – View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – July 28, 2011

Ottawa ON – In World War Two the time period between September 1939 and May 1940 is sometimes referred to as the phoney war as both the allies and the Germans were reluctant to engage each other and neither side went on an all out offensive. The full force of battle would begin shortly afterwards.

Are we seeing the same thing today? Will the period from July 25th to September 19th be another phoney war only in this case will we be seeing it on the federal political scene both between the parties and within the ranks of the NDP?

Jack Layton’s abrupt and hopefully temporary departure from the federal political scene has thrown Ottawa’s political combatants for a loop. Stunned politicians from all parties have rallied to support him and so they should as he has to be admired for his courage and determination to proceed and conquer his ailment.

However, his absence will have a severe impact on the NDP both in the short term and potentially there will be long term implications as well. Nycole Turmel’s appointment will not fill the void and Layton’s absence will have an immediate impact on the NDP. Their election campaign heavily promoted Jack. Their success was partially due to his personality, drive and skill. With Layton on the sidelines the driving force behind their success and the “human” face to the NDP is gone. In effect there is a vacuum waiting to be filled.

This is Bob Rae’s opportunity to shine. The Liberals now have the opportunity to step up their game and fill the vacuum that will pit a relatively unknown interim NDP leader against a skilled politician and public speaker. And while we are in the summer doldrums for news, there will be lots of opportunity for the Liberals to get Rae out in front of the cameras. He remains a credible voice for them and someone that Canadians are familiar with verses a relatively unknown, freshman MP.

Even with veteran NDP MPs trying to step up and become the NDP spokesperson for various issues, it still won’t pack the same punch nor is it as newsworthy if it is not the leader commenting. Rae versus an NDP critic should give him the edge. Rae a known quantity versus Turmel an unknown quantity should still give him the edge. Even if the media and the other parties allow her a short honeymoon period, the knives will be out soon enough and combat joined in the near future.

Should we have an unfortunate turn of events and find that Layton can not return in September, there is every reason to expect that Rae who is one of the better questioners in Question Period would be able to out perform Turmel in that vital time slot from 2:15 to 3PM. In September when the gloves come off, the Liberals have an opportunity to regain the spotlight.

Within the NDP ranks and for those with leadership ambitions, July to September will also resemble the phoney war period. It will be a time to watch, wait and hope that their leader returns in good health to continue the fight. MPs will talk of unity, stepping up to the plate, teamwork and caucus solidarity. But what will be going on behind the scenes?

None of them should be speaking publicly about their concerns at this time. To do so would be most unfair to their leader who has given so much to the party. But politicians are politicians.

They have to be concerned about what will happen in September. Those with leadership ambitions will be very quiet during this interim period. To do otherwise would be deadly for their aspirations. But come September, behind the scenes and in public it might be very different.

In the mean time, despite their public comments, do we actually believe that those future leadership candidates aren’t looking ahead to September 19th? Do we believe that no one is evaluating their chances? Do we believe that none of them will be quietly talking to friends and potential backers? The latest phoney war has begun.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

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