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Liberal Leader Bob Rae’s speech to delegates at the Extraordinary Convention

Liberal Leader Bob Rae’s speech to delegates at the Extraordinary Convention

Posted on June 18, 2011
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June 18, 2011
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I am honoured to be speaking with you as the Interim Leader of the Liberal Party.

This extraordinary convention of the Party has been called to consider two proposals – one to re-schedule the biennial convention which will consider constitutional and political matters in January 2012; the second to delay the election of a new leader until no later than the end of February 2013, at a precise date to be determined by the National Board in consultation with the Caucus and the Council of Presidents.

These decisions are being made exactly how they should – by the full delegation of the Party meeting in convention.

They say that victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan.  My own sense is that we need to keep assessing what happened, what went right, what went wrong, lessons to be learned, without getting into the “blame game.”  And then we need to take those lessons and move on, with good humour and good grace, to the days ahead.

Let me just say that Michael Ignatieff is a friend of mine and deserves our thanks for his strong devotion to the cause, as does Zsuzsanna and his team.  There is never shame in losing, when you are fighting for what you believe in.

What we believe is that the Liberal Party is a movement, something deep in the fabric of Canadian life that asserts the value of diversity and freedom, a government that respects the people, and a powerful commitment to a prosperity that is at once socially just and sustainable.  We want our country to lead the way with the same values abroad as we hold dear at home.

We are fighting for prosperity for all Canadians, social justice for all Canadians, and a sustainable society and economy for all Canadians.

We are fighting for a Canada that has a place for everyone. In Quebec, we have seen recently that the political landscape can change overnight. I want the Liberal Party to be there when it changes again, speaking for a province that is autonomous within its borders, which is at the heart of the federation.

We are facing a Conservative government that will over-read its long-sought majority and an NDP opposition that will over-read its newfound status.  While the extent of our election defeat is there for all of us to see and analyse, there is no time for us to wring our hands in despair.  We have to get to the task at hand: rebuilding

Rebuilding is not just a name for doing whatever we normally do between elections.  Something different happened on May 2nd; this has put us in a different place; we need to do things differently this time.

Many commentators have noted that Stephen Harper’s objective is to “destroy the Liberal Party”.  I’m sure that’s what he would like to do.  Jack Layton’s senior advisors have said the same thing.  And we have the same response:  Rebuilding.  Not just for the next election, but for the one after that, and for the decades ahead.

It’s a broad challenge, with lots to do on many fronts.

At the parliamentary level, the good news is we have a talented, effective caucus.  I am very proud of how caucus has drawn together in the past few weeks and turned our faces outward to confront our opponents on behalf of Canadians.  We will be a vigorous opposition to Mr Harper, an opposition that is not about pandering but about the real alternatives to bad, ideological policies.  We have to keep at that part of rebuilding.

In the Liberal Party structure, we have to focus on several tasks.  And again, I am proud of how our group is coming together to shoulder the burden. The caucus and the Party structures need to work closer than ever before to develop specific proposals for rebuilding from fundraising to political organization and policy development.

We are having to adjust to live within our means in new and constrained circumstances.  That means trying to balance spending priorities while we grow our ability to raise more money.  That’s a big part of rebuilding.

Rebuilding also means looking at how we can improve the relationship between the national organization, PTA’s and Commissions and the ridings – both held and unheld.

Rebuilding means figuring out how to make ourselves into a better fighting machine, which can not just survive, but grow stronger even while we’re out of power, and come back with the best, most modern techniques for winning the trust and support of Canadians. I am proud of how we are coming together to look for ways to do that.

Rebuilding doesn’t mean we get to stop when we’ve built a machine to re-fight the 2011 campaign. Rebuilding means continuing to grow and build a machine that is ready to fight the next election, and the one after that, and the one after that. It means embracing our changing digital world and the new technologies that will help get us there. As Walter Gretzky once said “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” We as Liberals must be great hockey players.

Rebuilding means understanding that our ground game is every bit as important as our aerial one. We have to be prepared to go toe-to-toe with the other parties in advertising and national media, but we need a thorough plan to give ridings the tools they need to win on the ground. The two aspects must be mutually-supporting and have an equal claim on our time and our resources.

Rebuilding also means renewing what we are offering to Canadians for a new era.  There are new challenges, new currents of thought, new approaches that are out there and which need to be connected to our timeless values.  Many of these ideas can be harnessed by listening to the membership of our party.  And many new members can come to us by bringing their ideas to our table.  We need to welcome all of this.  We need a broad and very inclusive discussion about what Canada’s Liberals can offer, in a world we know is changing swiftly.  That, too, is part of rebuilding.

None of these are easy tasks and they will require time and commitment. We need to take the time to make the right choices, and to make those important strides on fundraising, organization and policy.

I want to take this opportunity to call not only on the 3000 good Liberals who are joining this special convention.  I also want to ask every Liberal who couldn’t be part of this call, and every practical, progressive Canadian out there, to get involved in this broad and exciting process we call rebuilding.  Please bring your ideas, your energy, your networks, into what we are trying to do here.  We are working on ways to bring you into the effort.  We are not a closed club.  We want to connect with you.  Join hands with us and help build this movement with us.

Delegates, this all starts with you today.  We need some time to get through these essential jobs, and I hope you will give me the support to do them.  We do have some time, realising that the next election is 1,583 days away, in October of 2015.

That does not mean we can put off difficult decisions, but it does mean we have to go about our task in a systematic way, in a way that will clearly establish a strong foundation for the Party to move forward.  I wish the convention well, and look forward to working with you all in the days ahead.