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Rae to focus on economy in battle with Ignatieff
Photo   Bob Rae

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Related Stories
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 •  Jeffrey Simpson: Ignatieff is the favourite
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 •  Globe Roundtable: Iggy vs. Rae, and more
 •  Analysis: Ignatieff's candidacy determines battle lines

From Friday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Bob Rae's strategy to win the Liberal leadership is to focus on the economy and avoid being defined by the Harper Tories as a weak economic leader, his advisers say.

As he begins his campaign to succeed Stéphane Dion, the 60-year-old Toronto Centre MP believes he is evenly matched with his main opponent and former university roommate, Michael Ignatieff, one of his key strategists said Thursday.

“Bob doesn't feel overmatched,” said the strategist, who asked not to be identified.

Instead, Mr. Rae is concentrating on the Conservatives: “Bob Rae has got to show that he is going to be able to hack what the Tory war room throws at him on the economy,” the strategist said. “Is this guy going to have done to him on his economic legacy in Ontario the same number done to Dion on [the environment and leadership]?”

Mr. Rae was the NDP premier of Ontario from 1990 to 1995, governing through a recession. His economic policies were not popular. He has yet to formally launch his campaign, as Mr. Ignatieff did Thursday in a low-key meeting with the national media in Ottawa.

However, Mr. Rae is putting together a campaign team. Jonathan Goldbloom, a Montreal communications consultant who ran the Liberal war room for the federal election, is the campaign manager; Karl Littler, a former senior Paul Martin strategist, is organizing Ontario; and another Martin strategist, political author and Toronto consultant John Duffy, is also helping with organization.

The campaign has yet to appoint a Quebec organizer. In the 2006 leadership, when Mr. Rae placed third behind Mr. Ignatieff and Mr. Dion, Mr. Ignatieff had the support of the majority of Quebec delegates.

Meanwhile, Mr. Rae is taking every opportunity to speak about the economy, calling on the Harper government to include the ailing auto sector as a priority in its first discussions with the Obama administration.

The strategist said he would not be surprised if the Tories are already trying to “hobble” Mr. Rae. Even at the 2006 Liberal leadership convention, the Tories were distributing Bob Rae buttons showing an arrow pointing downward with the inscription: “Bob Rae, a New Direction for Canada.”

The strategist said Mr. Rae must show that he “can stand up to this stuff and turn the attack.”

Mr. Dion has blamed his inability to shake the Tory characterization of him as a weak and bumbling leader for his devastating election loss.

Rae strategists watched with great interest Thursday the Ignatieff launch, in which the deputy leader spoke about the need to rebuild the party, promised a comprehensive policy conference within 100 days of being elected leader and said that he has changed for the better from when he ran for the leadership in 2006. He also refused to criticize Mr. Rae or his poor economic record.

“I have a lot of baggage,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “I carry a lot of baggage. Mr. Rae has his baggage and I have a few suitcases also. And the delegates will decide if Mr. Rae's suitcase is heavier than my suitcase.”

Mr. Rae resigned his position as foreign affairs critic when he announced his intention to run for the leadership. Mr. Ignatieff did not mention Thursday whether he was resigning as deputy leader. However, Mr. Dion is expected to leave that post vacant when he shuffles his shadow cabinet Friday.

Markham, Ont., MP John McCallum, an Ignatieff supporter, is expected to lose his finance critic post to Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison. Mr. McCallum, a former bank economist, will be helping Mr. Ignatieff with his economic policies and platform and is expected to chair a powerful caucus committee on the economy that will include other senior MPs such as Mr. Brison, Martha Hall Findlay, Gerard Kennedy and Maurizio Bevilacqua, according to a source.

Meanwhile, the new leader will be chosen at a convention next May in Vancouver. More than 8,000 delegates are eligible to attend.

New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc is the only other Liberal to indicate he is campaigning for the leadership; other prominent Liberals, including former deputy prime minister John Manley and former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna decided against running.

It is likely there will be only three men running – and for the first time in the past several contests there will be no women or Quebec candidates.

Mr. Rae, Mr. Ignatieff and New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc, the only other declared leadership candidate, will likely face off against each other in a debate during a meeting of federal Ontario Liberals in Toronto on Sunday.

“Our view is we want to debate a lot,” said the Rae strategist. “And we think Liberals want to see, particularly, these two ... debate. This is Clinton versus Obama. This is going to be good drama.”

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Related Stories
 •  Globe editorial: Seasoned, but not fully tested
 •  Jeffrey Simpson: Ignatieff is the favourite
 •  Ignatieff: 'This party needs to change'
 •  Globe Roundtable: Iggy vs. Rae, and more
 •  Analysis: Ignatieff's candidacy determines battle lines
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