Peter C. Newman's column yesterday, on Michael Ignatieff, referred to Bob Rae's campaign as "play it safe". If the measure of success is bold policy, who stands out from the Liberal crowd?
In my view, only Ignatieff and Kennedy can credibly claim the "bold" title in this race- bold meaning articulating policies that are controversial and politically risky. Like him or not, Ignatieff has proposed several ideas, that at first blush, cry "don't touch that". You do have to acknowledge the risk in Ignatieff proposing a carbon tax that is sure to alienate. I'm not speaking to the merits of the policy, only the fact that such a proposal invites blowback. With some many other less overt paths, I have to hand it to Ignatieff for having the guts to be controversial. When I met Ignatieff, I actually asked him about the carbon tax and his response was great- "we can't be timid, we have to be aggressive". Right or wrong, you can't fault an approach that puts principle well ahead of political consideration.
On the constitution, Ignatieff seems the only one who makes any statements that generate discussion. You can characterize some of the statements as "gaffes", that is legitimate criticism. However, in mind Rae and Dion essentially have taken a pass for fear of any hint of controversy, while Ignatieff has at the very least put himself out there. Again, this is not a policy judgment, merely an acknowledgment of bold talk.
With regard to Kennedy, no one seems more committed to reforming the Liberal Party in a substantive way than him. I love the "party of purpose, not just a party of power" line because it shows a true understanding of real re-birth. You can say Kennedy is prone to easy platitudes, but a careful ear reveals real conviction in his voice. Kennedy has distinguished himself on this file, which may help explain his appeal to younger Liberals.
Kennedy's biggest claim to the "bold" title is his position on Afghanistan. While others were arguing from the muddled middle, articulating an overriding nothingness, Kennedy took a position that welcomed easy criticism. For a foreign policy "rookie", taking such a chance is admirable in my mind and demonstrates real leadership. There is no question that Kennedy could have hid in the bushes, but he chose a clear position, that brought inherent risks.
Campaigns are tactical, so "play it safe" is not necessarily a minus if the goal is victory. All kinds of campaigns operate with the primary goal of "don't make waves" and many of these are successful. One man's bold is another man's reckless, one man's safe is another man's seasoned. With this in mind, my opinion of the Rae and Dion campaigns as safe doesn't translate into an automatic negative. What it does say- it is hard to think of one policy or statement that is really memorable or jumps out. Rae is an amazing orator, that is able to craft a coherent vision, but much of the rhetoric is relatively benign and hardly surprising. You could argue Dion has distinguished himself on the environment, but essentially the platform is a "carbon" copy of his time as Minister. Within this discussion, the word "bold" doesn't shout out to me when I think of these two campaigns. It all boils down to approach, and it's an open question what is the best path.