By Philippe Gohier - Wednesday, November 23, 2011 - 0 Comments
Ipsos Reid asked all 308 members of Parliament to nominate the best MPs
This week, Maclean’s, in partnership with L’Actualité and the Historica-Dominion Institute, is pleased to present our fifth annual Parliamentarians of the Year awards. Bob Rae wins the top honour. His lifetime of political experience, unparalleled debating skills and intelligent approach to difficult issues belie the current state of the federal Liberal party and his title as its interim leader. When Rae speaks, colleagues on both sides of the House know to pay attention. He joins previous honourees John Baird, Jason Kenney, Bill Blaikie and Ralph Goodale.
From the hardest working to most knowledgeable, these awards celebrate those who represent what is right about Ottawa. To determine the winners, Ipsos Reid asked all 308 members of Parliament to nominate the best MPs from both inside and outside their own parties, in each of seven categories. (Votes were converted to a point system to ensure that larger parties did not have an advantage. The winner of Parliamentarian of the Year was awarded on the basis of the highest number of total points across all categories.)
And this year, for the first time, we are presenting a Lifetime Achievement award, as chosen by the editors. The winner, Jack Layton, made history this spring by single-handedly lifting the NDP to Canada’s official Opposition in a mesmerizing display of campaigning skill and character, before succumbing to cancer over the summer. His presence is sorely missed in Parliament.
By John Geddes - Monday, November 21, 2011 at 7:31 PM - 2 Comments
As a parliamentarian, he was a riveting speaker on the floor of the House and a sharp performer in question period
After he led the NDP to its breakthrough in the election last May 2, Jack Layton returned to Ottawa vowing to set a new tone. “One thing that we’re going to be doing is having no heckling,” said the new leader of the official Opposition. “It is difficult to speak in the House of Commons when you have boorish comments being yelled in your ear at top volume by people a few feet away.”
But Layton would have only the briefest chance to watch his marching orders be put into effect. In July, his fragile health took a terrible turn, and on Aug. 22, he died of cancer at just 61. In the national mourning that followed, Layton’s personal qualities and campaigning abilities were celebrated. But his parliamentary style and strategy were less frequently remembered, even though he established himself over his mere eight years on the federal stage as an uncommonly talented—and unusually shrewd—performer inside the House.
It wasn’t always obvious that Layton would put such emphasis on the Commons. When he was running for the NDP leadership in 2002, his background as a Toronto municipal politician made him a Parliament Hill outsider. His main rival, Bill Blaikie, was a veteran MP and acknowledged expert on the House. Blaikie says Layton used the 18 months he spent as the party’s leader before finally winning a seat in the 2004 election to study the place. “He certainly claimed at the time,” Blaikie recalls, “to be learning the art of asking a question by watching me and others as well.” It paid off. Layton proved himself a probing question period inquisitor and a stirring speech-maker.
And he didn’t hesitate to aggressively leverage his NDP votes when it mattered. In 2005, he extracted $4.6 billion for NDP priorities like affordable housing in return for temporarily propping up Paul Martin’s minority Liberal government. In 2008, he tried to forge a coalition with the Liberals—a controversial move he had quietly studied for years—to oust Stephen Harper’s Conservative minority. It nearly worked.
How he would have fared facing a Harper majority is, sadly, now a matter only for conjecture, as we pay tribute to the late Jack Layton’s rare achievements as a parliamentarian.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 21, 2011 at 7:30 PM - 28 Comments
When Bob Rae stands to question the government every afternoon, there is a noticeable pause
Shortly after Bob Rae was first elected in 1978, John Diefenbaker, the former prime minister who remained an MP until his death in 1979 at the age of 83, imparted two pieces of advice: “Don’t take any s–t from anybody” and “Go for the throat every time.”
These might be words to live by, but Rae looked elsewhere for inspiration—to Allan MacEachen, the legendary Liberal, and Tommy Douglas, the patron saint of the NDP. MacEachen was a commanding presence who taught Rae you couldn’t be yelling all the time, that you had to have “more than one gear.” Douglas was disciplined and practical. He cracked jokes and didn’t hold grudges. And it was Douglas who told him to eschew notes when speaking in the House. “Because as soon as you start to do it, he says, you lose all the spontaneity and all the effect,” Rae recalls. Continue…