With a Liberal government, three of the province’s MPs being Liberal and three of the Island’s Senate seats held by Grits, federal interim party leader Bob Rae said the organization on P.E.I. is doing something right.
“You have a premier that cares about the state of the Liberal Party and Liberal organization. He’s out there talking to people all the time. He’s got his ear close to the ground…a good sense of what the state of affairs are in each riding, how people are feeling in those ridings,” said Rae prior to the P.E.I. party’s annual general meeting. “That’s something we have to pay a lot more attention to in the party.”
Rae was in Summerside for most of Saturday, first for an informal luncheon hosted by the P.E.I. Seniors’ Liberal Commission and the Egmont Liberal Association.
“For us to come here is a real renewal of the spirit,” Rae told the almost 30 senior Liberals attending the private function. “This is not just the birthplace of Canada; it’s the home ground for the Liberal Party of Canada.”
Rae later addressed party faithful at the Liberal Party of P.E.I.’s annual general meeting at Veteran’s Convention Centre at Credit Union Place.
During his 30-minute address the interim leader was most highly critical Stephen Harper Conservative government, calling them “a corporate Reform Party.”
He said constant attack ads from the Harper Conservatives have resulted in “what I would call a permanent campaign.”
“They take their politics right from that script, and that script is you run a permanent campaign,” said Rae. “You don’t just run a campaign during an election, you run a campaign that goes 24-hours-a-day 356 days a year. It’s a non-stop campaign.”
Financially, the federal Liberals are ready for such a campaign, with more than $1.5 million in their coffers, an amount that grows with each passing month, thanks to fundraising efforts of the party and the support of its membership.
Rae said it’s taken the Liberal Party “a little while to wake up and smell the coffee and understand what we’re up against” when it comes to moving out of third-party status.
“It’s a political culture that requires us, as Liberals, to understand the nature of this game,” he said. “The problem with trying to win a rat race is sometimes you have to become a rat. That’s not a good thing.”
But, he added, “We don’t need to imitate Harper in order to beat him. We need to be ourselves at our best but we have to be sharp and we have to be political and we have to understand the nature of the contest we’re in.”
Earlier in the day Rae told the P.E.I. Seniors’ Liberal Commission that engaging youth is one step in reconnecting with voters, which is why the party is adding a supporter category to be launched on the party’s website in May.
“As someone once said to me that joining a political party right away…is sort of like getting married after the first date. Not a lot of people want to do that,” he added. “They’d rather take their time. They want to have a chance to support and engage and get involved in the party.”
In an interview prior to the AGM, said fewer barriers to people getting involved in the party can only help the federal Liberals moving into the future.
“We also have to have some participation and policies that really connect with young people.”
Whether Rae will be at the helm of the party remains past 2013, when a new leader will be elected, is uncertain, even to him.
“The party is going to have to decide what the rules are and if they say they’re going to take the limitation on the interim leader than, obviously, I’ve got a decision to make. Arlene and I will make that decision once the party’s made up its mind,” he said in the one-on-one interview. “There’s going to be a contest for the leadership. It’s not going to be a coronation for the leadership. It’s going to be a very competitive, open race. I’m just waiting to hear whether or not I’m allowed to participate in it.”