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Bob Rae seems to be keeping himself busy since making his second exit from electoral politics – signing on at the University of Toronto's School of Public Policy and Governance, serving as chief negotiator for First Nations in the Ring of Fire, writing opinion pieces for The Globe and Mail.
If Mr. Rae has any remaining spare time, perhaps he could provide counselling to younger politicians who find themselves where he was 18 years ago. Because in his home province alone, there should be a strong market for some guidance on the art of political rehabilitation.
Adam Giambrone, the former Toronto city councillor whose career was thrown off the rails three years ago by a sex scandal, is already trying to get back into office through a provincial by-election. Meanwhile, former provincial minister George Smitherman – whose post-Queen's Park career has involved losing to Rob Ford and getting blamed by fellow Liberals for leaving messes behind at his former ministries – is making no secret of his desire to seek a federal seat either in the coming Toronto Centre by-election or in the next general election. That's likely to be about as well-received by members of his party as last winter's provincial leadership bid by Gerard Kennedy, the former rising star who was hot off his federal career flaming out.
All of them seem to be afflicted with a lack of the sort of patience that stood Mr. Rae in good stead after the nadir of his political career, when his name was a dirty word through much of Ontario.
Following the dismal end to his five years as the province's first New Democratic premier, Mr. Rae did not wait until the next election came along and try to mount a comeback. Instead, he wrote books, practiced law, was appointed chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, chaired the Institute for Research on Public Policy, did high-profile work with the Canadian Red Cross Society, served on the Security Intelligence Review Committee, advised the federal government on whether an inquiry into the Air India bombing was needed, and authored a report for the Ontario government on the future of post-secondary education.
Only after all this, more than a decade later, did Mr. Rae return to politics. While it wasn't an entirely smooth ride – he never got to be elected leader of the federal Liberals to whom he had made a conversion, settling for the job on an interim basis – he came to be seen as an elder statesman, older and wiser for his earlier troubles.
It's possible to see how someone like Mr. Kennedy might have been able to pull off a smaller-scale version of the same thing. Having originally made his name back in the 1990s as head of the Daily Bread Food Bank, he could have returned to the charity sector. Rather than prematurely trying to play the prodigal son, he could have waited until after he had reminded fellow Liberals of what they liked about him in the first place.
It would be harder for Mr. Smitherman, since potential employees or allies in other walks of life might be put off by eHealth, Ornge and assorted other baggage. But Mr. Smitherman, who with no formal education past high school rose to become his province's deputy premier, is for all his faults resourceful and hard-working. As he once did, he could prove himself again while mostly out of the spotlight, ideally showing some newfound humility and self-awareness.
As for Mr. Giambrone, he seems to have been closest to trying to follow Mr. Rae's lead on a sort of municipal NDP scale, playing off his experience as TTC chair to fashion himself an international transit consultant and write an alt-weekly column. Now he has abandoned those efforts midstream so he can run for provincial office in Scarborough – an inner suburb far from his downtown Toronto stomping grounds. The best explanation is that, while unlikely to win, he's hoping this will get him back in the NDP fold. But considering that his very nomination has angered grassroots types, he might have been best to keep some distance a while longer.
Without trying to get too far into their heads, Messrs Kennedy, Smitherman and Giambrone all seem to be suffering from an affliction that affects many in their walk of life. Politics can be highly addictive, and no matter how unpleasantly it has turned out, those accustomed to its adrenalin rush often struggle to live without it.
Even if they tried, then, it could be very difficult for them to follow Mr. Rae's lead. It is improbable he would have been so successful at rehabilitating his image if the whole thing had really just been about returning to politics; he was by all appearances genuinely invested in other things, and only later decided that he wanted back in.
Perhaps the best guidance he or others could offer politicians who suffer disappointing exits, then, is to find other work they're as passionate about. But by the look of it, that's easier said than done.