Cauchon takes pass on Liberal leadership contest
Published Tuesday, November 18, 2008 8:48PM EST
OTTAWA - Former cabinet minister Martin Cauchon has joined the long list of potential contenders who've decided to take a pass on the federal Liberal leadership race.
Cauchon's decision means that for the first time in 40 years, there will be no Quebec candidate contending for the once-mighty party's top job.
"My passion for my country has never been stronger and I have been sorely tempted to enter the race," Cauchon said in a written statement late Tuesday.
"However, while my heart says yes, the realities of fundraising and organization are too daunting at this time."
Toronto MPs Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae -- the front-runners in the 2006 contest until they were overtaken in a stunning come-from-behind victory by Stephane Dion -- have a big organizational head start on all other would-be leaders. Both have tested campaign machines that have been growing since the last contest.
New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc is the only other contender to declare his candidacy so far.
One other MP -- Brampton's Ruby Dhalla -- is still weighing her chances. Should she also take a pass, there would be no woman in contention for the first time since 1984.
Others who've decided to sit out the race include former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna, former deputy prime minister John Manley, Montreal MP Denis Coderre and Toronto MPs Gerard Kennedy and Martha Hall Findlay.
Cauchon commended the party's national executive for devising "fair and equitable" rules for the leadership process "as it exists today."
But he said the process of choosing delegates to elect a leader at a convention, which favours those with organizational prowess, is "antiquated." He argued that the process needs to be changed so that it gives "as many Liberals as possible a voice in choosing their leader."
"As a Quebecer who has bled Liberal red since the age of 16, I believe we need more Liberals everywhere across the country. No place should be left behind in our rebuilding process," Cauchon said.
Cauchon did not say who he will support now that he's not a contender himself. However, he's considered likely to back Rae, a former NDP premier of Ontario who is to formally launch his campaign Thursday. Cauchon supported Rae in 2006.
The backing of Cauchon's Quebec-based machine would be a boost to Rae, who is attempting to ensure that Ignatieff, the presumed front-runner, doesn't romp to a first-ballot victory at the party's May 2 vote in Vancouver.
The small field of candidates makes it harder for anyone to overtake the front-runner than in 2006, when 11 contenders were vying for the post.
On the weekend, Rae accused Ignatieff, his former university roommate, of running a "peekaboo" campaign after the former Harvard academic refused to allow the media to attend a candidates' event in Toronto. Rae's team, which is calling for weekly televised debates, is hoping that frequent exposure will trip up Ignatieff and demonstrate Rae's superior debating and political skills.
However, Ignatieff is unlikely to take the bait. He said Tuesday that he sees the contest as an opportunity to listen to Liberals.
"This is a listening campaign," he told CBC Newsworld. "It's going to work best for me if I'm in small rooms listening to Liberals. So we're playing it very quiet."
During the 2006 contest, Ignatieff championed the idea of imposing a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Dion ran on the proposal during last month's election but both he and the plan proved to be unpopular.
Ignatieff said Tuesday that voters have told Liberals to "come back and think again about how to reconcile environmental sustainability and economic progress." He said that's a policy challenge that can only be solved by working with other Liberals.