Liberals delay decision on finding interim leader
Published Wednesday, May 11, 2011 9:35PM EDT
It's was a bittersweet day on Parliament Hill as the remaining Liberal MPs, as well as those who recently lost their seats, met to discuss the future of their party.
From most accounts of Wednesday's meeting, it appears that the worst defeat in the party's history did not bring about a quick consensus on how to find a new leader.
Veteran Liberal MP Ralph Goodale emerged from a late afternoon caucus meeting with little to tell reporters.
"We had arrived at no firm conclusions yet, because in fact, we have time . . . to do this right," he said.
The party's remaining MPs and senators are battling over a contentious proposal that would effectively block most of the party's senior and well-known MPs -- in particular, Bob Rae -- from becoming interim leader.
The suggested rules call for a bilingual candidate who must not seek to become the permanent leader or discuss a merger with the NDP.
The caucus and the national board say more consultation is needed to move forward, and have scheduled a conference call with riding association presidents for next week.
If Parliament resumes before an interim leader is found, Goodale will represent the party in the House of Commons.
Meanwhile, the party's remaining members have tried to downplay talk of a rift between the caucus and the national board.
"There is no crisis here, we want to calm things down and work together and that's why we decided to take a little bit of time to ensure we arrive at the right decision," Liberal House Leader David McGuinty said.
MP Carolyn Bennett reportedly argued for party president Alfred Apps to resign, but Apps said he wasn't going to do that, saying he had to make sure the party had an interim leader by May 30.
Some MPs supported Rae for interim leader, but the Toronto MP left after the meeting without speaking to reporters.
When he did speak to media earlier in the day, he avoided any discussion on the subject.
"The constitution of the party says simply that the board will nominate an interim leader after consulting with the caucus. It's a consultation that's beginning right now," he said.
For many, including Michael Ignatieff, who resigned the day after the election, it was their last meeting with the party and one of their final opportunities to bid farewell to colleagues.
The first session, which included defeated MPs, began around 10 a.m. Wednesday morning and ended a few hours later with little information about what took place behind closed doors.
Ignatieff spoke briefly to reporters as he left the meeting, but took no questions and gave no indication of what was discussed.
"It was a privilege to serve the Canadian people and we leave politics with a sense of what a privilege it was and what an honour it was," Ignatieff said.
Of the 77 elected MPs the Liberal Party had going into the federal election, only 34 remain. The devastating loss saw the Liberals hand over their status as Official Opposition to the NDP, which won 102 seats.
On Tuesday, the national board of the federal Liberal Party re-jigged party rules to put off finding Ignatieff's permanent successor.
The board said there will be a virtual convention in June to amend the constitution, so the party can wait beyond the mandated six months to find a new leader. Many Liberals are calling for a period of one to two years with an interim leader, so the party can make the right choice on who will lead them into the next election.
In the meantime, there's no clear indication who will take on the role of interim leader until a permanent leader can be chosen.
Goodale and Rae would seem to be the obvious candidates, but both seem to be ineligible by the new rules, unless Rae rules out a run at the permanent job.
Rae would be close to 70 by the time the next election comes around, a fact that has many questioning whether he would be right for the job.
New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc is another possibility. The 44-year-old son of former governor general Romeo LeBlanc is well respected, media savvy and knows his way around Parliament Hill.
LeBlanc ran for the Liberal leadership in 2008, but eventually dropped out and supported Ignatieff.
Justin Trudeau's name is also being raised, but the son of former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau has strongly suggested he doesn't want the job and has said the party needs more than another "pretty face."