Bob Rae urges Liberals to keep eye on ball
Liberal interim leader Bob Rae responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
OTTAWA - Bob Rae is urging federal Liberals to keep their eye on the ball and not get distracted by speculation about future leadership battles.
The interim Liberal leader says recent polls suggest the party has made some progress since being relegated to a third-party rump in last May's election.
He says that's because Liberals have stayed focused on rebuilding the party and addressing the issues that matter most to Canadians.
Rae says it wouldn't be helpful to resume "internecine warfare" over leadership.
Several recent polls have suggested the Liberals have rebounded as much as 10 points since their election drubbing, pulling even or even slightly ahead of the NDP, which supplanted the Liberals as official Opposition.
Rae has also been winning positive reviews for out-performing the NDP's interim leader, Nycole Turmel, triggering speculation that he may be tempted to run for the permanent leadership.
Last week, David McGuinty and Scott Brison, two Liberal MPs with potential leadership aspirations of their own, said Rae should step down as interim leader if he intends to run for the job permanently.
McGuinty floated the idea that his brother, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, might be interested in the job, despite repeated, public denials. And he noted that the party required Rae to give up his long term leadership aspirations as a condition of being appointed to the interim post.
However, Sheila Copps, considered the front runner in the race for party president, has said the new party executive to be elected in January should reconsider that rule and allow Rae to run for the permanent job if he wants it.
Rae has not categorically ruled out the idea, refusing to indulge in what he calls speculation.
"I'm philosophical about that. People are going to say lots of things," Rae said in an interview Monday.
"But the reality is things are going well, that we're actually making progress and that I continue to focus on what I have to do and I'm not going to get distracted by people who are kind of speculating on what might or might not happen in a year and a half's time. I just think we're much wiser to kind of be focusing on where we're at right now."
Rae said the recent up tick in Liberal fortunes suggests "the election was not a permanent reflection of the Canadian people on the Liberal party, that if we do a good job, people will respond to that." It also suggests there's still plenty of room in Canada for a centrist party.
"Canadians are not a deeply ideological people who are driven to want to engage in class warfare or extremist politics," he said, adding that they want the economy to improve, security for their families and opportunities for their children.
"The more, as Liberals, we're able to speak to those concerns and not get caught up in internecine warfare, the better off we are."
McGuinty and some other Liberals have taken to saying the job of the interim leader is to recruit candidates for the permanent leadership. Rae said that's news to him.
"I think the role of the interim leader is to do everything possible to rebuild the party. Beyond that, I don't recall anything in the job description that went beyond that."