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Liberal interim leader Bob Rae asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday March 5, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Liberal interim leader Bob Rae asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday March 5, 2013. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Bob Rae exhorts Liberals to resist ‘backbiting’ new leader Add to ...

Bob Rae is issuing a challenge to his Liberal Party as he leaves his post as interim leader, urging his fellow Liberals to resist the “backbiting” that has inevitably followed the election of a new leader.

“It’s like a disease and pathology,” Mr. Rae told a packed gathering of his closest family, friends and supporters at a private party at a restaurant in Toronto’s posh Yorkville Friday night.

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“This party has to learn a lesson about leadership,” he said, dispensing some parting advice. Liberals, he has observed, “fall into bad habits,” citing “the backbiting that happens almost immediately when a new leader is elected.”

He was being honoured on the eve of Saturday’s “National Showcase,” in which the six leadership candidates, including front-runner Justin Trudeau, will deliver their final speeches before a week of voting. The winner is to be announced on Sunday, April 14, in Ottawa.

He is not leaving politics. He will continue to represent his Toronto constituents in the House of Commons.

Without naming names, Mr. Rae said that former Liberal leaders “deserved our support and respect,” but that didn’t happen. Liberals are hard on their leaders, launching whisper campaigns against them and trying to undermine them seemingly minutes after they are elected.

Mr. Rae says Liberals have the tendency to think that they are so “big and strong” that they can destabilize their leaders without suffering consequences by saying “one thing in public and another in private.”

“And we can’t afford to do it,” he noted.

The decade that Jean Chrétien was prime minister and Paul Martin was finance minister was particularly intense as supporters of both men fought a fierce, inside battle for supremacy. It ended up pulling apart the party and causing damage from which Liberals are still recovering.

Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, who followed as the federal leader, had to fight on two fronts – the sniping from within and aggressive attacks from the Harper Conservatives. Mr. Dion was even forced to resign his leadership after a caucus revolt.

At times emotional, Mr. Rae stopped to compose himself when he spoke about his late father, Saul, and brother David.

He talked about the tremendous support he was given when he took over the reins of the party that was devastated in the 2011 election and saw it reduced to third-party status as the Conservatives won a majority and the NDP became the official opposition.

There was much controversy at that time, with some Liberals whispering that he was simply making a play to launch himself as leader, something that had eluded him when he ran against Mr. Dion in 2006.

His critics said being interim leader would give him an unfair advantage if he decided to go for the permanent job. The party brass ruled that as interim leader he could not run for permanent leader, a notion that many in the party said was ridiculous.

In the end, however, he announced he was not seeking the leadership. On Friday night, he explained why.

“I wanted to teach the party this is how you do it,” he said, adding that running for the leadership would have been the selfish thing to do. It wasn’t about him, he said, rather it was about a party learning how to accept a leader.

He said he knew that had he declared his intentions, some in the party would have turned against him – the support and respect he had built would have evaporated.

He didn’t want that to happen.

“It’s been an emotional few weeks and months …,” he told the crowd. “… and it’s not simply because of what you might think in terms of, ‘Well this is what could have been, or might have been, or what should have been.’”

Mr. Rae said it was because he and his wife, Arlene Perly Rae, became attached to the people who showed them support during his tenure.

He cautioned the party not to focus on the past as the leadership campaign comes to an end. Instead, he told the party to look ahead.

“Because it’s the future to which we must turn and if we are going to succeed, which we must do in the next election.”

Follow on Twitter: @janetaber1

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