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May 11, 2011: Outgoing Liberal MP Navdeep Bains with the help of his daughter Nanki Kaur Bains 3 1/2yr packs up his Parliament Hill office in Ottawa. (DAVE CHAN for The Globe and Mail)
May 11, 2011: Outgoing Liberal MP Navdeep Bains with the help of his daughter Nanki Kaur Bains 3 1/2yr packs up his Parliament Hill office in Ottawa. (DAVE CHAN for The Globe and Mail)

Liberals reflect, begin to discuss new leadership Add to ...

Liberals who lost their seats in last week's federal election, and those who are now members of a much-diminished caucus, were reflective but accepting of their lot as they took part in their last meeting together.

But even as they were saying their goodbyes Wednesday and talking about the need to rebuild, there were disagreements about the best way forward - and specifically about how to replace outgoing Leader Michael Ignatieff even in the short term.

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A handful of MPs went into the meeting saying said they believed Toronto MP and former leadership hopeful Bob Rae was the best person for the job. Others stood up during the lengthy closed-door session to endorse Mr. Rae as interim leader. Whoever assumes that role may not run for permanent leader.

In the end, nothing was decided.

Ralph Goodale, the party veteran from Saskatchewan who has been disqualified from leading the caucus even on a temporary basis because he is not fluent in French, emerged late in the afternoon to say the hours that he and his colleagues had spent together were marked by a sense of unity.

But at the start of the day, at least one MP had called for the head of party president Alf Apps who, along with the other members of the national board, has drafted the rules for replacing Mr. Ignatieff on both an interim and a long-term basis.

"I think there's a lot of people very concerned that the party seems to be telling caucus what to do," said Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett.

When asked if Mr. Apps should quit, Ms. Bennett said: "I think it is a huge concern that Michael Ignatieff [is taking]the fall by himself." And the party, she said, needs a president who can engage the grassroots and listen.

Mr. Apps, who was at the meeting to give a presentation about how the leader will be decided, said he would now talk to riding presidents to obtain their input.

When asked if anyone within the caucus had demanded his resignation, Mr. Apps paused. "Let me just say this," he replied. "We always have a little bit of fun in the Liberal Party and I was happy to take it. I told them I have got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of letters from Liberals across Canada, including 10 that said resign."

Mr. Apps said his overarching goal was to ensure an interim leader was in place by the end of the month. "Frankly," he said, "it's more important to get this right than to do it fast."

The afternoon presentation by Mr. Apps was conducted for the 34 MPs left standing after last week's election and their Senate colleagues.

A meeting in the morning was a more bittersweet affair that included those Liberals who were defeated on election night. Among them was Mr. Ignatieff. He and his wife, Zsuszanna Zsohar, stopped on their way out of the room to thank the people of Canada for the time he spent in office.

"The only thing, really, to say is this: Everybody always tells you how tough a game politics is and how brutal it is. What they don't say enough is how incredibly good the Canadian people are to you even when they don't vote for you," said Mr. Ignatieff.

"And, as we take our leave of politics," he said, "I just want to express my enormous gratitude to all the people we met as we went along the road, their kindness, their civility, their sense of humour."

Mark Holland, one of the party's most visible and vocal MPs who was defeated on election night, said the coming days will not be easy.

"There's going to be debate and there's going to be disagreement and that's okay, that's natural. These are delicate and tough times. But we all have to see beyond that and see the bigger picture," said Mr. Holland.

Canadians want the Liberal Party back and they want it to be strong, he said. "But we have to be smart, we have to be prudent and over all we have to be united."

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