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Leaderless Liberals face new era of caucus turmoil

Michael Ignatieff leaves the podium after announcing his resignation as Liberal leader in Toronto a day after the federal election on May 3, 2011.


The Liberal MPs left standing after last week's election rout are plunging into what could be a new era of caucus turmoil as the party determines how its vacant leadership position will be filled in both the short and long term.

Some Liberals want to engage in an extensive period of rebuilding before a permanent leader is chosen. They hope to change the party's constitution, which demands that a leadership vote take place within six months after the existing leader has announced his intention to resign.

Others, including Bob Rae, one of the 34 Liberal MPs remaining in the House of Commons, disagree with prolonging the process.

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"I think, first of all, the constitution of the party needs to be respected, and I think that's something that those who want to improvise should think about," Mr. Rae said.

Potential candidates' aspirations would not abate just because the party won't hold the vote for a couple of years, he said. "What it means is you could have a very prolonged leadership race, and I am not quite sure that helps the cause of renewal."

In addition, he said, a change in the constitution requires a meeting of the party. "And if you can hold a meeting of the party to amend the constitution, why can't you hold a meeting of the party to elect a leader?"

Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, on the other hand, says a delay is needed.

"I think we've got to rebuild the party first and then let who's ever running for leader know what it is we want," Ms. Bennett said. "We now have got four years to rebuild and I think we need to use at least half of it rebuilding so we know what kind of leader we need."

The Liberal national board, which will ultimately determine how the permanent job will be filled, met on Monday night by conference call to discuss the leadership issues.

Liberal Party of Canada president Alf Apps, who is a member of the national board, said Monday that there has been a "universal push from every corner of the party" to have the long-term leadership vote delayed.

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"The party base needs to be strengthened, the membership needs to be strengthened and renewed so we've got a whole new generation of Liberals participating in this process," Mr. Apps said.

The Canadian Press obtained what it said was a draft statement from the Liberal national board suggesting that an extraordinary "special convention" be conducted via the Internet on June 12 to amend the constitution. The delegates would be asked to defer a leadership vote to some time between May 1, 2012, and June 15, 2013, with the exact date to be fixed at the discretion of the national board.

The delegates would also be asked to postpone the party's biennial convention, currently slated for December this year, to Jan. 13-15, 2012.

Mr. Apps said he was unaware of the specific document, and that various discussion papers are in circulation. The party's constitutional affairs advisers are coming to the national board with options, he said, and he will appear at a Wednesday caucus meeting at which the leadership issues will be discussed.

The national board will also decide, in consultation with the caucus, how the interim leader will be chosen.

The statement obtained by The Canadian Press suggested that the board would say the interim leader must have majority support of the MPs; make a "solemn" vow, in writing, that he or she will not seek the permanent leadership of the party; and will not engage in discussions of anything that would that would require a fundamental change to the "nature or structure" of the party.

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Those rules would appear to exclude people like Mr. Rae, who is said to be considering running for the permanent leadership, and has mused about the need at least to discuss the idea of merging with the NDP.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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