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LIberal interim leader Bob Rae announces his shadow cabinet in Ottawa on June 1, 2011.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Bob Rae's first job as interim leader of a much-reduced Liberal caucus was to put on a brave face and announce the roles that have been handed to those left standing after the May election.

Liberal veteran Ralph Goodale has been given the job of deputy leader while mild-mannered former astronaut Marc Garneau will be the House leader - a role that will see him face off against Conservative Peter Van Loan and New Democrat Thomas Mulcair.

"We've got a team of very experienced people (and) two very talented bright new MPs from Charlottetown and Kingston," Mr. Rae told reporters after a caucus meeting on Wednesday. "We've got a caucus that's extremely varied that includes experienced parliamentarians, both in the House of Commons and, I might add, in the Senate."

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New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc, who is often touted as a possible candidate for the job of permanent leader, has been given the key post of foreign-affairs critic.

Scott Brison, a former leadership candidate, will serve as finance critic. Human-rights expert Irwin Cotler gets the job of justice and human-rights critic. And party veteran John McKay will handle defence.

The election cut the number of Liberal seats in the House of Commons from 77 to 34. When asked how he planned to lift the morale of what is now the third party in the House, Mr. Rae quipped hat he would tell jokes and "promise not to play the piano too much."

But there are positive sides to having a small caucus, he insisted.

"We had a terrific discussion this morning and it was very candid. The advantage of a smaller group is you can have very direct conversations," Mr. Rae said.

The caucus room is "bigger than a phone booth," he said, "I think you are going to see us as a very feisty, very effective party in opposition. We accept the role that the Canadian people have given us. We've taken our lumps and our licks and we're going to be back in the House very eagerly tomorrow."

While the Liberals were dealt a blow during the election, the party has been in disarray for some years as feuds over the leadership created schisms.

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The website WikiLeaks released a 2009 diplomatic cable this week from the U.S. embassy that described a conversation between a counsellor at the embassy and Mr. Rae, who was then the party's foreign-affairs critic.

According to the note, Mr. Rae was indicating Liberal MPs were not behind then-leader Michael Ignatieff's recent election sabre-rattling. "He claimed that Ignatieff had 'made up his own mind' on this brinkmanship approach without much, or perhaps any, internal consultations," the cable said.

When asked about the leaked American missive, Mr. Rae joked that he always wanted to be on Facebook but never really wanted to be on WikiLeaks

"These things happen," he said. "I don't have any comment on these stories except to say this: In the normal course of business, I will always have candid conversations with representatives of other governments."

Canadians expect your politicians to have candid conversations, Mr. Rae said. "But I think it's also important for us to respect confidences and I will continue to do that."

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