No Rae for Liberals

Bob Rae, interim leader of the federal Liberal party since its 2011 election debacle and widely expected to run for permanent leader, has decided to abandon his leadership ambitions.

The 63-year-old Liberal MP and former New Democratic Party premier of Ontario announced today he will not be a candidate in the Liberal leadership race to be launched in the summer.

“I have reached the conclusion that the way I can serve the party best is to not run for the permanent leadership,” he told reporters on Parliament Hill.

He said he will remain interim Liberal leader until a permanent replacement is chosen at a convention within a year.

Rae’s decision, which caught many in the party off-guard since he had been assembling a leadership campaign team, throws the issue of choosing the 13th permanent Liberal leader since Confederation wide open.

Potential candidates include New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc, Montreal MP Justin Trudeau, who insists he is not running but after Rae’s announcement it was a less firm “no,” former Toronto MP Martha Hall Findley and possibly former Jean Chrétien-era Montreal cabinet minister Martin Cauchon.

No western Liberal candidates, where party fortunes are bleak, are considered in the running.

Others undoubtedly will contemplate a bid for the leadership, although leading the Liberal Party of Canada is no longer the prize it once was.

After dominating Canadian politics for more than a century and earning the “natural governing party” moniker, the Liberals have fallen on hard times, losing government in 2006, losing more ground in 2008 and last year, becoming the third party in the House of Commons for the first time in history while hitting an historic low in seats won and vote percentage captured.

In less than nine years, the party has gone through five permanent and interim leaders. Its 35 parliamentary seats make it a small rump of MPs in a sea of Conservatives and New Democrats and its membership and fundraising efforts trail the other parties.

“We’re facing the challenges we are facing,” Rae said simply.

Had he won the leadership, he would have had his own challenges.

At 67 when the next election is called, he would have been by far the oldest leader.

His controversial years as NDP premier in the 1990s still rankle many Ontario voters.

And when he took the interim Liberal leadership in 2011, Rae promised he would not use the platform to mount a campaign for the permanent leadership. He would face opposition and ridicule over that about-face.

Question Period in the House of Commons June 12 offered an early look at how that issue could become a political liability.

Rae asked a question about the accumulation of power in the prime minister’s office and what he said was the increasing government abuse of Parliament.

“Can the prime minister deny that he has been corrupted by power?”

Prime minister Stephen Harper was ready.

“In terms of power and corruption, I notice that the man who said that he would never run for the permanent leadership of his party is now apparently prepared to accept it, which I guess proves down in that corner of the House lack of power can corrupt,” he said.