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Liberal leadership: Possible candidates

The Liberals have been called Canada's "natural governing party," but their opponents has accused them of getting too comfortable in that role. Canadians appear to have agreed, giving the Liberals a break from heading the country.

Many are saying the party now has time to "rebuild." The meaning is clear: new blood and a clear separation from the scandal-plagued previous governments. After coming under fire during the campaign for lacking focus and vision, the party can do some soul searching. Even before the election, whispers had begun within the party about the need for a change at the top.

Liberal Leader Paul Martin has said this is his last campaign at the helm of the party. Stepping down so quickly is unusual, especially for a party that retained more than 100 seats. But announcing his decision right away will avoid the inevitable knives that would have come out following a Liberal defeat. Martin may have saved the party a lot of infighting and unhealthy sniping.

That said, the party now has the job of choosing a successor. In the dying days of the campaign, several names surfaced as possible successors.

Frank McKenna (CP file photo)
Frank McKenna: Canada's ambassador to the U.S. since March 2005 and a former premier of New Brunswick, who turns 56 on Jan. 19.

Advantages: The fluently bilingual lawyer born in Apohaqui, N.B., first gained public attention when he defended boxer Yvon Durelle in a murder trial in his native province. He was elected to the provincial legislature in 1982 and became leader three years later. McKenna's Liberals went on to sweep every seat in the legislature in the 1987 election. After leaving provincial office in 1997, he returned to his legal career and sat on a number of corporate boards, including the Carlyle Group's Canadian advisory board. After the death of Israel Asper in 2003, McKenna became chairman of the board of media giant CanWest Global. He resigned his corporate responsibilities after Martin appointed him to be Canada's man in Washington.

Handicaps: As ambassador, the blunt former premier has generated some controversy. He called the U.S. government dysfunctional and said Canada was already a part of Ballistic Missile Defence, though Martin had made a big deal of announcing that the country would not join the U.S.-led alliance. Also, no Maritimer since R.B. Bennett has been elected prime minister, though McKenna's name recognition and many connections to Bay Street could compensate for being from a seat-poor region.

Buzz: In August 2005, McKenna came out on top when SES Research conducted a national poll on who Canadians would like to see as the next leader of the Liberals should Martin depart. McKenna was the choice of 23 per cent of respondents, compared to 11 per cent each for former Chrétien cabinet minister John Manley and former Ontario premier Bob Rae. Some columnists have reported that McKenna has been keeping in touch with plugged-in Liberals and potential leadership campaign supporters and donors since moving to the United States.

Michael Ignatieff
Michael Ignatieff: The Toronto-born academic and author, 58, who left his post as director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University in August 2005 to teach at the University of Toronto and now represents the Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

Advantages: After attending Upper Canada College and Trinity College in Toronto, the son of Canadian diplomat George Ignatieff worked as a reporter for The Globe and Mail before going on to earn his PhD at Harvard. He is fluent in English, French and Russian (his grandfather was in the government of Russia's Tsar Nicholas II), and has written 16 books, with titles such as Blood and Belonging and The Rights Revolution, exploring themes of nationalism, modern warfare and human rights. Ignatieff won the non-fiction Governor General's Award for The Russian Album, a family memoir he wrote in 1987, and was shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize and the Whitbread Novel Award for his 1993 novel Scar Tissue.

Handicaps: Ukrainian-Canadians in the riding have protested passages in 1995's Blood and Belonging as being derogatory toward their culture, and opponents have accused him of condoning "soft" torture tactics used by American forces dealing with prisoners suspected of being linked to al-Qaeda. Ignatieff was also called a "liberal hawk" for supporting U.S. President George W. Bush's push to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on the grounds that Saddam was torturing and killing his own citizens.

Buzz: Ignatieff has been called "the new Pierre Trudeau" and was labelled the "thinking woman's crumpet" when he served as a BBC commentator and arts program host in the 1990s. His decision to move back to Canada in the summer of 2005 was greeted by breathless profiles in national publications, with his future as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada taken for granted. However, Ignatieff has rejected suggestions that he was drafted to come home as part of "an anti-Martin leadership campaign," adding: "I would not have taken part in such activity."

Other names that have been mentioned:
  • Former justice minister Martin Cauchon
  • Public Works Minister Scott Brison
  • Citizenship and Immigration Minister Joe Volpe
  • former federal cabinet minister and Newfoundland and Labrador premier Brian Tobin
  • former Ontario premier Bob Rae
  • six-term Ontario MP Maurizio Bevilacqua
  • former health, justice and industry minister Allan Rock
  • Social Development Minister Ken Dryden
Another prominent name that had been mentioned was John Manley, a former deputy prime minister under Jean Chr�tien, who had also held finance, foreign affairs and industry portfolios during his political career. He dropped out of the Liberal leadership race in 2003 after he decided there was no way he could beat Paul Martin. He has cited personal reasons for not entering the race to succeed Martin.

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