The Liberals are leader-less following Michael Ignatieff's resignation Tuesday and questions are quickly turning to who will replace him, both in the short-term and in the long-term.

The Liberal caucus will choose an interim leader at a meeting next week, to lead the 34 MPs who were re-elected in Monday's federal election. The reduced caucus, down from 77, has no leader in the House of Commons following Ignatieff's defeat to Conservative Bernard Trottier in the Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding in Toronto.

Ignatieff told supporters Monday night he would stay on as leader as long as the party wanted him to but the next morning he announced he was leaving.

Liberals will now have to choose another leader — again. Ignatieff was appointed to the job by the Liberal caucus in late 2008 after Stéphane Dion stepped down because of the Liberals' poor showing in the election that fall.

In that election, the Liberals dropped from 103 to 77 seats and earned just 26.3 per cent of the popular vote — the lowest percentage of the popular vote in the party's history until Monday's election.

The party's seat total Monday was also the worst in its history, eclipsing 1984's 40 seats under John Turner.

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Dominic LeBlanc discusses the F-35 contract during a news conference in Ottawa in October 2010. LeBlanc is also being asked about the leadership of the Liberal Party. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Dion defeated Ignatieff for the leadership job when it was up for grabs in 2006. Liberals had to replace former prime minister Paul Martin, who was the leader in that year's election, an election that saw the Liberals give up power to Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

Bob Rae and Scott Brison were among the leadership contenders in the 2006 contest, and are the only two from that list who were re-elected Monday. Rae, along with Dominic LeBlanc who is one of the remaining 34 Liberal MPs, expressed interest in the leadership job in 2008 but bowed out in favour of anointing Ignatieff.

Potential candidates fielding questions

They and other Liberals MPs, including Justin Trudeau, are now fielding questions about whether they want to take over the helm.

In an interview Wednesday morning on CBC News Network, Trudeau said he is "undecided."

"I honestly don't know if me as leader is something that would help the party or the county," he said.

Trudeau also said it may not be the right time in his life because he has two young children. Brison, another young MP, also gave starting a family as a reason why he'd hold off on going for the job.

LeBlanc, meanwhile, isn't ruling it out. He wouldn't definitively say whether he wants another go at the top job, but did tell CBC News that he sees himself in a key role within the party.

"I think I can and should play a big role in the rebuilding and the renewal of our party," said LeBlanc, who at 43 is also touted as a good young prospect to lead the party. "I'm relatively young, I have the advantage of ... being a francophone outside Quebec — which I always thought is an important ingredient in rebuilding our party."

He said there is a lot of work to do to rebuild the party after its stunning defeat and that there is no urgency to make leadership decisions.

Deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale, who was re-elected for the seventh time and will co-ordinate next week's caucus meeting, is trying to set a calm and patient tone amidst a flurry of questions to Liberals about whether they're interested in the top job.

"I think all of us need to just sort of take a valium, step back," Goodale said in an interview on CBC News Network Wednesday. "There is no pressure to make instant decisions, and very often instant decisions are the wrong decisions."

Goodale and other Liberals are saying that if there's any silver lining in Monday's disappointing turnout that gave Harper a majority government, it's that they have plenty of time to rebuild the party before another election. Canadians won't be going to the polls for another four years now that a minority Parliament is a thing of the past.

The Saskatchewan MP said the party has to work through its challenges in a "thoughtful and thorough way."

"We can come to the leadership questions a little bit later," Goodale said. The interim leadership will be dealt with in the short-term and then the party will focus on its rebuilding efforts, he said.

It's possible a permanent leader may not even be chosen until 2012. The Liberals were originally scheduled to hold their biennial convention in June but it has been postponed until the fall because of the spring election. Party organizers say they are figuring out the logistics of exactly when and where the convention will take place, likely in November or even December.

Liberals could choose their new leader at that gathering, but might also wait and do a separate convention months afterward.

The consistent message from Liberals so far this week is that they don't want to rush into making any major decisions.

Ignatieff thanked

Alfred Apps, president of the Liberal Party, issued a statement Wednesday thanking Ignatieff and saying he earned the admiration and respect of all Canadians.

He said Liberals can be proud of the campaign and their platform, but said the party now faces an "unprecedented challenge."

"Our future as a party will depend, more than ever, on preserving our unity, broadening our vision and keeping clear and cool heads over the coming weeks and months about what we need to do," said Apps.

He said he hopes Liberals will stand back and take a long view of the challenges that are ahead and will prepare for the work to overcome them.

"This is not the time for making rash judgments or drawing speedy conclusions. This is not the time for Liberals to be seduced by political expediency or parliamentary convenience," wrote Apps.

The party president said it's a time for wide-open debate "on all major questions affecting our party's future."

He added that he's confident "the legendary resilience" of Liberals will lead them to a "brighter day for our party."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that the 77 seats won by the Liberal party in the 2008 election had been the party's worst result until this past Monday's election. It should be clarified that the 2008 result was the worst in terms of the percentage of the popular vote, 26.3 per cent, not in terms of seat count. In 1984, the Liberals won 40 seats (with 28 per cent of the popular vote), which was the lowest seat count until Monday.
    May 05, 2011 12:25 PM ET