Liberals to continue interim leader talks next week

It's expected to be another week at least before the Liberal caucus makes its choice for an interim leader.
Montreal MP Marc Garneau is seeking the interim leadership of the Liberal party. (Canadian Press)

It's expected to be another week at least before the Liberal caucus makes its choice for an interim leader.

The reduced caucus of 34 MPs and 45 senators is scheduled to meet in person next on May 25, not this week, which gives interested candidates more time to make a final decision and garner support from their colleagues.

Defeated and re-elected MPs met last week for the final time and said their goodbyes, then the remaining members of the caucus began discussions on choosing an interim leader, along with Liberal party executives who have issued some strict rules surrounding the selection of the interim leader.

The Liberal party announced over the weekend that the party will hold a convention via teleconference next month to change its constitution so that a leadership vote can be put off until at least 2012.

According to the party's current constitution, a permanent leader to replace Michael Ignatieff should be held in late October but the party's national executive board says it has heard from so many members that want the election of a new leader delayed that it is willing to change the rules.

The Liberal party's national membership secretary, Robert Hamish Jamieson, said in a statement released Saturday that Liberals want to postpone a leadership contest in order to allow for time to "discuss and decide upon our future as a party and focus on serious policy and organizational rebuilding work before we turn our attention to our leadership choices."

Ignatieff resigned on May 3, the day after the federal election that saw the Liberals reduced from 77 to 34 seats. The party lost Official Opposition status to the NDP and Ignatieff also lost his own seat in Etobicoke-Lakeshore to a Conservative.

The reduced Liberal caucus will have a vote for an interim leader, possibly on May 25 when it is next scheduled to meet in Ottawa. The outcome of that vote will be the caucus' recommendation and that will go to the party executive, which will appoint the interim leader.

The executive has set a number of rules around who can be interim leader including a bilingualism requirement, that the interim leader cannot run for the permanent job, or pursue any discussions of merging the party with the NDP.

Garneau in running for interim leader

So far, Montreal MP Marc Garneau is the only one who has publicly declared his interest in the interim job. Other possible contenders include Dominic LeBlanc, and Bob Rae, who have yet to announce their intentions for either the temporary or permanent job.

Garneau says he wants to be interim leader because he loves his party and wants to make a contribution. "I think it's a job that I have some qualities to contribute so I put my name in," he said in an interview with CBC News in Montreal on Friday. "I'm also ready to do the job and then step out of the way as we have, I think, an exciting and certainly an extremely important leadership convention some time between a year and two years from now."  

Many Liberals, including Garneau, are saying they don't want to rush into choosing a new leader and that a lot of work needs to be done to rebuild the party after its massive defeat. Now with a majority Conservative government in place the Liberals have some breathing room because the next federal election is years away.

"We have, I think, the capability to rebuild. We'll have to be extremely patient, it's going to take some time but that's the process we need to start now," said Garneau, a former astronaut and head of the Canadian Space Agency.

Years of internal squabbling, the sponsorship scandal and choosing leaders that didn't connect well with Canadians all contributed to the Liberals becoming unfocused and losing credibility, said Garneau. 

He said the party can get its strength back, but it's a "daunting" task.

The timeline now being envisioned by the Liberals is to hold a teleconference with selected delegates on June 18 when they can choose to amend the constitution so a leadership vote doesn't have to take place in October. The Liberals will then hold their regular biennial convention in early January, and a leadership vote would be held some time after that meeting.