Former Liberal leader Bill Graham stepping down

Bill Graham, the longtime Liberal MP who was the party's interim leader in 2006, made his departure from politics official on Tuesday amid a standing ovation from his colleagues.

Bill Graham, the longtime Liberal MP who was interim leader of the party for most of 2006, made his departure from federal politics official on Tuesday to a standing ovation from his colleagues in the House of Commons.

The 68-year-old Graham, who represents Toronto Centre, had said in February that he would not run for re-election.

He plans to departJuly 2 — clearing the way for Bob Rae, who was selected in March to be the next Liberal candidate in the riding.

"People of my riding, I hope, will understand why I believe it is important that they be represented by a future voice rather than somebody from the past," he told his fellow MPs.

He later told CBC News that he's rooting for Rae, who was the NDP premier of Ontario from 1990 to 1995.

"I'd really like to see Bob elected, he's a great person, I think he'd be a wonderful parliamentarian," Graham said of Rae, who doesn't hold aseat in the House of Commons.

Graham said he is looking forward to the next phase of his life, which will include spending more time with his wife andfamily andfocusing on his duties as chancellor of Toronto's Trinity College. He's also considering writing a book.

"I had an opportunity to be aparticipant in some really momentous events in the last decade and there's some things I'd like to say about them, and some things I think Canadians might like to reflect on for the future," Graham told CBC News.

Held interim leadership after Martin's departure

Graham, a lawyer and father of two grown children, became a member of Parliament in 1993 and was appointed foreign affairs minister in 2002 and defence minister in 2004.

WhenPaul Martin stepped down as Liberal leader after the Conservatives ousted the Liberals in the January 2006 election, Graham was appointed the party's interim leader.

He held the positionuntil Stéphane Dion won the leadership race in December, beating candidates that included Rae and Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff. Graham did not run for the leadership.

Grahamsaid some of his proudest memories include working closely with former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell to explain Canada's decision in 2003 not to enter the Iraq war. He also was pleased that as defence minister he was ableto convince his Liberal government to give more than $1 billion to improve the Canadian military.

Graham took the opportunity onTuesday to appeal MPs to think about their behaviour in the House.

"There's been a lot in the press recently about the lack of civility in the House. It may be attributable to the minority situation we're in … but colleagues, surely we owe it to ourselves to disagree without being disagreeable," Graham said in the House of Commons.

"Let us respect one another, and in so doing, I believe that our fellow countrymen will respect this institution and respect us."

Dion, Harper praise Graham

Dionpaid tribute to Graham Tuesday, saying "this House has surely been better" for his presence.

The Liberal leader highlighted Graham's service in the cabinets of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, especially praising him as a key voice in the argument against sending Canadian troops to Iraq.

"The member for Toronto Centre knew it was the right decision, and I am proud of him for it," Dion said in the House.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper also lauded Graham's work, singling out his time as interim Liberalleader.

"The leader of the Opposition is never an easy job to have. It's certainly the one job in the country where everybody —including, it seems at times, everyone in your party — thinks they can do it better than you," Harper said.

"I think we should all recognize that he really did a tremendous job as leader of the Opposition. He conducted himself with great intelligence, with great passion and with great integrity."