Rae, Ignatieff deflect questions about Liberal leadership hopes

Two candidates who could be potential federal Liberal leadership contenders — should the job come open — are deflecting questions about their plans.

Two candidates who could be potential federal Liberal leadership contenders — should the job come open — are deflecting questions about their plans.

Neither Bob Rae nor Michael Ignatieff responded to questions about their ambitions or any criticism they might have about leader Stéphane Dion after the party ended up with 76 seats in Tuesday's general election.

The Liberals emerged with 19 fewer seats than they had going into the vote.

"We have to sit down with those members who ran and were not successful," Rae, 60, told CBC News on Wednesday.

"Mr. Dion is our leader. There is no leadership contest," Rae said, adding, "I expect he's going to lead us into the next election."

Ignatieff, 61, also chose to emphasize the need to rebuild the party rather than replace its leader.

"When a party suffers a defeat, you go back to basics, you look at everything — platform, organization, money and leadership in the wider sense of the word," he said Tuesday.

"To make Mr. Dion the scapegoat here seems to me a little easy. We've got to look honestly at why our message didn't work with Canadians and honestly address it."

Both Rae and Ignatieff were among the candidates challenging Dion for the party leadership in 2006, along with Martha Hall Findlay, Gerard Kennedy, Ken Dryden, Scott Brison and Joe Volpe.

Dion eventually won by securing a deal with Kennedy.

Focus on issues

Kennedy told CBC News he hopes talk about a new leader doesn't become a "lazy obsession" because no one wants to talk about tough issues like the economy.

He also defended his decision of playing "kingmaker" when he backed Dion during the leadership race.

"I chose the guy some two years ago that I thought was most likely to renew the party. It's what we needed to do. It's what obviously, by the [leadership]vote that followed, most Liberals thought needed to happen."

Liberal Senator David Smith,  the co-chair of the campaign, said Dion would be going through a "period of soul searching and reading the tea leaves."

But he was adamant that there "won't be any pushing."

But political consultant David Herle, who chaired the two previous Liberal campaigns, said the party will hold Dion responsible for what he describes as last night's "crushingly bad defeat."

"We are now again, virtually irrelevant in Western Canada and have lost the beachhead we had in British Columbia. The problems in Quebec remain widespread and deep. The NDP and Greens are encroaching on the Liberal party's territory from the left," he said.

Since Dion was the author and the designer of the campaign, Herle said he can't see him leading the party during another election.

With files from the Canadian Press