Politics

Top Liberals defend party executive

Top Liberals defended the party's national executive board as they emerged from a three-hour meeting about the party's immediate future, as defeated MPs gathered with colleagues to say goodbye.

No decisions yet on key positions after post-election meeting

Liberal MP and former leadership candidate on the party's next steps 8:25

Top Liberals defended the party's national executive board on Wednesday as they emerged from a three-hour meeting about the party's immediate future with nothing yet decided.

Ralph Goodale, who was deputy leader in the last session of Parliament, said the party was united and it was obvious at the meeting, the second party gathering of the day. But some MPs have said they aren't happy with how the national board handled the rules for the upcoming leadership race, deciding them in a closed door meeting after draft copies leaked to the media.

"The national board has acted in every inch of its work in good faith, based upon their legitimate roles as volunteers," Goodale said, pointing out they don't get paid to take charge of the party's business.

"We have every confidence that the board is discharging its responsibilities in its very best judgment, just as we in the caucus will discharge our responsibilities."

Asked if anyone in the meeting asked for his resignation, Liberal president Alfred Apps said, "We always have a little bit of fun in the Liberal family and I was happy to take it."

"No, I'm not going to resign," he said.

The national board on Monday set the rules for whoever the party chooses to be interim leader, limiting that person's power. The interim leader is not allowed to change the party's structure, a reference to discussion about whether the Liberals should negotiate a merger with the NDP, and cannot run for the more permanent leadership. The interim leader must also be bilingual.

Bob Rae, who says he's considering running for leader of the party, backed away Wednesday from previous remarks where he said a potential merger is one of the options the party will be considering. He says he was responding to a question by saying it wasn't taboo.

"I don't think it's on anybody's table because it's been made very clear by a whole lot of people that it's not on their table," Rae told Evan Solomon on CBC's Power & Politics. "This is not a priority for the party at the present time. It's not something we discussed at all in the meeting today.

Farewells

Defeated Liberal MPs said their final farewells to their re-elected colleagues at a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill Wednesday morning, the first full gathering since their party suffered a massive defeat in the May 2 election.

Michael Ignatieff, who resigned as the party's leader the day after the election, was among the outgoing MPs who addressed the gathering behind closed doors on Parliament Hill.

After the meeting, which lasted about three hours, Ignatieff made a few brief comments in English and French before taking his leave of Parliament Hill.

"Everybody always tells you how tough a game politics is, and how brutal it is. But what they don't say enough is how incredibly good the Canadian people are to you, even when they don't vote for you," said Ignatieff.

"And as we take our leave of politics I just wanted to express my enormous gratitude to all the people we met as we went along the road," he said, referring to his wife Zsuzsanna Zsohar who was at his side. 

"Their kindness, their civility, their sense of humour, it was a privilege to serve the Canadian people and we leave politics with a sense of what a privilege it was and what an honour it was."

Ignatieff, who has accepted a teaching position at the University of Toronto,  then walked down the steps in front of the Peace Tower and got into a waiting car and drove away.

Other former MPs who emerged from the meeting described it as "emotional."

"I am so deeply proud of the people in that room. It was an emotional day," said Mark Holland, who lost his seat in Ajax-Pickering.

As MPs, former and current, made their way into the room on Parliament Hill a few hours earlier, some shared thoughts on the state of their battered party, how to rebuild it, and how someone should be chosen to lead it. The national executive of the Liberal Party will choose an interim leader, with input from the caucus, and it has set some strict rules for who can apply.

Rae, who has unsuccessfully run for the leadership before, said he hasn't decided whether he's interested in the job, either on a temporary or permanent basis.

"I think anything I can do to help to rebuild the party and to help renew the political process in the country is worth thinking about. But have I made any final decisions? Absolutely not," said Rae.

Future should be up to members, not board: Rae

Rae and other Liberals are emphasizing that decisions affecting the future of the party should be made by the party membership as a whole, not the caucus or national executive board.

"We need to have a broad discussion right across the party about change and renewal," said Rae. The Toronto MP said he's received hundreds of messages and that "there's a big conversation going on" about what the Liberals need to do to get their strength back.

Martha Hall Findlay, who was defeated in Toronto's Willowdale riding, expressed concerns that the future of the party may be decided by a small group of Liberal insiders instead of the wider base. The party's national executive board has talked about changing the party's constitution to amend the rules around the timing of a leadership convention.

"You are giving the finger at the democratic process if ... we are going to have a small number of people just make changes," she told Solomon on Wednesday's Power and Politics: The War Room podcast.

Hall Findlay indicated that she is considering whether she wants to run for the permanent leadership job. "I haven't decided. It's too early for that," she said.

The party has yet to nail down how long an interim leader will be in place and when the next leadership convention will take place.

The defeated and re-elected MPs, along with two rookie MPs, began arriving in Ottawa Tuesday, and many of them went to a reception held by the party on Parliament Hill in the evening.

Power & Politics: The War Room

In today's podcast, former MP Martha Hall Findlay talks about what's next for herself and her party, and what Liberals need to consider when picking a new leader.

'Bittersweet' meeting

Wayne Easter, one of the remaining Liberal MPs, described the event as "bittersweet."

"Sadness for friends who lost but a solid commitment to rebuilding the party," he wrote on his Twitter account.

Holland, who was defeated by Conservative Chris Alexander, said working on Parliament Hill was "an incredible experience."

"I'm so lucky to have had the opportunity. I'm ready to work. There's a lot of work to be done to rebuild the party and I'm ready to do that," Holland said as he entered his last caucus meeting Wednesday morning.

"I think we need to go back to our base and get them excited about a cause bigger than themselves," Holland responded when asked what kind of work needs to be done.

Defeated Liberal Ruby Dhalla speaks with reporters outside the Liberal caucus meeting on Parliament Hill on Wednesday. ((CBC))
The defeated MPs said their goodbyes to colleagues at the meeting and the gathering also provided an opportunity to conduct a post-mortem on how the Liberal party was reduced from 77 to 34 seats on election day, making it the third party in the House of Commons.

The NDP won 102 seats and will now fill the front benches in the House of Commons as the Official Opposition against the Conservative majority government won by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Some of the re-elected MPs are already circulating their ideas about changes that they say need to be made to the party as a whole, and to how the Liberal caucus operates.

Outspoken MP calls for more open leader

In an email obtained by CBC News, Toronto-area MP Jim Karygiannis tells his fellow MPs they should have more decision-making power, and his suggestions indicate that he was dissatisfied with how the party was being run under Ignatieff's leadership.

"All MPs should have easy access to the leader. They should not be required to write a letter requesting an appointment. (This became the practice during Ignatieff's leadership.)," Karygiannis wrote in the email.

"The leader's office should let the critics do their work versus telling the critic what to do," he also wrote.

Later in the day Wednesday, the 34 Liberal MPs who now make up the party's representation in the Commons, along with Liberal senators and members of the party's executive, began meeting to go over the rules that were set Monday to choose an interim leader.

There are also signs of discontent at the grassroots level. A group calling itself Liberals for Democratic Renewal, made up of about 50 longtime Liberal activists, sent a letter Tuesday to the party executive and caucus.

The letter warned the executive and caucus against setting the party's future behind closed doors and then expecting the membership to fall in line. It asked for "full engagement" with the party's members, otherwise their actions "will be viewed as illegitimate."

LIVE BLOG: The Liberal farewell caucus 

With files from The Canadian Press

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