Canada's interim Liberal leader to step aside

Wed Jun 13, 2012 6:15pm EDT
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The race for the leadership of Canada's Liberal Party was thrown wide open on Wednesday when its interim chief took his name out of the running, saying it was in the best interests of the party as it tries to regain its footing after last year's devastating election loss.

Veteran politician Bob Rae, 63, took on the caretaker role a year ago after the Liberals suffered their worst loss since Canada became a country in 1867, on the understanding he would not enter the race for the permanent position. Even so, he had been widely expected to throw his hat in the ring.

He told a news conference on Wednesday he would step aside for the good of the party.

His decision leaves Justin Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, as the potential candidate with the most name recognition. The party will chose its new leader next year.

Trudeau, 40, has said he would not run because of the time it would take him away from his young family, but many in Ottawa think he will change his mind.

"I haven't so far changed my decision not to run, but as you well know, I'm under an enormous amount of pressure from Canadians, journalists and Liberals who want me to consider it seriously," Trudeau told reporters after Rae's announcement.

The 2011 election reduced the center-left Liberals to the third-biggest party for the first time, with the Conservatives capturing a majority of seats and the New Democratic Party, to the left of the Liberals, emerging as the official opposition.

Reflecting on his party's weakened status, Rae said the Liberals should not be counted out.

"I have great optimism in the future of the Liberal Party and great optimism in the future of my country, but things will have to change for that to happen," he said.   Continued...

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 13, 2012. Rae announced he will not run for the permanent leadership of the Liberal Party. REUTERS/Chris Wattie