Liberal leader Dion will resign early

Mon Dec 8, 2008 5:08pm EST
 
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Stephane Dion, who in October led the Liberals to their worst election showing since the 1800s, said on Monday said he would step down as his party's leader as soon as it picked his successor.

That could come as early as Wednesday when the Liberal caucus in Parliament plans to meet. The front-runner is former Harvard don Michael Ignatieff, a legislator who heads the right wing of the Liberals, the official opposition party. Polls show the Liberals would do better under him than under Dion.

Soon after the party's poor performance in the October 14 general election, Dion said he would turn over the reins to the winner of a leadership convention in May. But the Liberals last week were jolted by the realization they may have to face a new election before then -- with Dion still serving as leader.

On Monday, under mounting pressure from the Liberal caucus in Parliament, Dion announced he would step down early, saying he agreed that a new leader needed to be in place before the House of Commons resumes on January 26.

The Conservatives plan to present their budget the next day, setting up a possible vote of no confidence should the Liberals decide to stick with a plan to team up with the two other opposition parties to topple the government.

"As always, I want to do what is best for my country and my party, especially when Canadians' jobs and pensions are at risk," he said in a statement after a flurry of calls and meetings.

"So I have decided to step aside as leader of the Liberal Party effective as soon as my successor is duly chosen."

Dion remains unpopular with Canadians, and the party's fate was made more tenuous by the coalition deal Dion helped engineer with the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) and the separatist Bloc Quebecois.   Continued...

 
<p>Liberal leader Stephane Dion listens to a question during a news conference in Ottawa August 19, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>