New Liberal leader Bob Rae says party here to stay

Wed May 25, 2011 2:06pm EDT
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The new interim leader of Canada's beleaguered Liberal Party, Bob Rae, said on Wednesday the Liberals would pick themselves up from their disastrous electoral showing and rebuild.

The Liberals, who governed Canada for 70 years in the last century, were reduced to third-party status in the May 2 election, which was won by the Conservatives. As a result, some members have wondered if it is time to pack it in and merge with the left-of-center New Democrats.

But Rae, picked by the Liberal caucus on Wednesday to head the party until the membership chooses a permanent leader, said the Liberal Party will triumph again.

"I can assure you that the Liberal Party has a future that is every bit as promising and great as our past achievements have been," he told reporters after taking the helm.

"I have no hesitation in saying that the Liberal Party is here to stay. We're here to fight for the things that Canadians believe in."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was able to convert his minority Conservative government into a majority government on May 2 partly because the Liberals split the center-left vote with the New Democrats, who overtook them as the biggest opposition party.

The Liberals were reduced to 34 seats -- smaller even than the new Conservative government's cabinet -- out of the 308 in the House of Commons. The party had 77 seats before the election.

Rae served as premier of Ontario, as head of the provincial New Democrats, from 1990 to 1995, during which time he raised taxes and forced unpaid furloughs on public workers in an effort to contain budget deficits. He later joined the Liberals.

(Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Peter Galloway)

<p>Liberal Member of Parliament Bob Rae leaves a news conference in Ottawa December 9, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>