October 20, 2008 / 6:24 PM / 9 years ago

Liberal leader to exit after successor named

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Stephane Dion, leader of the official opposition Liberals, said on Monday he would resign in the wake of a humiliating election loss last week that he blamed on his rivals’ attack advertisements.

<p>Stephane Dion listens to a question during a news conference to announce his resignation as leader of the Liberal party in Ottawa October 20, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

Dion said he would stay on until the party can chose a new leader at a convention, most likely to be held in the first half of next year.

The Liberals last Tuesday won just 76 of Parliament’s 308 seats -- a drop of 19 from the January 2006 election -- and gathered 26.2 percent of the vote, the lowest for the party since 1867.

“I will stay as leader until a new leader is chosen at a leadership convention that I have asked the party to begin to organize. I will not be a candidate for the leadership of my party at that convention,” Dion said at a news conference.

Dion, a French speaker who has had trouble making himself understood in English, hampered his party’s election chances by stressing the need for a carbon tax to cut greenhouse gas emissions at a time of high fuel prices and market turmoil.

Even before the campaign began, the ruling Conservatives ran advertisements portraying Dion as a weak leader and saying the proposed carbon tax would cause taxes to rise -- a point the Liberals vainly insisted was untrue.

“This propaganda cemented the mind-set of Canadians to the point that this was the main reason we lost,” Dion admitted.

“To try to change that would be a tremendous effort and a risk that I don’t need to impose on my party. There is another solution, that is, to prepare the ground for a new leader and to make sure he will not be vulnerable to the same kind of politics.”

Dion, a former federal environment minister and professor of politics, surprisingly won the Liberal leadership in late 2006, thanks largely to a split in support between front-runners Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae.

In a bid to avoid another damaging battle between the two men, some Liberals are canvassing high-profile figures such as former finance minister John Manley. Whether he would want the job is unclear.

The Liberals have governed Canada more than any party but are now in decline. Tuesday’s election was the third in a row that the party has lost votes and seats in Parliament.

Dion stressed the new leader would need to rebuild the party’s creaking fund-raising operations, which have failed to keep pace with the Conservatives.

“The Conservative advertising campaign was huge, well-financed and effective. ... There is no way the Liberal Party could have countered that advertising campaign, given our existing financial crisis,” he said.

“We cannot afford to let others continue to distort or confuse just because they have more money,” he said.

Dion looks set to become only the second leader of the Liberals never to have gone on to become prime minister. The first was Edward Blake, who headed the party from 1880 to 1887.

No one in the office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper was available to respond to Dion’s announcement.

Additional reporting by Louise Egan; Editing by Frank McGurty

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