Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae (3rd R) stands to vote with members of his caucus in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 14, 2012.
Credits: Chris Wattie/REUTERS
OTTAWA - Throughout the long and often glorious history of the Liberal Party of Canada, at least one member of that party's caucus in the House of Commons has always laid claim to the top job within days of it being declared vacant.
The job as permanent Liberal leader has technically been vacant for nearly 15 months and no MP has yet stepped forward to say they will compete for the job.
The first excuse was that interim Leader Bob Rae would win hands down. Then after he ruled himself out, Justin Trudeau has become some sort of unstoppable force.
And yet, all along, we know there are MPs thinking about it. From Montreal, there's Trudeau, Marc Garneau and Denis Coderre, who said on Monday he'll tell us in November if he'll run for Liberal leader or mayor of Montreal. From Ottawa, people wonder if David McGuinty, the Ontario premier's brother, will jump in. Then there's Dominic Leblanc, the MP from Acadian New Brunswick, who was briefly in the May 2009 leadership race between Michael Ignatieff and Rae.
Rae on Monday said the slow start to this race was quite purposeful.
"I think the consensus that was reached after the last election was that we would take a break from focusing on leadership issues and we would look at other issues facing the party in terms of rebuilding the party and making it a stronger organization and we would then move into the leadership phase," Rae said. "I think, frankly, a lot of the potential candidates have been very respectful of the decision of the party to not have a year-and-a-half leadership race."
Garneau, in a telephone interview Monday, confirmed the view that an ultra-marathon towards an April leadership vote is unlikely to serve the party or many candidates well.
"There's a sense that there's a certain length of time that is probably optimal," Garneau said.
Still the cynic might suggest that Liberal MPs used to jump into leadership races because they knew that power almost invariably came with the Liberal leadership job. Until Stephane Dion took the top job in 2006, anyone since Sir Wilfrid Laurier who had become Liberal leader also, at one point or another, became prime minister.
Nowadays there is no such guarantee. In fact, the winner, for the first time ever in Liberal Party history, won't even get the keys to Stornoway, the official residence of the leader of the official Opposition.
"What you're saying is that among cynics these days it's all about power and not about ideas," Deborah Coyne said when I ran that past her Monday. Coyne - who has never been an MP but is a former advisor to Pierre Elliott Trudeau, among other things - has declared herself in the race.
"I'm not cynical. I'm optimistic. That's precisely why I'm in the race. The Liberals have to re-think, get back to fundamentals and there is most certainly room for them in the national political world."
Garneau, too, should he enter the race, will commit himself and his supporters to this optimistic approach to the job.
"I think that anyone who enters (the race) will take the viewpoint we will do the very best that we can to win the next election," Garneau said. "I think from a mental point of view, you have to approach it that way."