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The Globe and Mail

Bob Rae and beyond: potential contenders for the top Liberal job

Interim Leader Bob Rae and party president Mike Crawley take questions at the Liberal policy convention in Ottawa on Jan. 15, 2012.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

With the convention behind them and life for Liberals becoming a little more clear, there is growing speculation Bob Rae will not be the only contender for the party's throne.

Rumours are there could be at least half a dozen Liberals who will take a run at the leadership including MPs Dominic LeBlanc, David McGuinty and Geoff Regan. Other names being floated are Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and even Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, the brother of the Liberal MP who gave a well-received keynote address to convention delegates.

As for candidates from Quebec, it's believed former Chrétien cabinet minister Martin Cauchon could have some interest. He was very visible at the convention, where he hosted a hospitality suite. In addition, there is some buzz around Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier, who served as a senior adviser to former leader Michael Ignatieff.

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No women's names are being seriously floated although Belinda Stronach, a former Liberal cabinet minister who took a run at the Conservative leadership against Stephen Harper, was seen schmoozing at the convention. She is always considered a possible candidate.

While no one wanted to look too ambitious at the weekend event, David McGuinty told reporters he was considering a bid. But he noted he had a lot more thinking to do.

So far, however, the media focus has been on the Interim Liberal Leader and whether he will try for the permanent job. Mr. Rae had a high profile at the convention, making a dozens of appearances and speeches, including a stirring wrap-up address to delegates in which he urged them to go back to their ridings "and multiply."

But with the spirit of renewal and sense the party needs generational change that came from the three-day gathering – Mike Crawley's win as president over Sheila Copps reinforced that view – there is a hope among some Liberals that Mr. Rae will not compete for the permanent job.

One senior Liberal told The Globe he is hoping "people see the wisdom of what we did" – which was to open up the party to outside "supporters" to allow for a broad-based vote for leader.

So far Mr. Rae has remained non-committal about his plans. But party officials have said he would have to step down as Interim Leader well before the final leadership vote as that post gives him a big advantage over other candidates.

And patience is beginning to wear thin. Postmedia columnist Michael Den Tandt has written a piece calling on Mr. Rae to " come clean – and say he is not a candidate for permanent leader, or say that he is. In the latter case he should set a firm date for his exit as interim leader. And he should do so now."

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All of this has to be figured out by the new party president, Mr. Crawley, and his board. Liberal officials have until Oct. 1 to set the exact date for the convention that is to take place between March and June of 2013.

But internal reticence aside, Mr. Rae might want to seriously consider a bid. EKOS pollster Frank Graves recently ran a survey on who Canadians like as political leaders and the interim Liberal chief outranked the Prime Minister, scoring a 44 per cent job-approval rating compared to Mr. Harper's 34 per cent.

"Bob Rae is showing some surprising strength for a caretaker presiding over a party with one foot in the grave according to Peter Newman," Mr. Graves writes, referring to Mr. Newman's new book – When the God's Changed – about the demise of the Liberal Party.

"With 44 per cent approval, he eclipses the Prime Minister's rating and with only 25 per cent disapproval he is seeing some receptivity from Canadians if he should decide to throw his hat in the ring again," the pollster observes.

And for those who think that Mr. Rae's record as Ontario NDP premier in the 1990s, in which he governed during a recession, is an "albatross," think again. Mr. Graves's research finds that Mr. Rae "fares better in Ontario than in the rest of the country and he has a very regionally even distribution of approval.. By contrast, Mr. Harper receives laurels in Alberta and raspberries in Quebec."

Dalton McGuinty, meanwhile, has a 43 per cent approval rating but Mr. Graves says his high disapproval rating of 47 per cent could pose a problem for him. And just to stir the pot, Mr. Graves threw Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney into the mix.

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Some pundits, like The Globe's Lawrence Martin, have suggested the central banker could become Liberal leader after the next election. Mr. Carney has the highest approval rating of all in Mr. Graves's survey – 57 per cent, with only 11 per cent of Canadians disapproving of what he is doing.

The online survey of 2,005 Canadians was conducted between Dec. 14 and 21.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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