Bob Rae did everything but stand on his head as he tried to put an end to speculation his Liberals want to merge with the New Democrats to beat Stephen Harper's Tories.
"It's fiction," the Interim Liberal Leader told reporters Tuesday. "Is it a debate about something real? My answer is no. I am not running a political seminar here. I am running a political party that's looking at real issues in front of it."
Mr. Rae, who also characterized the merger idea as mere "media speculation" that crops up during the summer political doldrums, made his comments outside of his party's summer caucus retreat. The issue came to the fore Monday in the wake of NDP leader Jack Layton's death, with several heavyweight Liberals talking it up.
Denis Coderre, a former cabinet minister and senior Liberal MP from Quebec, said the time has come for a "serious discussion" about the ideal. Former prime minister Jean Chrétien was also reported to have said a merger would have thwarted the Conservatives in the May election. Former leader Michael Ignatieff, who lost his seat and his job in the election, even mused on Facebook about the issues a merged party would represent.
None of this is terribly helpful for Mr. Rae, who insisted his priorities are those of Canadians, such as jobs, health, the environment and justice. He also noted that he's preoccupied with reorganizing a party that dropped dramatically to third place in the election.
In addition to ruling out a merger, he managed to take a few swipes at the Conservatives, calling them an "ideological government" fixated on cutting taxes and reducing its size. This is dangerous, he added, given the fragile economy.
Accusing the government of being "paralyzed by its adherence to ideology," Mr. Rae cautioned that it needs to look at what is happening on the ground and adjust its policies. "From the point of view of the average consumer this economy is not growing at the rate it needs to grow," he said. "The simple answer is this government has to take account of the circumstances."
He argued that there should be more infrastructure programs "where you don't turn the tap on and off," adding: "It's not about building gazebos in Huntsville for Tony Clement."