Bob Rae would have to resign as interim chief five months before the Liberal leadership contest begins if he wants to permanently seek the top job, outgoing party president Alfred Apps says.
Although Liberals have yet to determine the exact date of a leadership vote, the party's national board of directors has put forward a resolution calling for the new leader to be elected during a series of regional primaries that would take place over a 10 to 16 week period between March 1 and June 20, 2013.
The resolution will be debated and voted upon at the party's biennial policy convention, which begins Friday in Ottawa.
Mr. Rae has stirred controversy recently by refusing to categorically rule out running for the permanent leadership. But he agreed to existing rules that stipulate he not run when he took on the interim post after the May election.
He also stirred the Tory attack machine. Stephen Harper's strategists recently circulated a memo to supporters calling Liberals "lemmings" who are headed toward "the cliff that is the coronation of Bob Rae." They also attacked Mr. Rae's time in office and NDP premier of Ontario.
Mr. Apps did little to dampen criticism of the race Monday. In an interview with The Globe, he said some of the candidates who are running to replace him agree Mr. Rae can run if he resigns as Interim Leader in time.
According the Liberal Party's constitution, the leadership campaign officially begins five months before the first vote. Mr. Rae would have to step aside at that time if he did decide to run, Mr. Apps said.
"It would be unfair to all the other candidates to have the advantages of incumbency," he explained, listing off several advantages including a subsidy from the party to the leader's office and access to donor lists and other contact lists.
No one would "tolerate" any candidate having that kind of advantage, Mr. Apps argued. It will be up to the next board of directors, some of whom will be elected this weekend, to determine the exact date Mr. Rae would have to resign.
The current board is proposing a series of leadership votes over a 10 or 16-week period that would see, for example, Liberals in New Brunswick, 20 ridings in Ontario and half in British Columbia, voting one weekend. The next weekend, there could be votes parts of Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
All of the votes – which could be also cast online or mailed and would utilize "a preferential run-off balloting system" – would be "weighted equally by electoral district," according to the resolution. This would be governed by an independent "Leadership Vote Committee" and the party's constitution would have to be amended to accommodate the new system.
Mr. Apps said this weekend's policy convention is all about courage and whether Liberals want an open party, an open leadership process and open nominations. "Do we have the courage to modernize? Is this party got the courage to stake the next step in modernizing itself and turning control over to individual Canadians and Liberals?"
He believes the party is too top heavy. "We have to turn the party from being an elite institution into being a mass movement," he argued.
Mr. Apps noted that there have been four elections in Liberal history that have "destroyed" the party – 1930, 1958, 1984 and then last May, when the party was again reduced to a rump. Each time, pundits counted the party out, characterizing it "out of date, stale, arrogant and out of touch," Mr. Apps said.
And after each rout, the party reorganized and rebuilt before winning power again. "We're doing it again," Mr. Apps said optimistically. "It's a generational phenomenon within the Liberal Party."