Canada's Liberal Party names interim leader

AP News
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Posted: May 25, 2011 2:39 PM
Canada's Liberal Party names interim leader

Canada's once dominant Liberal Party named an interim leader Wednesday after a crushing defeat in elections earlier this month.

Bob Rae, a high-profile, former New Democrat premier of Ontario, was chosen over Montreal Parliament member Marc Garneau, a soft-spoken, one-time astronaut.

The Liberals, who ruled Canada for much of the last century, suffered a crushing defeat in the May 2 election in which they came in third behind the traditionally weaker New Democratic Party. Rae left the NDP for the federal Liberals in 2005.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper won a coveted majority, allowing him to pass legislation without the opposition's approval. The Liberals, meanwhile, dropped to 34 seats from 77 seats in the 308-seat Parliament, its worst defeat ever. Party leader Michael Ignatieff resigned.

Rae was once a roommate of Ignatieff's when they were students at the University of Toronto and he lost a leadership bid to Ignatieff in 2008. Rae had to give up his long-term leadership ambitions in order to take the interim post.

Rae, 62, is more personable than his old college roommate. He was a Rhodes scholar and also comes from a family of diplomats and politicians. He served as the unpopular premier of the country's most populous province from 1990 to 1995 during a recession.

The party isn't expected to chose a long-term replacement for at least another 18 months.

"The people of Canada gave the Liberal Party a very clear and tough message in the last election," Rae said. "We know that we have a lot of rebuilding to do."

Rae said the party still has a great history in front of it because "the values of the party are deeply ingrained in the fabric of our national life as a country" and said Canadians value a socially just and prosperous country.

He said Harper won't succeed in destroying the party. Former colleagues of Harper say his long-term goals are to shatter the image of the Liberals _ the party of former Prime Ministers Jean Chretien, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau _ as the natural party of government in Canada, and to redefine what it means to be Canadian.

Harper's Conservative government made an announcement Wednesday that could cripple the Liberals. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said a plan to scrap political subsidies for political parties _ something the Liberals rely on far more than the Conservatives _ will be included in the June 6 budget.