Want to be leader of the federal Liberals? Best wait to see if there’s really a party to lead

Justin Trudeau has consistently ruled out running for the federal Liberal leadership ... at least this time around. As he ponders his own political future, Bob Rae would probably like to believe him. Again this weekend, Trudeau maintained that the door on a 2013 bid was closed. That was on the heels of a poll that gave him a two-to-one lead in popular support over the other presumed contenders — including Rae.

Justin Trudeau has consistently ruled out running for the federal Liberal leadership … at least this time around. As he ponders his own political future, Bob Rae would probably like to believe him.

Again this weekend, Trudeau maintained that the door on a 2013 bid was closed. That was on the heels of a poll that gave him a two-to-one lead in popular support over the other presumed contenders — including Rae.

That will not put the issue to rest. Too many Liberals are scouring the landscape for a saviour. A poll like that amounts to more fuel on a runaway fire.

Some of them believe Trudeau has already decided to run but is playing hard to get to generate even more momentum.

Those people note that he has never said he did not aspire to be prime minister.

On the contrary, he has left the door wide open to a leadership run at some point in the future.

The fact is that, on the ground, there is as much evidence of what could easily be construed as an embryonic Trudeau leadership campaign as there is of a resuscitated Rae organization.

Most Liberals consider Rae’s entry to be a foregone conclusion. So far, that perception has generated more negative reviews than enthusiasm.

The weekend poll that kept Trudeau’s name very much on top of the nonofficial leadership list was not particularly kind to Rae.

He was the first pick for Liberal leader of less than 20 per cent of respondents, just marginally ahead of former astronaut Marc Garneau.

Before he gets overly excited, Garneau should consider that similar polls once placed former NHL star Ken Dryden among the leading 2006 Liberal leadership candidates.

He ran a distant fifth with less than five per cent of the vote.

At this juncture, pre-leadership polls are a better measure of the familiarity of one’s name than an assessment of one’s leadership talents.

That being said, Rae is notorious in his own right. Most voters cannot remember a time when he was not on the political scene. His modest ratings suggest that many of the people who thought poorly of his performance as Ontario premier two decades ago have not changed their minds.

That poll was only the latest in a string of poor ones for the Liberals. In spite of the fact that Rae has had a lot more latitude as interim leader than the average political caretaker, the party is as far or further behind the second-place NDP than on election day.

Suppose for the sake of argument that Trudeau and Rae are both testing the leadership waters these days. Under that hypothetical scenario, early indications suggest that Trudeau should run and Rae should retire.

Under rules that allow non-Liberal members to vote for the next leader, Trudeau would be hard to beat. He has the largest following of any member of parliament.

Given all that, there is still one major consideration — beyond missing out on his children growing up — that could keep Trudeau out of the coming campaign.

It is far from clear that a stand-alone Liberal party has much of a future under any leader.

It is also far from obvious that a stand-alone NDP can make the leap to government.

But it may take yet another election to validate the proposition that a separate future for the Liberals and the NDP is one in which they can only live side by side in opposition.

If he entered the Liberal race, Trudeau would be the de facto front-runner.

He is very much the central piece in today’s Liberal leadership puzzle.

But in the big federal picture, the upcoming campaign may be just a sideshow and he may be better advised to wait for a possible NDP/Liberal main event.

After all, if the two parties don’t come together over the next five years or so, it will be because there will still be enough of a Liberal party to be worth leading.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Just Posted

Red Deer would be the site of potential TV show

A potential TV show aims to bring Red Deer kids across the… Continue reading

Oilsands firms considering diluent recovery units to boost crude-by-rail volumes

CALGARY — Ongoing pipeline project delays and growth in crude-by-rail capacity from… Continue reading

Ex-Eskimos CEO gets new job among flurry of Alberta government appointments

Ex-Eskimos CEO gets job among flurry of appointments EDMONTON — Len Rhodes,… Continue reading

State of mind to be key issue in Alek Minassian trial, judge says

TORONTO — The trial of a man accused of killing ten people… Continue reading

WATCH: ‘Lots to see and do’ at Pioneer Days in Red Deer

Sunnybrook Farm Museum is celebrating its 24th annual Pioneer Days this weekend.… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Thursday The Red Deer and District Garden Club hosts its annual Flower… Continue reading

Red Deer Braves knock off undefeated Saskatoon Cubs at 18U AAA Westerns

Braves lefty Reese DeRuyter throws a complete game, one-hitter in the victory

Two men seriously injured after small plane crashes in Alberta field

BLACK DIAMOND, Alta. — Two people were injured in a plane crash… Continue reading

Two young girls dead after collision in Manitoba, RCMP say

DAUPHIN, Man. — RCMP say two young girls are dead after a… Continue reading

Chrystia Freeland condemns violence in Hong Kong, backs right to peaceful assembly

OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is condemning violence in Hong… Continue reading

Canadians killed in Afghanistan honoured during emotional dedication ceremony

OTTAWA — Emotions ran free in Ottawa Saturday as the more than… Continue reading

Liberals unveil $3B sole-source deal for armoured vehicles ahead of election

OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government has unveiled plans to award a… Continue reading

85-year-old, lifting since 1950, on track to cinch weightlifting championship

MONTREAL — Olympic-style weightlifting isn’t just about strength or power. It’s about… Continue reading

Most Read