OTTAWA — Bob Rae won’t seek the permanent leadership of the federal Liberals because it’s better for the party, the interim leader said Wednesday, setting the stage for a wide-open race and renewing the tantalizing prospect of a Justin Trudeau candidacy.
Sources say the 63-year-old Rae — who will stay on as interim leader until a replacement is chosen — decided against running primarily because, despite popularity among caucus members, he still doesn’t have the broad support of the party’s rank and file.
“It hasn’t been an easy decision, (but) it’s a decision I feel very comfortable with,” Rae said after breaking the news to his caucus behind closed doors.
“For me, it was a question of deciding how I could do the best thing for the health of the Liberal party.”
Rae’s controversial tenure as Ontario NDP premier from 1990 to 1995 — marred by a deep recession, broken campaign promises and acrimonious relations with the province’s unions — has long been cited as one of the principal reasons he struggled to win Liberal support.
But he scoffed at the suggestion that at 63 — a decade older than Prime Minister Stephen Harper — he’s too old for the job.
“My hair is white, but I still have a lot of fire,” he said.
And while Rae insisted publicly that family considerations weren’t a factor in the decision — he said he’s always been able to successfully balance his personal and political life — sources say the idea of being permanent leader wasn’t a popular one on the home front.
Rae has led the Liberals since the aftermath of the 2011 election, which gave the Conservatives a majority and stripped the party of its status as official Opposition. The disastrous showing cost Michael Ignatieff his own seat and prompted him to quit as leader.
Rae’s announcement comes on the same day Liberal party brass were expected to unveil changes to the rules that would have allowed him to enter the race. He originally took the interim job on the understanding that he wouldn’t seek the job permanently.
His decision leaves the leadership up for grabs, with a number of potential candidates considering their chances.
It may also put pressure on Trudeau, whose storied family legacy has many looking to him as the saviour of the party. But Trudeau has said repeatedly he isn’t interested, preferring to spend more time with his young family.
MPs Marc Garneau of Quebec, David McGuinty of Ontario, Joyce Murray of British Columbia and Dominic LeBlanc of New Brunswick are said to be thinking about running.
There is another tier of defeated MPs and failed leadership contenders who could enter the race, including Gerard Kennedy, Martha Hall Findlay, Mark Holland, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Martin Cauchon, Deborah Coyne and David Bertschi.