Liberal interim leader Bob Rae surprised some political observers and his own fans Wednsday by announcing he will not seek the permanent leadership of his party. Rae told his caucus and the media he felt it was the best decision for the party.
“When I took on the responsibility of being the interim leader, I did so with an understanding that it was an interim leadership. As time went on and more and more people started saying ‘Well, are you interested in running for the permanent job, what are you going to do, etc., etc.' I have naturally been therefore thinking about this question and have been wrestling with it and I have reached a conclusion that the way I can serve my party best is by not running for the permanent leadership,” he said.
The Huffington Post Canada had a quick sit down with Rae to find out just what he meant.
Q: What exactly were you weighing when making this decision?
A: You’re weighing a couple of things. One is running for the leadership would mean the party changing the rules with respect to the leadership, in a sense, in the middle of the game. That in itself would create a challenge. I think there is a need beyond that for us to look at the next six or nine or 10 months and say well does it not make sense to have a continuation of the kind of interim leadership that I have been able to provide and keep doing that vs. leaving and the party and caucus going through a period of change and a lot of the tooing and frooing that that would create and then saying well at the end of the day, we don’t know what other candidates are going to run, which other people are going to present themselves, no way of knowing would you win or lose. So you are weighing all that stuff and then saying, on balance, I think the best thing for the party is for people who are thinking about running to make up their minds knowing that I am not going to be in the race, knowing that it clears the way for people to decide exactly what is going to happen. And I think that is the most sensible thing. It is a hard thing to say, of course, because there are a lot of ways in which I would like to be there and I would like to be the leader longer term. But actually having made the decision over a year ago to assume the interim leadership, decisions have consequences and I think that’s sort of what took over in my mind as I went forward ... I've been at this now for a time ... and I think it is time for someone else to assume the permanent leadership.
Q: Are you trying to say that you were not going to be the leader of the future for the Liberal party?
A: No, I’m just trying to say that I think I could have been, I think I would be a good leader. I think I am providing good leadership now. It’s just my way of saying that going further it doesn’t appear to be in the cards for me. And I think when a lot of people look at this decision, initially some people will be disappointed. A lot of Liberals who are supporting me will be disappointed, but I think on balance, on reflection, I think people will look at it and say it was the wiser course and in the end it is going to be better for the party.
Q: Did you have doubts that you could win?
A: There is never a certainty that you can win. I mean it would depend very much on what other candidates were there, what the issues would be, how they would come forward. I never go into any election sort of assuming that I would win or assuming that it is going to be a slam dunk.
Q: Do you think it is Justin Trudeau’s time?
A: I think there will be a lot of people who will want to run. I am certainly as interim leader going to have to be strickly neutral on what the future holds for the party or for anyone. You know, in my conversation with Justin, I have always encouraged him to stay in politics to get involved, to play a leadership role in terms of the party now, and he’s been doing that. He’s doing a lot of travelling across the country and meeting a lot of Canadians and engaging with Canadians. But there are a lot of terrific potential candidates both inside and outside the caucus and I think that this kind of race gives everybody the opportunity to think about what they want to do and focus attention on that.
Q: Will there be a Liberal Party to lead come 2015?
A: To me, it is obvious the answer is yes. The fact of the matter is the party is growing, the party is doing better now in the polls than we were doing in the election. We've got more members. We've paid off our debt. We are in a better shape financially. Organizationally we are improving. We are not all the way there yet but I think we’ll get there.”
Q: So it is a party worth wanting to lead?
A: Oh absolutely. That certainly wasn’t part of my thought process. My thought process really is what’s the best possible answer for where we are. And I think the best possible answer is for me to finish the job that I said I would do and then pass the reins on to the new leader.”
Q: Did anything change in the last week? You said you came to this realization, this final decision this weekend.
A: “I wouldn’t say I came to the realization, I made the decision when I made it. Obviously, if I made it a month ago, I would have told people a month ago. I think there was no kind of lighting strike or anything it was just a gradual process of discussion and thinking it through and feeling that this was the most sensible answer.”
This interview has been edited for clarity.