POLITICS

Bob Rae Takes A Bow, Bids Farewell As Interim Liberal Leader (TWITTER, VIDEO)

03/27/2013 01:46 EDT | Updated 05/27/2013 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - As federal MPs prepare to go back to their ridings for two weeks, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae is packing up his office.

Wednesday marked Rae's final meeting with the Liberal caucus as the party's caretaker boss; by the time the House of Commons resumes in mid-April, someone else will have the job of Liberal leader and the office that goes with it.

But the man chosen by the Liberals to lead the party after it was decimated in the 2011 election says while he'll have new office space and a new seat in the Commons, he has no intention of disappearing.

"I'm not going to be crazy uncle Bob coming down from the attic every once in a while to make a speech to the kids," Rae told a news conference, his wife and children watching nearby.

"It's not my intention to do that."

Rae isn't going anywhere, of course; he'll remain in the House of Commons as an MP even after a new Liberal leader is chosen. But it was clear from the way he was feted that colleagues of all political stripes considered Wednesday an milestone moment.

"We are going to pay tribute to him because his leadership, and I hate that word 'interim', over the past 22 months has been anything but interim," said Liberal MP and deputy party leader Ralph Goodale.

"It has been robust and unstinting, skillful and substantive, and readily applauded by the media, the public, our caucus, the party and indeed by his opponents in the House."

In addition to speeches in the House, MPs milled about Parliament Hill wearing buttons in Rae's honour, while Prime Minister Stephen Harper used his time in question period to salute his longtime Liberal rival.

"I do want to thank him for his service for bringing his intellect, his patriotism and his tenacity to the House of Commons," Harper said.

Rae said he is proud of the two years he spent at the helm of the party and believes he is leaving it in better shape than he found it, both financially and in terms of morale.

"I think we've been able to restore a good spirit in the caucus and in the party, a good spirit of unity, a good spirit of real solidarity, of people working together," he said.

"I think that's been very, very positive and I think we stayed in the game."

In the two years since the Liberals were reduced to third-party status, recent polls suggest the party is clawing its way back to respectability, thanks in part to the high-profile leadership bid of presumptive front-runner Justin Trudeau.

The Liberals are scheduled to announce the results of their leadership contest April 14.

Rae said he intends to stay in the caucus until the next federal election in 2015, but won't commit to sticking around after that. Meanwhile, he said he looks forward to speaking with his successor about his future role.

"There are times when you are on the stage and there are times when you're doing something else, and I've had my moments and the new leader will make the decisions," Rae said.

"I'll be doing whatever that new leader wants me to do."

Rae's political life began with the Ontario New Democrats in the late 1970s and he later rose to become premier of that province.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird joked that it was Rae's time as premier that motivated him to go into politics as a Conservative.

"While I often do not agree with the member opposite —we call those days weekdays — I have come to respect him, to seek his counsel and to learn from his perspective," Baird said during an all-party tribute in House of Commons.

"A fierce partisan, a skilled debater, he is one of those rare members of the House who not only commands respect of both colleagues and opponents, but also of past generations of parliamentarians, as well as though now sitting."

In addition to sitting as an MP, Rae will also be working as a negotiator on behalf of First Nations in Ontario as they seek agreements with the provincial government on resource development.

New Democrat House Leader Nathan Cullen celebrated Rae's commitment to the cause of aboriginal Canadians, specifically the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

"I know this is an issue and a cause that affects all Canadians," Cullen said.

"As someone who comes from the northern parts of the country, to hear a member from the urban capital of Canada talking about it with such passion and such grace has been important and moving for me."

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