OTTAWA – Bob Rae has waited a long time for his shot at redemption.
For the last year, he has almost single-handedly kept the Liberals from slipping into obscurity after getting reduced to a third-party rump in the last election.
When the NDP struggled under the sometimes shaky showings of their own interim leader, Nycole Turmel, Rae’s virtuoso performance in the House of Commons arguably established him as the better foil to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
All along Rae has remained coy about whether he plans to run for permanent leadership of the party if Liberal brass allow him to do so, as most people expect they will on Wednesday.
“I don’t know,” Rae told reporters in French when asked about it on Tuesday. “It depends on the decision.”
And so it is that on the same day when Rae will be told the crown may be his to lose, polls, the punditocracy and party members will tell him they would prefer Justin Trudeau.
The eldest son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau has seen his popularity soar since he beat burly Conservative senator Patrick Brazeau in a charity boxing match. Some within the party think a second wave of Trudeaumania could revive the party’s flagging fortunes.
Trudeau, who wants to devote time to his two young children, says he’s not interested in the top job right now.
But with a recent poll giving him a two-to-one lead in popular support over the other presumed contenders — including Rae — and some Liberals urging him to run, the 40-year-old Montreal MP may rethink his decision to stay out of the fray.
A Trudeau run might be welcomed by a strong faction of Liberals who are dead-set against Rae, many of whom believe he simply carries too much baggage from his single turbulent term as NDP premier of a recession-ravaged Ontario during the early 1990s. They are desperately hoping a strong contender will emerge who can beat him.
Other names have been floated. Astronaut-turned-MP Marc Garneau, who is now the Liberal House leader, is said to be considering a bid. Others among the tiny group of Liberals who managed to get re-elected last year rumoured to be mulling over their chances are Ottawa MP David McGuinty, Vancouver MP Joyce Murray and New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc.
Beyond them, a host of defeated MPs and failed Liberal candidates — including Gerard Kennedy, Martha Hall Findlay, Mark Holland, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Martin Cauchon, Deborah Coyne and David Bertschi — are also thinking about running.
Other prospective candidates have been reluctant to make any final decisions about running until they know for sure whether Rae, a formidable contender who’d immediately be deemed the presumptive front-runner, will be in the race.
The Liberal party’s national board of directors is holding a conference call Wednesday night to vote on timelines and rules for the coming leadership race.
Presuming the board of directors allows him to run for permanent leader, Rae has said he will make a decision before the parliamentary session wraps up on June 22. He might well announce his intentions next week at the final Liberal caucus meeting of the session.
Indeed, there have been signs that his campaign is already in gear, with at least one organizer, Toronto MP Jim Karygiannis, signing up supporters among ethnic communities across the country.
Rae ran third in the 2006 Liberal leadership race. He briefly threw his hat in the ring in 2008 but withdrew early after it became clear the party had rigged the rules to ensure a coronation for Michael Ignatieff, Rae’s one-time college roommate.
Should Rae take the plunge, the Liberal caucus will have to choose a new interim leader to carry them through to the leadership convention, which is to be held some time between March 1 and June 30 next year.