Thursday, October 16, 2008

Post: McKenna eyeing Liberal leadership: source

Awesome! This site goes up yesterday and already we've started to get him thinking about it.

McKenna eyeing Liberal leadership: source

Former premier said to be mulling leadership bid if Dion resigns

John Ivison, National Post
Published: Thursday, October 16, 2008

OTTAWA -- Frank McKenna, the former premier of New Brunswick, is said to be seriously considering a bid for the Liberal leadership should Stephane Dion step down.

"Frank still has the bug and is open to lobbying from some of Canada's most senior businessmen that the party needs him and the country needs him," said a Liberal source who is understood to have been in contact with the former Canadian ambassador to Washington.

Mr. McKenna's name is frequently mentioned as a potential leadership candidate, but he decided not to run in the 2006 contest because of health issues facing his wife, Julie. Those issues are said to have been resolved.

The poor performance by the Liberals in this week's election, coupled with the prospect of a divisive fight for a vacant leadership between Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff, has prompted a group of senior party figures to approach Mr. McKenna, 60, now deputy chairman of Toronto-Dominion Bank.

Asked what it would take to draw Mr. McKenna into the race, the source said: "He has to be persuaded that there is a sufficient level of interest in his candidacy. There is, and I have reason to believe he's interested."

Bank officials said Mr. Mc-Kenna is focused on his job at TD and has nothing to say on the matter.

Supporters of a McKenna candidacy argue that the notion of uniting the left is a losing strategy for the Liberal party and that only a move back to the political centre will unseat Stephen Harper's Conservatives. Liberals not aligned with either the Rae or Ignatieff camps say the two men are "on a collision course -- they can hardly stand being in the same room."

"Their leadership efforts did not even abate during the election. They both had people close to Dion and they had divided loyalties. It's hard to focus on plan A when you're working on plan B," said one MP, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Another said: "I fear my party is about to eat itself whole."

Mr. McKenna's candidacy is viewed by many as an option for those seeking party unity, and would likely receive backing from many Rae and Ignatieff supporters. Former Ontario premier David Peterson, who supported Mr. Ignatieff in the 2006 leadership race, said earlier this year that if Mr. McKenna wanted to reenter public life, he would not have to organize because "a massive organization would organize itself."

Given Liberal fundraising problems, the entry into a leadership race of a high-profile candidate who could excite the party's grassroots would also give a boost to the Grits' ability to raise money.

"He's independently wealthy, he's blue chip and he's the only candidate who could raise the kind of money needed in the time frame required," the Liberal source said.

However, the job of Liberal leader is not yet open. Mr. Dion said in his concession speech that he is looking forward to being leader of the Official Opposition in the new Parliament. Close aides said yesterday that he needs more time before he makes a decision on whether to stay on. "This has been a devastating time for him," one advisor said.

Another person close to Mr. Dion said he deserved "the time and respect to think about the future before the vultures descend."

Other Liberals were less understanding. Stephen Le-Drew, a former Liberal president, said that at the party's convention next May, members will be asked whether they want a leadership review. "That would be very divisive and the only honourable thing for Mr. Dion to do is to step down before May, 2009. In my view, an interim leader should be appointed."

Tom Axworthy, a former principal secretary to Pierre Trudeau, said the party needs to address more issues than simply choosing a new leader.

Mr. Axworthy was the chairman of a renewal commission that was appointed to look at all aspects of the party's operation after the past election defeat. The commission said there is an "implementation gap" between what Liberals promise and what they deliver, so greater emphasis should be placed on improving government effectiveness. It also urged that such major initiatives as Mr. Dion's Green Shift be voted on by members.

However, the recommendations of the 30 or so task forces were largely ignored by Mr. Dion when he became leader. "Leadership ambitions today may mean they ignore the deep-seated problems of the party and hope that glitz will win the day. It's always a dilemma between personal agendas and party need," Mr. Axworthy said.

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