Ignatieff set to assume Liberal crown

And then there was one.

Bob Rae officially withdrew from contention for the leadership of the Liberal party today, leaving rival Michael Ignatieff uncontested in his bid to become the party’s interim leader.

Rae acknowledged at a press conference that Ignatieff had the support of the Liberal caucus and urged his supporters to rally around the now lone contender to succeed Stéphane Dion.

“His leadership is entirely constitutional, legitimate and appropriate,” Rae said of Ignatieff.

After Dion announced Monday that he would speed up his resignation and step down immediately following the selection of a new party leader, Rae and Ignatieff quarreled over the means by which Dion would be replaced.

Ignatieff favoured a system that would have allowed sitting members of Parliament to choose an interim leader at a meeting on Wednesday (Dec. 10), and the rest of the party to ratify the decision at the leadership convention scheduled for May.

Rae argued that the interim leadership must be put to a lengthier, but broader, vote that included the party’s rank and file. With Rae’s withdrawal from the race today, the point becomes moot; Ignatieff will officially become interim leader on Dec. 17.

Nelson Wiseman, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, agreed with Rae’s assessment that Ignatieff’s selection as leader is “legitimate,” but only because the means by which a leader is chosen change so often.

“The rules for how you select your leaders are constantly changing,” he said. “And they’ve changed again.”

Wiseman said that while Ignatieff’s installation as Liberal leader resolves the party’s biggest issue, it will not calm down a volatile parliamentary dispute.

“We might not get to (a Liberal leadership convention in May). We might have an election; Ignatieff might become Prime Minister before then. We just don’t know,” he said. “We’ll see what Harper comes up with at the end of January and we’ll see what Ignatieff (and) the Liberal caucus thinks about it.”

Last week both Rae and Ignatieff, along with third leadership candidate Daniel Leblanc – who pulled out of the race Monday  to throw his support behind Ignatieff – stood united behind Dion’s bid to become prime minister through a coalition with the New Democratic Party, to be propped up by the Bloc Québecois. Wiseman said that Ignatieff’s leadership calls that coalition’s cohesiveness into question.

“It’s not clear that (the Liberals) are not committed to coalition. I think under Ignatieff it’s less likely, but we don’t know,” he said.

Liberals came under fire last week when Dion’s attempt to topple the Conservative government failed after Governor General Michëlle Jean agreed to prorogue Parliament until the new year. Increased pressure from within the party then prompted Dion to expedite both his resignation and the selection of his successor.

Wiseman said the hurried manner in which Ignatieff was installed will not hurt the party, despite the fact that some – including Liberal MP Hedy Fry – worried that his selection would be perceived as “a coronation” rather than an election.

“I don’t think the public cares (how Ignatieff becomes leader),” Wiseman said. “If the public cared that much, it would show up in the Liberal party and then they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing (in the first place).”