John Turner had been Trudeau's heir apparent since the mid-70s. Likewise, Jean Chretien was so declared when Turner won the leadership in 1984, and Paul Martin was leader-in-waiting right from the 1990 convention that selected Chretien.
That system has broken down, in large part because of the nature of Paul Martin's takeover of the Liberal Party machine. In squeezing out all of his rivals, he also made it virtually impossible for the party to settle on an heir apparent.
Now former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae's name has surfaced as a potential successor to Martin.
When people talk about who are potential leaders, Bob Rae's name does make the list," said Senator Terry Mercer, a onetime national director of the party and an ally of former Prime Minister Jean Chretien. "It's been speculation more than (anything). There's been no one come and say look, 'I've been thinking of supporting Bob Rae for leader, what do you think?'"
Nevertheless, Mr. Mercer said the 56-year-old former MP's name first surfaced as a potential candidate six months ago. It has not disappeared since.
In recent years, Mr. Rae has made clear his disillusionment with some aspects of the political left. During his hiatus from party politics, he has had virtually nothing to do with the NDP, party insiders say, with the exception of personal donations.
He has surprised some people with his hawkish views on security. In a notorious 2002 National Post article, he lambasted the federal NDP's foreign policy (embodied by the "histrionic crank" Svend Robinson).
"The NDP opposes the World Trade Organization, sits on its hands when (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair praises the advantages of markets, and denounces any military action against terrorism, whether by the United States, Canada or Israel," he wrote. "This is not a vision of social democracy worthy of support."
Furthermore, Mr. Mercer and other former Chretien loyalists pointed to Mr. Rae's friendship with many senior Liberals, including his brother John, a powerful backroom player who chaired three Chretien election campaigns and two leadership contests.
In the 10 years since his party was trounced at the polls at the hands of Mike Harris's Conservatives (the NDP fell from 74 seats to just 17), Mr. Rae has undertaken what he has termed a "public rehabilitation" of his image.
He has had a hand in weighty issues (co-authoring a recent report on Ontario's postsecondary education) and served as peacemaker for others (mediating the aboriginal fishing dispute in Burnt Church, N.B., and was named special adviser to deputy prime minister Anne McLellan on the Air India fallout).
"Ten years later, he seems to have been reinvented as an elder statesman," says Conservative pollster Greg Lyle, president of Innovative ResearchGroup.
Mr. Lyle says Mr. Rae's pragmatic politics would easily fit into the Liberal party. He cites former B.C. New Democrat Premier Ujjal Dosanjh as an example.
"Coming from the left basically means people trust your motivation on social issues," he says. "I think he's a very plausible candidate.
"Ask yourself: Where are the Chretienites, the left of the Liberal party, going to go? They have no candidate except maybe (former justice minister) Martin Cauchon. And he doesn't really have a strong base in English Canada."
It looks as though the Michael Ignatieff trial balloon has been shot down; even if hardcore left Liberals could support a socially liberal security hawk, there's no way a Harvard professor who hasn't lived here in 25 years could be sold to the Canadian public.
Bob Rae's premiership destroyed the Ontario NDP beyond repair, but unlike Ignatieff, at least he lives here.
The Chretien-Martin civil war and the sponsopship scandal have also destroyed the Liberal Party in Quebec, so that the long-standing principle of alternance between anglophone and francophone leaders has broken down. Martin Cauchon is a question mark, at best, and Denis Coderre also has no national profile.
Since the Liberal Party of Canada has essentially become an Ontario regional party, it makes sense for the next leader to come from Ontario. In the absence of a strong Ontario cabinet minister, Bob Rae makes as much sense as anyone.
But have Ontarians forgiven and forgotten?
Source: Ottawa Citizen