Ex-scholar to become Liberal leader in Canada

Michael Ignatieff could become PM if Liberals and two left-of-center opposition parties stick with a plan to topple government.

Michael Ignatieff 88 (photo credit: )
Michael Ignatieff 88
(photo credit: )
A former human rights professor at Harvard University was set to become leader of Canada's once-dominant Liberal Party on Wednesday after the only other candidate for the post withdrew from the race. Michael Ignatieff, 61, could become Canada's next prime minister if the Liberals and two left-of-center opposition parties stick with a plan to topple Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government and are allowed to form a coalition government in late January. Ignatieff, however, appears lukewarm to the idea and is expected to move the party to the right. The current Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, said he was stepping down earlier than expected after an effort to topple Harper's government failed last week. Ignatieff was expected to be named leader of Canada's main opposition party after rival Bob Rae said he was pulling out on Tuesday. That opened the way for Ignatieff to be chosen leader Wednesday by the party's national executive and then acclaimed as permanent leader at a party convention in May. Dion is just the second Liberal leader to fail to become Canada's prime minister. The only other was Edward Blake, who led the party to defeat in 1882 and 1887 elections. Ignatieff left a prestigious post in 2005 as director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard to enter Canadian politics. He lost the leadership position the next year to Dion. When Ignatieff lost to Dion, he was criticized as being out of touch with Canada after spending the better part of 30 years outside the country. His support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq also won no friends with Canada's Liberal government, which opposed the war. Rae, in stepping aside Tuesday, said the party should rally around Ignatieff. "I offer him my full and unqualified support. He has been a friend of mine and colleague for more than 40 years. I call on all my friends and supporters to do the same," Rae said of his former university roommate. "He will make a great prime minister." The Liberals want a new leader in place before Parliament votes on the federal budget Jan. 27. A no-confidence vote on the budget could mean another election, or could result in a coalition government made up of the Liberals and two other parties replacing the Conservatives. Harper reached out to Ignatieff on Tuesday in hopes of heading off a renewed ouster effort. He said he hopes the new Liberal leader will meet with him and put forward economic stimulus proposals for the government to consider. "They will have a willing partner if they want to sit down and put their ideas on the table and work together for the best interests of the economy," Harper said. Governor General Michaelle Jean, who is the representative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, holds a mostly ceremonial position. But it will be her decision which path to take if the opposition does vote to oust Harper's Conservative government. Jean allowed Harper to suspend Parliament and avoid a no-confidence vote that had been planned for Monday. The Liberals, New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois united against Harper earlier this month after he announced a plan to scrap political subsidies for political parties, something the opposition groups rely on far more than the Conservatives. Although that proposal was withdrawn, the opposition continued to seek Harper's removal, saying he has no stimulus plan to protect Canada from the global financial crisis. Harper's Conservatives won the Oct. 14 election but they didn't win the majority of Parliament's 308 seats, and must rely on the opposition to pass budgets and legislation. ___ On the Net: Liberal Party: http://www.liberal.ca