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Martin giving up power but staying on 
as leader 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 6:10 p.m. February 1, 2006]

OTTAWA  — Prime Minister Paul Martin announced Wednesday that even though he won't lead his party in the House of Commons he plans to remain on as party leader until a new leader is elected. 

"I'm going to follow the tradition that has been established for a long time and that is I will stay as leader until the new leader is chosen at the convention," he said. "But I will be giving up all of my powers and authorities to the new interim leader."

Liberal MP Bill Graham was elected interim leader of the Official Opposition at a Liberal caucus meeting on Wednesday. Liberal MP Lucienne Robillard will be Graham's deputy leader. And Senator Dan Hays has been elected the Liberal leader in the Senate. 

"The whole purpose of this is to choose a new leader," Martin said. "I stated unequivocally on election night that I was stepping down as leader. I think it is now time to pass on."

While what Martin is doing is somewhat confusing it is not unprecedented. 

After former prime minister John Turner announced his intention to resign as Liberal leader in 1989, Liberal MP Herb Gray took over for the Liberals in the House in 1990 and was called the acting leader of the opposition, but up until the leadership convention Turner was still leader of the party. 

That prompted one Liberal to joke that Martin was again following the example of Turner who led the Liberals to defeat in 1984 and 88. 

Graham said Martin told him he would be assuming a role similar to that of Gray.

"He's made it very clear to me I'm going to be in charge," Graham said. "He's made it very clear that he expects me to be the complete leader of the opposition, just the way Herb Gray was."

Graham denied that Martin was still staying on as leader to make a Trudeauesque comeback if the government falls. 

"I think that is frankly kind of a conspiracy theory gone a little bit one too far. I've talked to Prime Minister Martin. He made it very clear to me that he believes that he has served his country. He's comfortable with the decision he's taken to step down.

"He has no interest in coming back into politics in this country except to serve his constituents as a representative (of his riding)."

The long-ruling Liberals held their final caucus and cabinet meetings as government on Parliament all day on Wednesday. 

Liberal MP Ralph Goodale said after the cabinet meeting that the meeting was a "sobering experience" and described the mood as "somewhat sombre" but "dignified."

Despite holding on to 103 seats, the Liberals suffered major losses in personnel. Twenty five incumbent MPs went down on election night, including 10 cabinet ministers. 

But Liberal cabinet ministers, many now headed to opposition side of the House for the first time in 12 years, tried to sound optimistic. 

"I'm not here for an autopsy," said Liberal MP Jean Lapierre, who said he will now focus on being an opposition MP. 

Liberal MP Joe Fontana, who sat as a backbencher for 10 years under Chretien, used a sports analogy, comparing his party to a powerhouse sports franchise.

"On a given day, a championship team can lose," he said. "Look at football, look at hockey. We just happened to have a bad second half."

Fontana said the Liberals' electoral defeat was not the fault of the leader. 

"Mr. Martin was not the problem," he said.

Although in private conversations with reporters some Liberal staffers are openly criticizing the Liberal campaign and Martin, there were no public bitter recriminations from Liberal MPs who spoke with reporters on Wednesday. 

In fact, most of the attention was given to potential leadership hopefuls, such as Belinda Stronach, Scott Brison, Maurizio Bevilacqua, Ken Dryden, Stephane Dion and newly-elected Michael Ignatieff.

Of this group, Stronach gave the strongest signal of a leadership bid. 

"I'm considering it," she said. "There's a lot to consider, but I have not made a decision yet."

Dryden said he hasn't given any thought to a leadership bid yet and Brison said he hasn't made a decision. 

When asked what he thought about the number of high profile columnists who are floating his name as a future leader, Dion said, "They do their job, I do mine."

Ignatieff would only say that he was "in discussions."

"I've got a lot to learn. I've got to listen to some wise men and women," he said. 

"I'm a newly minted MP from Etobicoke Lakeshore. I haven't even got a constituency office bolted down. I haven't even got my House office bolted down. I haven't even got my Blackberry."

Bevilacqua, who has the most federal experience of almost all the other remaining names being floated, was asked numerous times by reporters if he was considering entering the race. 

Each time he deflected the questions, saying he was interested in rebuilding the party and bringing his skills to the job. 

"The reality is no one can predict what can happen in leadership conventions. The important thing is to focus on the rebuilding process."

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