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Liberal leadership race wide open with McKenna out 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:20 p.m. January 30, 2006]

OTTAWA  — The man considered to be the heir apparent to the Liberal throne surprised the country Monday when he announced he will not be running for the leadership of the Liberal party. 

Frank McKenna, Canada's ambassador to the U.S. and a respected former premier of New Brunswick, made the decision public less than a week after Prime Minister Paul Martin announced he was stepping down.   

"I wish to formally advise that I will not be a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal party of Canada," McKenna said at a news conference in Washington.

McKenna, 58, cited personal reasons for not wanting to get back in the political ring. 

He said his time as premier was all consuming. 

"I became addicted to my responsibilities. I wasn't able to find the appropriate balance then, and I'm certain I would not be able to find the appropriate balance now.

"I reminded myself of my vow upon leaving office, that having escaped the trap, I wouldn't go back for the cheese."

McKenna was considered the favourite to replace Martin as leader. There were even reports that members of Martin's campaign team had decided to back a McKenna leadership bid. 

But, according to McKenna, he was not obsessed with the job.

"Contrary to the belief of some, being the prime minister of Canada is not a burning ambition for me," he said. 

McKenna becomes the second person in a week to quickly pull their name off the list of candidates.

Last week, former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley said he would not seek the job either. 

There was speculation that McKenna's departure could trigger Manley's return, but he quickly doused that speculation.

"I made my decision last week really without reference to whether Frank would run or not," Manley told CBC Newsworld. 

"Having agonized through a decision, I'm not going to unmake it."

Although no one has officially announced they are running, the list of possible contenders is large, with no one a clear favourite. 

There are former premiers Bob Rae and Brian Tobin. Martin cabinet ministers Joe Volpe, Ken Dryden, Belinda Stronach, Scott Brison and Anne McLellan. Chretien cabinet ministers Allan Rock, Martin Cauchon and Maurizio Bevilacqua. Rookie Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff.

Even some sleepers' names are being floated below the radar, such as former Chretien minister Jane Stewart and former B.C. cabinet minister Christy Clark. 

Already the punditocracy has taken to the cause of Liberal MP Stephane Dion, a professorial and modest politician, who his supporters see as a Liberal answer to the dispassionate PM in waiting Stephen Harper. 

"If the Liberals are to move them past those episodes, they may have to look beyond Cauchon, perhaps to the brainy Stéphane Dion, to help them get there," Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert wrote Monday morning.

"If this is to be a Liberal year when talking heads matter more than political animals, a rare time when participating in the race could be as important as winning it, Dion would be a good fit for this campaign."

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