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Graham not sure who'll lead Liberals in case of an election 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 12:40 p.m. February 23, 2006]

OTTAWA  —  A group of about 60 Liberals would be tasked with naming a new leader of the party if an election happens before a leadership convention, Opposition Leader Bill Graham said Thursday. 

The Liberals are in an interesting situation right now as Graham is leader of the party in Parliament, but former prime minister Paul Martin still maintains official party leader status. 

When asked who would lead the party in an election if the minority Tory government were defeated on a matter of confidence Graham said, "That would be for the national executive to decide. It's a party matter as to who would be the leader of the party. 

"The national executive has told me if something were to happen between now and when we expect we will be having a leadership convention that they have in place they could consult in a way to name a leader."

On election night, Martin announced he would not be leading the party in the next election. 

The party is trying to set up a leadership race that has seen more big names rule themselves out of contention than enter the race. 

The only candidate so far is a Toronto lawyer, Martha Hall-Finlay, who was a candidate for the Liberals in the 2004 election. 

And some Liberals do not believe a proper leadership race and convention could be held within the calendar year. 

Graham said he does not believe that Martin would be making a comeback similar to that of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau who decided not to retire after Joe Clark's government was defeated in 1979. 

"Mr. Martin has made it clear. He said it categorically the night of the election he will not be leading the Liberal party into another election, so I would assume he has excluded himself from that."

A Globe and Mail article recently reported that some party executives, who do not want Martin and his advisers to make a similar comeback, were looking at ways to rapidly choose a new leader in case of a sudden election call, including an electronic leadership vote by delegates. 

When Martin made the decision to remain as leader he cited the example of former prime minister John Turner exiting in a similar fashion in 1989. However, one difference was Turner's departure happened while the Conservatives had a majority government and a sudden election was not a possibility. 

Last week, Graham made headlines after he said that the Liberals had no plans to prop up the Conservative government and it was up to the opposition parties to do so. 

But on Thursday, Graham sounded less forceful in describing the Liberals' role the in upcoming session of Parliament, which begins on April 3. 

"I think we will go ahead knowing that we will be conducting our opposition clearly, firmly with our progressive views," he said. "And we will take all measures necessary to be an effective opposition."

Graham also said he did not think a Liberal leadership crisis is possible because of recent comments made by Bloc House Leader Michel Gauthier. 

"The Bloc Quebecois made it very clear that they intend to prop up this government in order that they won't have to face an election in the immediate future," Graham noted. 

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