Michael Ignatieff has seized his long-sought prize – the Liberal leadership – raising fresh questions about the future of the opposition coalition that has vowed to defeat the minority Conservatives next month.
The fate of the coalition will be among the pressing issues facing Ignatieff as he prepares to take over the leadership of a party battered by cash woes, two lost elections and dismal poll numbers.
Heading into the caucus meeting expected to officially name Ignatieff as leader Wednesday morning, Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla said she feels relieved the "bitter" leadership contest is finally over.
As with her new leader, she left room for backing down on the coalition if the Tories propose a budget they could accept.
"I think Mr. Ignatieff said it best: a coalition if necessary but not necessarily a coalition," she said.
Liberal MP Scott Brison delivered a similar message when he used the past tense in saying "the coalition was effective" at forcing Harper "back to the drawing table."
Brison said it is clear Canadians want an alternative to Harper, but that alternative could be something other than a coalition."It’s up to Canadians to tell us what they want," he said.
He said the alternative could be "a strong Liberal party with a permanent leader in place."
LeBlanc said the Liberals should accept Harper’s invitation to give their input on the budget but also said Harper would be difficult to trust.
Late yesterday, Ignatieff paid tribute to the two candidates who had pulled out of the race and hailed the party for responding "quickly to changing circumstances to offer stability and leadership to Canadians."
The 61-year-old Liberal MP for Etobicoke—Lakeshore was assured of the leadership yesterday after Bob Rae – the last rival candidate in the race – dropped out, conceding he didn't have enough support to win in the party's stripped-down contest that left little time to sign up new backers.
Ignatieff, a runner-up in the 2006 contest that saw Stéphane Dion elected party leader, could take over as interim leader as early as today. That's when Liberal MPs and senators meet behind closed doors and are expected to make their own recommendation that Ignatieff serve as interim leader.
At the same time, the party executive were planning to conduct a hurried "consultation" with riding association presidents and various ex-officio members to solicit their confirmation of Ignatieff. He won't be ratified as full-time leader until the party's convention in May in Vancouver.
Last night, the party announced that consultations would be completed by 1 p.m. today, clearing the way for the national executive to announce Ignatieff as the interim leader by 2 p.m.
The Liberals are in a rush to have a new leader in place by the end of January, when a key budget vote could see the minority Conservatives defeated, sparking a new election or paving the way for a Liberal-led coalition to take power.