How many times does he have to tell you?

From Maclean’s, Dec. 18, 2006. Page 18, Chapter 1 of our Liberal leadership epic. From the night of Paul Martin’s defeat.

John Manley, the former minister of industry, foreign affairs and finance in successive Chretien governments, was doing analysis on CBC television on election night. “I was as surprised as everybody” when Martin announced his resignation, Manley recalls. The first thought that came to mind: “I have to make a decision quickly.”

And he did. “When I walked out of the CBC studio onto John Street in the morning, I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ I knew what I had to do: I had to get up in the morning and get on the phone and start lining up supporters. And I had to get out of a lot of things that I was newly into, some of them non-profit, some of them volunteer, some of them paid, and wind down my investments.” If Manley hadn’t already dropped out of politics, if he had stayed on as a Martin minister, “I would certainly have been in the race,” he says. But now his life was heading another way. A few days after the election, Manley published an op-ed article in the Globe and Mail and La Presse announcing his decision.

Several months ago, I did a little work on a piece about Manley, looking at his leadership potential. That piece died for two reasons.

1. It wasn’t clear he wanted to be leader.

2. It didn’t seem like Liberals were particularly eager to make him leader.

Last week he was in Ottawa and said, of re-entering politics, “This is not something I have been craving.” But the story was still that he was “considering” his options. This morning, the headline read, “Manley begins to assess his prospects.” Hours later, he put out a press explaining that, “I truly found that in my mind and heart, I have moved on from the world of elected office. I also found that I lacked the burning ambition necessary to mount and sustain such a campaign.”

Did Manley seriously look into the possibility of running this time? Probably. As almost anyone would if presented with a professional opportunity of this sort. Few people, even if presented with a job they don’t really want, dismiss the possibility without any consideration.

But he’s now on the record—on numerous occasions—as saying he lacks genuine interest in running for the Liberal leadership. You can construct all sorts of theories about that being just a cover—that he lacks the party support and he would be interested if he thought he could proceed with a serious challenge—but if he’s a phony, he’s at least a consistent phony. And at some point you had to ask why so much energy is being devoted to speculating about the leadership ambitions of a man who claims to have none.

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