OTTAWA—Prime Minister Jean Chrétien boasts how many opposition leaders have come and gone during his 10-year tenure: nine who sat in the official Opposition leader's chair, six through the combined leadership shifts in the ranks of the Conservatives, Canadian Alliance and the old Reform party.
Chrétien may get a chance to see one or two more — at least on an interim basis. Neither of the two leaders who negotiated the merger — Alliance Leader Stephen Harper and Tory Leader Peter MacKay — may end up at the helm of the new entity when one is chosen, likely in mid-March. Both men, though, are said to be interested, which means they will probably rule themselves out to serve as interim leaders of their respective parties in the meantime, if the Commons does sit while their leadership race is under way and Chrétien remains as Prime Minister.
And depending on who else enters the field, neither MacKay nor Harper may end up in charge when it's all over; a risk they repeatedly said they were willing to take.
Former Ontario premier Mike Harris is the most oft-cited, outside candidate to assume leadership of the new party and has done nothing to discourage the speculation. Harris was out of the country yesterday and unavailable for comment, but through a spokesperson, the former premier made clear that he was tantalized by the prospect of taking on Liberal leader-in-waiting Paul Martin.