OTTAWA -- Bob Rae, a fixture on Canada's political scene for more than three decades, is giving up his seat in the House of Commons to devote himself to another of his passions: working on behalf of a First Nation.
The Toronto Liberal MP and one-time Ontario premier announced Wednesday he's leaving politics so he can focus on his new role: chief negotiator for the Matawa Tribal Council in talks with the province about development of the Ring of Fire mining project in northern Ontario.
"It's been a very difficult decision and, as you may have heard from the caucus, quite an emotional one for me. I don't make any bones about that," a puffy-eyed Rae told reporters.
Rae pre-empted speculation that thrice-thwarted leadership ambitions were behind his exit. He heaped praise on Justin Trudeau, whose decision to consider seeking the leadership last spring prompted Rae to abandon his own leadership plans and content himself with the role of holding down the Liberals' parliamentary fort in the interim. "I'm more than confident that Mr. Trudeau will become the prime minister of Canada and I regret very much and I know what I'm giving up when I say that I won't be there for this next leg of the journey," Rae said.
"But I hope that I have been able, in my own way in the last few years, to help create the conditions in the party that have strengthened our position."
In turn, Trudeau lavished praise on Rae. "I personally am sad, to be entirely blunt about it, that Bob has taken the decision that he has," he said.
"We will miss his wise counsel, we will miss his wisdom and experience. But we will miss mostly his passion, his emotion, his very, very human dedication to wearing his heart on his sleeve and his love for his country for all to see."
Although Trudeau urged him to stay and the federal ethics watchdog cleared his involvement in the Ring of Fire talks while remaining an MP, Rae said he realized he couldn't do both jobs.
In explaining his ultimate choice to give up politics, Rae recounted a recent fishing trip in northern Ontario with an aboriginal man and his daughter, Eleanor, "which, as some of you know, is the same name as my own daughter Eleanor."
"And as we were riding and going out fishing and talking about life, it seemed to me that perhaps I could do something to make sure that his daughter had the same chances as mine," he said, his voice breaking.
"The passion and enthusiasm I feel for the First Nations of Canada, the need for a different kind of partnership in this country between Canada's first peoples and those of us who have come later on is absolutely necessary."
He acknowledged his age -- he'll be 65 on Aug. 2 -- is also a factor in his decision. Even so, Rae did not close the door on politics forever.
"Look, never say never," he said. "But it certainly closes the door for now."
He ruled out any suggestion he could have a future in municipal politics: "I will not be a candidate for the mayor of Toronto."
Rae's departure opens some prime political real estate -- the riding of Toronto Centre, a long-time Liberal seat.
Trudeau has promised every riding will have to stage wide-open, democratic nomination contests to choose election candidates. As a result, the contest in Toronto Centre, one of the few remaining seats the Liberals can claim as safe, could be a wild one.
For all the accolades that poured in from Liberals on Wednesday, Rae's ambition to become the party's federal leader was never realized, in large part because many in the party's Ontario wing couldn't forgive or forget his previous political life as a New Democrat.
He was first elected to the Commons as a New Democrat in a 1978 byelection, but moved to Ontario provincial politics four years later, becoming provincial NDP leader and eventually premier for one tumultuous, recession-racked term from 1990-95.
Rae sought the federal Liberal leadership in 2006, coming third behind Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. He won a Commons seat in a 2008 byelection and bowed out of another short-lived leadership contest later that year to allow a coronation for Ignatieff, his one-time university roommate.
Although they spurned him twice, Liberals turned to Rae to pick up the pieces after the party was reduced to a humiliating third-place rump in the 2011 election. Even so, he was handed the role of interim leader only on condition that he promise not to seek the permanent leadership.
Party brass was poised to lift that condition last spring and Rae was expected to take the plunge for a third time when Trudeau, who had previously ruled out a leadership bid, announced he was reconsidering. Rae stowed his own ambitions and continued as interim leader until Trudeau was chosen in April.
-- The Canadian Press