Federal Grits gear up for leadership race launch

Interim Liberal Party leader Bob Rae speaks to the media at the Liberal Party convention in Ottawa...

Interim Liberal Party leader Bob Rae speaks to the media at the Liberal Party convention in Ottawa January 12, 2012. (REUTERS/Patrick Doyle)

Jessica Murphy, Parliamentary Bureau

, Last Updated: 6:41 PM ET

OTTAWA - It's do or die time for the federal Liberals.

As the party gears up to officially launch the leadership race later this week, two Grit stalwarts say the future of the Liberal hinges on getting it right.

And both maintain there needs to be a real race and not the one-man coronation of Montreal MP and political star Justin Trudeau.

"There's a large segment of the party that is wary of about this and realize if there's not a race it could be very damaging to the party," longtime Liberal watcher and former political aide Dan Donovan said.

"People are being encouraged to step up."

He accused a coterie of longtime MPs and senators of "suffocating the party," but said a new experiment by the Grits - giving so-called non-member "supporters" the ability to vote on a leadership candidate - could create an early grassroots renewal and engage new blood.

On Wednesday and over the next few weeks, political watchers will get a better idea of just how serious those candidates are in their bid to head the beleaguered third party.

The official launch date means candidates can file the necessary paperwork with the party and Elections Canada and cut a $25,000 cheque - the first of three to cover the $75,000 entrance fee.

It's the beginning of a five-month campaign that Richard Mahoney, former senior aide to ex-prime minister Paul Martin, said will set the party on the path to either renewal or disaster.

"It's absolutely crucial to the future of the party," he said. "The real challenge is not a coronation per se, the real challenge is the renewal."

Mahoney said despite prior coronations in the party's past this contest - with supporter involvement and social media - will be most democratic they've had.

Six candidates have announced their intention to jump into the ring so far, including Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi and Deborah Coyne, the mother of Trudeau's half-sister.

Both Montreal MP Marc Garneau and Vancouver MP Joyce Murray said they're still weighing whether to run.

Martha Hall Findlay is also expected to join the contest Wednesday and has an announcement scheduled in Calgary. The former MP made an unsuccessful bid in 2006 to head the party, only managing to pay off debts from that campaign this year.

The other candidates are Alex Burton, David Merner and Jonathan Mousley.

 

Justin Trudeau's leadership juggernaut is keeping other candidates from jumping into the race, a Liberal MP says.

Ontario MP Jim Karygiannis said Wednesday his caucus colleagues feel the chill of taking on what seems to be a runaway coronation.

"Justin is certainly the front-runner at this point in time and I'm sure he'll remain the front-runner," he said.

"I gotta tell you a lot of people are getting a little bit of cold feet. There's not much conversation in caucus about people wanting to run. I think people understand that Justin has a good handle on it and I think a lot of people will be getting in to help him."

A Forum poll published Wednesday in the National Post indicated a Trudeau-led Liberal party would win a majority if a federal election were held now, mainly through gains in former strongholds like Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

It also suggested the Tories would be bumped to second place and the NDP returned to third.

The hype surrounding the son of late prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau may have already scuppered longtime Quebec MP Denis Coderre's ambition to take a run for the leadership.

Coderre — who said he'd been eyeing both the Liberal leadership and a bid at becoming Montreal's next mayor — ruled out vying for the helm of the federal party Wednesday.

But the poll numbers buoyed interim Liberal leader Bob Rae's mood.

He said he's happy with how the leadership race is shaping up, adding that any increase in support for the Liberals is "a good thing" even in the early days of the race.

"The key thing is there's wind in the sails of the Liberal party and that's good news," he said.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said he preferred not to comment — "I'm going to let the Liberals sort themselves out" — but added "there's an old expression that a week is an eternity in politics. There are exactly 155 eternities between now and the next election."

The Liberal race officially kicks off Nov. 14. Candidates have until mid-January to jump into the race and the winner will be crowned April 14.

There are currently three other candidates besides Trudeau in the race, including Deborah Coyne, who had a child with Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

B.C. Crown attorney Alex Burton and Ontario government economist Jonathan Mousley are also running.


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