OTTAWA - The cheque federal Liberal leadership hopefuls have to cut to the party will quickly narrow the field down to the best contenders, says the party president.
Mike Crawley said Wednesday that the $75,000 entry fee — paid in three instalments — allows contestants to explore their bid before fully committing to the race.
“We step up the entry fee so they can test the waters, and those that attract support and interest for their ideas will be able to keep paying the entry until it's fully paid,” he said. “Those that don't, won't. I think it's a good process.”
As of Wednesday, hopefuls could file their paperwork to the party and Elections Canada and shell out the first $25,000 instalment.
Some of the candidates have grumbled the fee poses a tough challenge for the lesser known contestants.
But Crawley said the process, including the fee structure, was set up to "really blow the doors of the party wide open."
The party will also take 10% of all donations raised by the candidates for the administration of the five-month campaign.
Following the 2006 leadership race, a number of candidates struggled to pay off the debt they incurred, including Martha Hall Findlay, who announced Wednesday she was taking a second kick at the can to head the Liberals.
At her Calgary campaign launch, she painting herself as an everywoman who knows the "value of mixing cut-up hotdogs with Kraft Dinner" and has balanced the books as a business owner.
“The Liberal party needs substance, intelligence, needs guts,” she said. “I think I have those.”
She admitted paying off the 2006 debt was “daunting” but that she'd received too much encouragement not to run.
The Grits also announced the dates of the leadership debates, starting in Vancouver on Jan. 20. Debates will also be held in Winnipeg, the Greater Toronto Area, Halifax and Montreal.
Voting week kicks off in Toronto with a “national showcase” the party hopes will give candidates a last shot to wow members and supporters.
The new leader will be unveiled in Ottawa on April 14.
Montreal MP Justin Trudeau is widely viewed as the frontrunner, but the field is getting crowded.
Other hopefuls include lawyer Deborah Coyne, Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi, economist Jonathan Mousley, B.C. Crown prosecutor Alex Burton, former president of the party's B.C. branch David Merner and retired Canadian Forces member Karen McCrimmon.
Politicians still weighing a bid include Vancouver MP Joyce Murray and Montreal MP Marc Garneau.