MONTEBELLO, Que. – The federal Liberals wrap up three days of caucus meetings today by releasing the playbook that will help determine the shape and course of the party’s looming leadership race — the party’s third such race in six years.
With the once-mighty Big Red Machine down to 35 seats and third-party status in the House of Commons, many Liberals feel the party has to get this one right.
As MP Dominic LeBlanc, a prospective leadership candidate, puts it, the next leader needs to commit 10 to 15 years of his or her life “occupied exclusively” with rebuilding the Liberal party and winning elections.
One leaked draft of the spending limits suggested a $75,000 non-refundable ante to enter the race and a $750,000 spending cap.
A high entry fee would keep out the political gadflys, while the cap would ensure prospective leaders aren’t saddled with debt from losing campaigns.
LeBlanc says the leadership race isn’t the place for politicians to be learning public speaking and he’d endorse a stiff entry fee.
“The Liberal leadership shouldn’t become a kind of practice for the Toastmasters club,” said the New Brunswick MP. “I think if you want to practice speech-making there are other places to do it.
“The deposit should reflect the nature of the office you’re pretending to want to occupy.”
Back in 2006 the Liberals had a refundable entry fee of $50,000 and prospective leaders were allowed to spend up to $3.4 million.
The result was a large field of candidates with little hope of winning, many of whom walked away with huge debts that have been almost impossible to repay. Earlier this summer an Ontario court rejected requests to extend the payback period for three failed candidates from the 2006 Liberal race won by Stephane Dion, putting their leadership debts into a kind of legal limbo.
Elections Canada appears to be wrestling with how to handle the arrears, since tight donation rules enacted by the Conservative government in the middle of the 2006 Liberal leadership campaign mean failed candidates can’t go back to their old supporters for another round of donations.
New Democrats put a spending cap of $500,000 on the lengthy race that crowned leader Tom Mulcair in March.
“I hope that candidates and the party itself will discourage people from assuming big debt loads,” LeBlanc said of the Liberals. “If you can’t run a campaign that’s spending the money that you’re raising, why would you think accumulating a large debt — as some people did in the past — is any easier to pay off after you’ve lost?”
Along with spending rules, party president Mike Crawley is expected to detail the voting system that will be used by the party to tally leadership support, and the exact date next April when the new leader will be announced.
As many as half a dozen of the party’s 35-member parliamentary caucus could join the hunt, depending on the rules announced and who is and isn’t in the race.
All eyes will be on party rock star Justin Trudeau, son of the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who is a fundraising magnet and who’s name recognition stretches far beyond party ranks. Fellow Montreal MP Marc Garneau, a former astronaut, is signalling he’ll likely be in the race, while LeBlanc, Dennis Coderre and David McGuinty all appear to be kicking the tires.
Others from outside caucus, including former MPs Martha Hall Findlay, Martin Cauchon and Gerard Kennedy, Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi, Toronto lawyer George Takach, Ontario government economist Jonathan Mousley and David Merner, past-president of the party’s British Columbia wing, are considering taking the plunge.
Constitutional lawyer Deborah Coyne has already announced her candidacy, as has Shane Geschiere, a Manitoba paramedic.