TORONTO – Six candidates get one last chance today to make an impression on Liberals before they begin casting ballots to pick the leader they hope will lead the once-mighty party out of the political wilderness.
Each contender will get 25 minutes to make a final sales pitch during a “national showcase” event which is expected to generate the only real drama of an otherwise anti-climactic leadership contest.
There will be none of the excitement or suspense of a traditional delegated leadership convention.
Rather, after today’s brief show of hoopla and final words from the candidates, Liberals will spend the next week casting preferential ballots in the privacy of their own homes — online or by phone — with the results to be announced April 14 in Ottawa.
Some 127,000 party members and supporters are eligible to vote.
Since he launched his campaign last October, there has been little doubt Justin Trudeau, eldest son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and the party’s undisputed rock star, would win.
The only question that remains is how big his margin of victory will be.
The final answer will depend on the ability of each camp to get their supporters out to vote and on the geographic distribution of their voters.
Since the results will be weighted to give each riding equal clout, a candidate who wins 90 per cent of the vote in a riding with 100 Liberals will get 90 points — the same as a candidate who wins 90 per cent of the vote in a riding with 1,000 voters.
Dark horse contenders Joyce Murray, Martha Hall Findlay and Martin Cauchon are counting on that wrinkle — and the hope that their supporters are more committed, and therefore more likely to vote, than Trudeau’s — to boost them into contention.
In the race for second, Vancouver MP Murray appears to have the most traction heading down the home stretch, boosted by grassroots and online advocacy groups who back her strong environmental stance and her plan for one-time electoral co-operation among progressive parties in the next election to ensure defeat of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
In terms of fundraising prowess — the only concrete measure so far of how the contenders are faring —Murray solidified her hold on second place over the past week.
The latest financial reports filed with Elections Canada show Murray has raised $225,000 from almost 2,000 donors over the course of the five-month campaign.
Hall Findlay, a former Toronto MP who has positioned herself as a champion of business Liberals, has raised almost $193,000 from slightly more than 1,100 donors while Cauchon, a former Chretien-era cabinet minister, has raised $149,000 from just 245 donors.
Retired military officer Karen McCrimmon has raised $36,000 from 244 contributors and Toronto lawyer Deborah Coyne, who has already conceded she can’t win, has raised just $31,000 from 333 donors.
But the combined take of the five long-shot contenders pales in comparison to the haul raked in by Trudeau, long the party’s biggest fundraising draw. The front-runner has pulled in almost twice as much as all his competitors combined — nearly $1.1 million from 8,420 donors.
Today’s showcase will also feature a tribute to Bob Rae, who has held down the Liberal fort as interim leader since the May 2011 election reduced Canada’s so-called natural governing party to third-place rubble.
Despite the lack of drama and the widespread perception that the leadership race is more a coronation than a contest, the Liberals have managed to fight their way back into contention in national opinion polls, overtaking the NDP and now running even or even slightly ahead of the Conservatives.