Federal Liberals anoint Justin Trudeau with 80 per cent first-ballot sweep

OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau has been elected to lead the federal Liberal party in a resounding first-ballot win.

Trudeau, eldest son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and the Liberals’ undisputed star, swept 80 per cent of the vote in a final field of six candidates.

Despite the foregone conclusion of Trudeau’s coronation, a downtown Ottawa hotel was packed with hundreds of Liberal supporters who cheered former prime minister Jean Chretien’s speech about the “next generation of Liberal party leadership” before the tally was made public.

“This is the last stop of this campaign but it is the very first stop of the next one,” Trudeau told the adoring crowd when the resuts were finally announced about 40 minutes later than scheduled.

The leadership buzz around Trudeau, 41, has lifted Liberals off the mat after the third-place party suffered its worst electoral defeat ever in 2011.

Polls suggest the telegenic and personable Trudeau appears to be confounding — at least for now — predictions of a polarized, two-way election fight in 2015 between Tom Mulcair’s NDP and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

“We are fed up with leaders who pit Canadians against Canadians. West against East, rich against poor, Quebec against the rest of the country, urban against rural,” Trudeau said in his acceptance speech.

“Canadians are looking to us, my friends. They are giving us a chance, hopeful that the party of Wilfrid Laurier can rediscover its sunny ways.”

Liberal MP Joyce Murray, whose leadership platform included co-operating with New Democrats and Greens to unseat Harper in the next election, finished a very distant second behind Trudeau with 10 per cent of the vote.

The Conservative party immediately put out a release congratulating Trudeau on his leadership win and then slamming his inexperience, a theme the ruling party appears likely to plumb repeatedly.

“Justin Trudeau may have a famous last name, but in a time of global economic uncertainty, he doesn’t have the judgment or experience to be prime minister,” Conservative spokesman Fred DeLorey said.

Just the prospect of the fluidly bilingual Montreal MP’s victory had already boosted the Liberals back into contention in public opinion surveys. They are now running even with or ahead of the ruling Conservatives. The NDP has been relegated to its traditional third place slot after vaulting into official Opposition status in 2011 for the first time in its history.

Chretien told a Liberal crowd hungry for good news that “today marks the beginning of the end of this Conservative government,” while party president Mike Crawley made a point of noting that more people voted in this leadership contest than ever before in Canada.

Whether Trudeau can maintain the momentum until the next election in 2015 remains to be seen. But he has so far defied his detractors who were certain six months ago, when he launched his leadership bid, that his popularity would prove to be fleeting.

Money magnet Trudeau’s final financial report is yet to be posted but he has previously reported raking in almost $1.1 million from some 8,500 donors to his leadership campaign.

The contest was an experiment for Liberals, who decided to allow a new class of supporters — not just dues-paying, card-carrying members — to vote for the next leader.

Almost 300,000 supporters signed up to participate in the contest. But just over 40 per cent of them actually registered to vote.

The results were weighted to give each of the country’s 308 ridings equal clout. Each riding was allotted 100 points, assigned proportionally to each candidate’s share of the vote in that riding.

A total of 30,800 points were up for grabs and Trudeau won on the first ballot with 24,668 points.

The Liberal party believes it has gained valuable contact information from the supporter sign-ups, which it hopes will help build the kind of modern data base required for political fundraising and voter identification in election campaigns.

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