Trudeau confidant Anna Gainey to run for presidency of Liberal party

OTTAWA – A key member of Justin Trudeau’s inner circle is running to become president of the federal Liberal party.

Anna Gainey, a well-connected, longtime Liberal, is scheduled to formally kick off her campaign on Wednesday.

She says she wants to focus on expanding the party’s support base through the kind of personal engagement strategy used so successfully by U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign team.

Gainey is closely connected to Trudeau: she played a senior operations role in his successful leadership campaign earlier this year while her husband, lifelong Trudeau friend Tom Pitfield, was in charge of the digital campaign.

But her roots in the party predate Trudeau’s ascension to the Liberal throne.

She served as a ministerial assistant to Bill Graham and John McCallum in Paul Martin’s short-lived government.

And she is currently president of the Liberal association in the Montreal riding of Westmount-Ville-Marie, which is held by Trudeau’s erstwhile leadership rival Marc Garneau.

Garneau evidently harbours no ill feeling over Gainey’s decision to back Trudeau. He’s agreed to be the national co-chair of her presidential campaign, alongside former Edmonton MP Anne McLellan.

“I’m doing this because I’m a Liberal, I’ve been involved in the party for a long time,” Gainey said in an interview.

“Certainly, I support Justin, I share his vision. I admire his work ethic and I’d like to be a part of helping him be successful.”

Liberals will choose their next party president at a convention in February. Mike Crawley, the current president is not seeking re-election.

So far, only one other candidate for the job has come forward: Brian Rice, president of the British Columbia wing of the party.

If she wins, Gainey said she’d like to prepare the party for the 2015 election by reducing the “inward-looking, internal kind of discussions” in which Liberals have tended to indulge and focus more on getting a broader base of Canadians to support the party.

While that will necessarily involve better use of technology to identify and communicate with potential supporters, Gainey said it will also involve motivating existing supporters to use the personal touch with friends and family.

“I think it has to happen really at the grassroots level, with the people that we do have engaged (already) and giving them the tools to network and build relationships in their own communities,” she said.

“I really think you need to be engaged in your own backyard on a lot of these things, talk to your neighbours and the other moms in the schoolyard and not be shy about (the fact) that you’re on board and you’re part of this process and try to encourage other people to participate as well.”

Gainey is executive director of the Gainey Foundation, which funds arts and environmental programs for youth. The philanthropic foundation was co-founded by Gainey and her father, former Montreal Canadiens hockey great Bob Gainey, after the death of her sister Laura.

Laura Gainey was swept overboard from a tall ship during a gale in the North Atlantic in 2006.