OTTAWA -- Marc Garneau dropped out of the federal Liberal leadership race on Wednesday and threw his support behind front-runner Justin Trudeau, declaring the outcome "a fait accompli."
Trudeau got another boost later in the day when the party agreed to his request to extend the deadline for voter registration by one week, a move likely to most benefit the front-runner.
Garneau's decision followed an internal poll conducted by his campaign last week, which he said showed Trudeau has the backing of 72 per cent of Liberal members and supporters.
Garneau maintained he was a "solid second" with 15 per cent, followed by Vancouver MP Joyce Murray with just over seven per cent and former Toronto MP Martha Hall Findlay with just over five per cent. "I have done my numbers. I cannot mathematically -- and I'm a person who believes in math -- I cannot mathematically win," the Montreal MP told a news conference.
"I'm not into denial. The numbers indicate very clearly that Justin is the overwhelming favourite."
However, Murray said she puts no stock in Garneau's survey, the methodology of which her camp finds highly suspect. She said it won't influence her decision to continue her campaign, which has enjoyed a late burst of momentum.
"I'm not going to give it any credit," Murray said in an interview.
"I happen to completely disagree with his assessment that there's only one possible outcome to this race... It's not a done deal."
Garneau's automated phone poll asked 6,000 Liberal supporters and members to indicate whether they favoured Garneau, Trudeau, Hall Findlay or Murray, in that order and without mentioning the other four contenders.
It was a not a survey of registered voters, the Murray camp noted, even though the outcome will depend on which campaign is best able to get supporters to register and then actually cast ballots during the week of April 6.
Murray's camp is hopeful her supporters -- urged on by a host of grassroots and online advocacy groups who back her environmental credentials and her plan for electoral co-operation among progressive parties -- are more committed than average about registering and voting.
Nor did Garneau's survey take into account the fact results will be weighted to give each riding equal clout, whether they have 1,000 registered voters or 100. Without knowing the distribution of each candidate's support, Hall Findlay pointed out it's impossible to accurately predict the outcome -- although no one disputes Trudeau is in the lead.
"For those talking about polls and numbers: We're not naive, and we're fully aware of the challenge," Hall Findlay said in a statement. However, she added: "There are some ridings with thousands of registered voters -- but each one of those ridings is worth 100 points. There are also a large number of ridings with very few, many with fewer than 50. Each one of those ridings is also worth 100 points. We have run a truly national campaign, and have approached it very strategically."
Only those who register will be allowed to cast ballots during the week of April 6; so far only a third of the party's 294,000 members and supporters have done so.
The deadline for registration was supposed to be today but the party has acceded to Trudeau's request and extended it to March 21.
The Trudeau team had argued the party needs more time to send registration packages to some 100,000 people who didn't provide email addresses -- the bulk of whom are Trudeau supporters -- and to resolve other technical glitches.
-- The Canadian Press