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Candidates seek traction in Manitoba

Little fertile ground found so far as contestants campaign

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OTTAWA -- Liberal leadership hopefuls look to paint Winnipeg red this weekend as candidates arrive in town for the second of the race's leadership debates.

The question is, how many people will notice?

With just over two months to go before the party picks its sixth leader in six years, Manitoba hasn't exactly been a Mecca for the candidates.

Fundraising in the province for all candidates, including the star, Justin Trudeau, is slow. Only $13,076, or 1.14 per cent, of the $1.15 million the candidates raised in the last three months of 2012 came from Manitoba. Trudeau, who outpaced the field by generating $673,156 of that amount, only raised one per cent of his total in Manitoba.

More was raised in every other province except Prince Edward Island. The party is trying to expand participation in the leadership election with a new supporters' category. It costs nothing to become a supporter but it likely will cost something to vote. As of October, about 30,000 supporters had signed up, but on average, Manitoba ridings had each added just 48 of them.That compares to 124 per riding in Ontario, 91 in British Columbia and 75 in Nova Scotia.

But some candidates think things might be picking up.

Former MP Martha Hall Findlay, making her second bid for the party's top job after finishing last in 2006, said interest has grown since the first debate in Vancouver Jan. 20, and that local people get more interested when the candidates tour there.

"The discourse has changed quite dramatically and people are now talking about a race," she said.

It has been six years since the last real Liberal leadership showdown in 2006.

But the party and its fortunes have changed dramatically, going from a majority government in 2004 to third-place status with the fewest seats the Liberals have ever held.

"By 2011, a whole lot of Canadians didn't know what the Liberal party stood for anymore," said Hall Findlay, who lost her Toronto seat in 2011 after one term in office. "We were pushed on our heels so far by those attack ads."

Much like 2006, the race is jammed with candidates. There were eight registered candidates then and nine today. But unlike 2006, when the race was full of well-known MPs and politicians and was perceived as a true contest from the start, this one doesn't have the same lustre.

Four of the nine candidates are barely known even within tight Liberal circles: Toronto lawyers George Takach and Deborah Coyne, Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi and retired air force Lt.-Col. Karen McCrimmon. The others include current MPs Justin Trudeau, Joyce Murray and Marc Garneau, and former MPs Martin Cauchon and Hall Findlay.

Trudeau has such a lead in fundraising, endorsements and signing up supporters that many think he barely needs to break a sweat as he trots to the finish line. (As one indication, Trudeau was the only one who was too busy to do an interview with the Free Press.)

However, a few Trudeau missteps, including the surfacing of a two-year-old video in which he said Canada's problems stemmed from the fact Alberta was too powerful, have at least opened the door to competition.

Other than Trudeau, who has the only sitting MP and two Liberal senators from Manitoba and Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard in his camp, only Vancouver MP Joyce Murray was willing or able to name a Manitoba Liberal who is "a key team member" -- former cabinet minister and current University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy.

Others tried to duck the question by saying they didn't keep track of such things themselves, weren't "going for formal endorsements," or that they don't matter.

Most of the candidates are using the Winnipeg debate as a chance to tour Manitoba. Only a few, including Trudeau and Murray, have already been to the province. Murray was here recently for a meeting with Lake Winnipeg scientists and she said one thing a Liberal leader has to do is endeavour to "turn that supertanker around" and repair the damage to the health of the lake.

Takach, a technology lawyer from Toronto, said a recent visit to Grand Rapids First Nation in Manitoba proved to him the need to expand high-speed Internet access across Canada, particularly to rural and remote areas.

Every candidate believes in some form of carbon pricing, although many are gun shy about saying how they'd do it. After the disaster of former leader Stéphane Dion's Green Shift policy in 2008, and the current Conservative attacks on the idea of a carbon tax, all seem to understand it's a touchy subject.

Hall Findlay wants a "price on pollution" but won't use the term "carbon tax" -- saying it needs to be reconstituted because the Conservatives have defined that term for Canadians unfavourably. Bertschi says he favours strong environmental regulations and doesn't believe in allowing companies to buy credits so they can pollute more, but would not say whether he supports a carbon tax.

Others, including Takach, Garneau, Cauchon and McCrimmon, want a form of a price on carbon but say they don't know how to do it without sitting down with industry and environmental experts to figure it out.

Murray and Coyne both said they look forward to fighting the Conservatives on the carbon tax front.

"I will relish standing up against Mr. Harper when he says a carbon tax is a tax on everything. I will say what's what, and here's why," Coyne said.

Canadians, said Coyne, rejected the Green Shift, which was a complicated platform few could understand, but that doesn't mean Canadians reject the notion of pricing carbon.

The Liberals will choose their next leader April 14 in Ottawa.

WHO'S WHO? Meet the candidates

David Bertschi

Age: 53

Current job: Ottawa lawyer

Political experience: Liberal candidate in 2011 federal election in Ottawa-Orleans riding, finished a close second.

Message to Manitobans: "What I believe is in this country we have to have strong environmental laws. Our generation has failed to take the bull by the horns. I favour strong environmental regulation."

Manitoba backers: "I'm not involved in the logistics."

Money raised in Manitoba as of Dec. 31: $0 (however he was not officially a candidate yet so couldn't register donations prior to January).


Martin Cauchon

Age: 50

Current job: partner at Montreal law firm Heenan Blaikie

Political experience: MP for Outremont (Montreal) from 1993 to 2004, minister of justice

Message to Manitobans: "We'll be speaking of course about the wheat board, about agriculture and Lake Winnipeg."

"(NDP Leader Thomas) Mulcair's unity bill. It's just amazing. To me it's pretty obvious he hasn't read the clarity bill. I was part of the government which promoted that bill and I believe it's good for the country."

Money raised in Manitoba as of Dec. 31: $0 (however he was not officially a candidate yet so couldn't register donations prior to January).


Deborah Coyne

Age: 57

Current job: consultant, constitutional lawyer

Political experience: founding member of Canadian Coalition on the Constitution, a grassroots group that opposed the Meech Lake Accord; ran for federal Liberals in 2006 but lost to NDP Leader Jack Layton.

Message to Manitobans: "There are too many Canadians sitting on the sidelines, and feeling very disconnected. I am the only one with a coherent vision for the country."

Manitoba backers: "I'm not going for formal endorsements."

Money raised in Manitoba as of Dec. 31: $800


Martha Hall Findlay

Age: 53

Current job: Executive Fellow with the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary

Political experience: ran for Liberal leadership in 2006, finished 8th; elected to House of Commons in 2008, defeated in 2011.

Message to Manitobans: "I've been fairly vocal about supply management. (She wants to end it.) For most people the issues are about the economy, it's jobs for themselves, jobs for their kids."

Manitoba backers: "We don't have the big names some people do. We take that with a grain of salt."

Money raised in Manitoba as of Dec. 31: $2,845


Marc Garneau

Age: 63

Current job: MP for Westmount-Ville Marie in Montreal

Political experience: Canada's first astronaut, he ran for the Liberals unsuccessfully in 2006 before being elected to the house of Commons in 2008 and re-elected in 2011.

Message to Manitobans: "What is particularly important for the economy is we focus on a knowledge-based economy."

Manitoba backers: "We are not singling out any specific team members other than the campaign chair, former agriculture minister Andy Mitchell," says communications director Anne Dawson.

Money raised in Manitoba as of Dec. 31: $1,100


Karen McCrimmon

Age: 55

Current job: retired Lt.-Col. in the Canadian Forces, owns mediation/conflict resolution business Political experience: Ran for federal Liberals in Ottawa riding in 2011, finished second.

Message to Manitobans: "I think so many issues across the country are the same, a future for our children, jobs and the economy."

"We are definitely getting a benefit from our oilsands but we are also causing harm."

"I think Canadians want a different kind of politics."

Manitoba backers: None.

Money raised in Manitoba as of Dec. 31: $0


Joyce Murray

Age: 58

Current job: MP for Vancouver-Quadra

Political experience: provincial MLA and cabinet minister in British Columbia

Message to Manitobans: "My campaign is based on my vision of a sustainable society. Amongst the candidates, I have the strongest platform. I'm a candidate that has leadership experience building a business."

Manitoba backers: University of Winnipeg president and former federal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy

Money raised in Manitoba as of Dec. 31: $1,747


George Takach

Age: 55

Current job: technology lawyer, senior partner at McCarthy Tetrault in Toronto

Political experience: No official experience

His message to Manitobans: "The economy is my bread and butter issue. I really believe the Liberal party has to engage in the economy again and we have to engage on jobs again. If we do the right thing we'll have a strong centre-right message about the economy coupled with a strong centre-left focus on social issues."

Manitoba backers: No big names. "So much of this campaign is happening digitally, even talking about endorsements by sitting MPs is missing the mark."

Money raised in Manitoba as of Dec. 31: $0


Justin Trudeau

Age: 41

Current job: MP for Papineau (Montreal), Liberal critic for post-secondary education, youth and amateur sport

Political experience: Oldest son of prime minister Pierre Trudeau; elected to office in 2008, re-elected 2011

His message to Manitobans: Trudeau was unavailable for an interview

Manitoba backers: MP Kevin Lamoureux, Senators Rod Zimmer, Maria Chaput, Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard

Money raised in Manitoba as of Dec. 31: $6,584.17

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2013 A11

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