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Trudeau splash leaves little water for other Grit leadership candidates

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OTTAWA - Justin Trudeau created a splash with his plunge into the federal Liberal leadership contest; now the question is whether there's enough water left to entice other serious contenders into the pool.

Less than 12 hours after Trudeau officially launched his campaign, longshot contender Shane Geschiere — a Manitoba paramedic who announced his intention to run last winter — backed out and threw his support to Trudeau, the prohibitive favourite.

Another more serious potential rival, New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc, is poised to follow suit on Friday when Trudeau joins him for an event in his Beausejour riding.

LeBlanc confirmed the event but played coy Wednesday about his imminent endorsement of Trudeau, a lifelong friend.

"Why would I scoop my own event?" he said.

But while sources confirmed LeBlanc is definitely out, another prospective contender, Montreal MP Marc Garneau, insisted he won't be so easily deterred.

"Let me just say this: I'm an optimist by nature and I'm not easily intimidated," said Garneau, Canada's first astronaut.

"Somebody who is ready to sit on a rocket that's going to unleash seven million pounds of thrust is not really easily intimidated. So I will make my own decision about whether I enter this race."

Still, the speed with which Trudeau's campaign appears to be gaining momentum suggests potential rivals don't have much time to make up their minds. Some Liberal MPs aren't waiting to see who else joins the contest before jumping on Trudeau's bandwagon.

Winnipeg MP Kevin Lamoureux endorsed Trudeau on Wednesday, saying he has "an element of charisma that escapes a vast majority of politicians." He predicted the 40-year-old's youth and energy will offer voters a stark contrast to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

Montreal MP Massimo Pacetti and Newfoundland MP Scott Simms revealed their support for Trudeau last week, well before his formal campaign launch at a rally Tuesday evening in his Montreal riding of Papineau.

Most Liberals want to see a vigorous contest, fearful that a coronation will do little to excite Canadians. Even Trudeau's organizers want the presumptive front-runner to be tested, to earn victory rather than feed the perception that he's coasting on the coattails of his late father, former prime minister and Liberal icon Pierre Trudeau.

Trudeau used Tuesday's campaign launch to try to step out from his famous father's shadow, exhorting Liberals to focus on the future, not their party's past.

He warned Liberals there'll be no easy fix or shortcuts on the road to electoral rehabilitation, that even his celebrity, telegenic face and iconic surname won't be enough to revive the fortunes of a party reduced to rubble in the 2011 election.

He ruled out the one shortcut thought by many to be the party's only salvation: a co-operation pact or merger with the NDP, although he's sent mixed signals on the idea in the past.

A school teacher before jumping into politics in 2008, Trudeau has long been seen by his critics — many of them fellow Liberals — as a man of more flash than substance. Tuesday's speech was designed to showcase a more cerebral, thoughtful side.

Trudeau embarked Wednesday on a cross-Canada tour, landing first in Calgary where he distanced himself from his father's national energy program, which turned oil-rich Alberta into a Liberal dead zone.

He was then joined by his mother, Margaret, at an event in Richmond, B.C., where he said he does not support oil giant Enbridge Inc.'s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, but added that he's sensitive to provincial jurisdictions in such matters.

"Enbridge will have to be better at justifying it," he said. "My default position is pipelines, sure, but not there."

The pipeline — which has divided many western Canadians — would carry bitumen from Alberta's oilsands to Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded on tankers headed for Asian markets.

In addition to meeting certain environmental safety standards, B.C. Premier Christy Clark has said the pipeline must provide a fair share of economic benefits to her province — something Alberta is against.

Trudeau heads to Mississauga, Ont., on Thursday and New Brunswick on Friday.

Toronto-based constitutional lawyer Deborah Coyne, the mother of Trudeau's half-sister, is the only other contender to have announced her candidacy so far.

Others pondering their chances include Vancouver MP Joyce Murray, former cabinet minister Martin Cauchon, former MPs Martha Hall Findlay and Gerard Kennedy, Ontario government economist Jonathan Mousley, former Ottawa candidate David Bertschi, Toronto lawyer George Takach, and David Merner, former president of the party's B.C. wing.

Ottawa MP David McGuinty is also said to be mulling his chances but is not considered likely to take the plunge. Meanwhile, veteran Montreal MP Denis Coderre is pondering whether to run for the Liberal leadership or mayor of Montreal and is thought to be leaning toward the latter.

The contest doesn't officially begin until Nov. 14 and culminates on April 14.

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