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Showing their True Grit

Six cross-country debates will give Liberal leadership race some steam


Louise Elliott
29 March 2003


OTTAWA - The federal Liberal leadership race is set to pick up steam, now that six debates have been set for May and June.

The debates in each region of the country before the cut-off date for new party members on June 20 will at last give the three declared candidates a chance to go head to head while raising the level of party dialogue, said party policy chairman Akaash Maharaj.

"My hope is that the debates will recast the leadership race (as being) more about competing visions of the national interest, rather than organizational prowess," he said.

The date-selection process, much like the start of the race itself, has been tortuous, Maharaj allowed, due to a number of scheduling glitches that kept the party executive locked in conference calls for more than two weeks.

And it seems finding candidates hasn’t been any easier.

Deputy Prime Minister John Manley finally signalled his intention to run earlier this month, while frontrunner Paul Martin -- who has been quietly campaigning for months and fund-raising for years to succeed Prime Minister Jean Chrétien -- is still waiting to launch an official campaign.

Martin spokesman Scott Reid said last week that organizers are waiting for the right moment, sometime in mid- to late April, while remaining sensitive to the public’s focus on the Iraq conflict.

Heritage Minister Sheila Copps is the only candidate who has officially launched her campaign, which she did in a Hamilton doughnut shop in February.

Debates have been set for May 3 in Edmonton, May 10 in Whitehorse, May 24 in Atlantic Canada with Moncton, Charlottetown and Halifax as three possible sites, May 31 in Vancouver, June 7 in Ottawa and June 14 in Montreal.

The debates, which will include a policy forum at each whistle-stop along the way, will serve another purpose, Maharaj added.

"This will be a vital exercise in maintaining the vigour of the grassroots policy development process."

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