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How much money is enough in Grit leadership race?

New Liberal Leadership Expenses Committee to decide on spending rules in January


F. Abbas Rana
28 October 2002


TORONTO - The president of the federal Liberal Party in British Columbia says Grit candidates will likely spend an average of at least $5-million in the leadership campaign which unofficially started last week.

But Bill Cunningham, a staunch supporter of Paul Martin (LaSalle--Émard, Que.), said in his personal opinion, $8-million to $9-million is the appropriate spending limit for Liberal Party leadership contenders.

In the last Liberal leadership campaign in 1990, the spending limit according to the Liberal Party was $1.7-million, while according to the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing report, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (Saint-Maurice, Que.) spent $2.446-million and Mr. Martin spent $2.372-million.

Liberal Party of Canada records indicate that $489,914 were excluded from Mr. Chrétien's account and $457,114 were excluded from Mr. Martin's account as "pre-election call expenses." So, the final amount that Mr. Chrétien spent in the 1990 leadership campaign was $1,671,768 and Mr. Martin's final amount that he spent was $1,637,147.

Akaash Maharaj, National Policy Chair of the Liberal Party, a member of the powerful 61-member national executive, and a candidate for the party presidency, said in an interview with The Hill Times that he's reluctant to suggest any Liberal leadership spending figures. He said the matter has yet to be decided by the Leadership Expenses Committee and we would like to hear from individual leadership contenders about their opinion on this issue first.

Mr. Maharaj, however, said later that in his opinion, $3-million should be the absolute lowest spending limit and $9-million should be the highest spending limit.

"I am reluctant to offer any figure at this time because as you know the national executive has not yet debated this issue. What I will say is the one figure that has been floated that I know is $9-million. My own feeling is that that figure would be at the very upper limit that would be acceptable and $3-million would be the lowest acceptable figure but this amount would be extraordinarily low," said Mr. Maharaj.

Mr. Maharaj said he personally thinks that two factors should be kept in mind while determining the spending limit for the Liberal leadership contenders.

"I believe it must be high enough to ensure that every candidate is able to run a vigorous campaign that engages the entire country but I would not want to see the limit placed so high that that gives candidates an advantage based on finances as opposed to merit."

Mr. Maharaj also said this campaign will likely cost more money because among other factors, the Liberals are now in government and will be able to raise money too.

According to one Liberal insider who has worked on different election and leadership campaigns in the past, leadership campaigns cost "outrageously high amounts of money."

The Liberal, who did not want to be identified, said some of the biggest-ticket costs are travel, staff salaries, office space, telephone, fax and website maintenance.

Liberal MP Dennis Mills (Toronto--Danforth, Ont.) and Heritage Minister Sheila Copps (Hamilton East, Ont.) who are both expected to be contenders for the party leadership, criticized the idea of $9-million in recent issues of The Hill Times. Both described the amount as "obscene" and "out of line."

Mr. Mills said Liberal leadership contenders don't need to spend more than $1.5-million and said in his opinion "good ideas are more powerful than money."

Ms. Copps also said Liberals should spend about what they spent in the last campaign in 1990.

Meanwhile, a list of campaign donations released last spring revealed that Industry Minister Allan Rock (Etobicoke Centre, Ont.) had raised $1.1 million by then, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance John Manley (Ottawa South, Ont.) raised $172,000 and Ms. Copps raised $54,000.

Mr. Martin, on the other hand, raised $750,000 in one night, raised another $110,000 in a two-month period, and could already have $10-million.

One Martin strategist, Jamie Deacey, recently told The Hill Times that candidates will have to spend more because the leadership rules have been changed and are now based on proportional wins.

Mr. Cunningham disagreed: "I don't know if the rules in itself will make it more expensive but I think what it does do is it makes sure that every riding in Canada is equally important in terms of the organizational efforts. So, under the new rules, a riding of 5,000 people in downtown Toronto will be as important as the riding in northern Alberta that only has 150 members. So, I don't know if it means that it's going to be more expensive but it certainly means that the resources will have to be equally distributed across the country."

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