The lack of candidates interested in running for the federal leadership of the Liberal Party threatens not only to take the sizzle out of the race, but could force the party to "refashion" next November's highly-anticipated convention into a policy convention, says Grit Party President Stephen LeDrew.
"If there are insufficient candidates, we'll have to refashion the convention so that it is a discussion of policy and it is a vehicle for renewal of the party," he said last week on the day before former finance minister Paul Martin (LaSalle Émard, Que.) filed his nomination papers with party headquarters along with a $37,500 cheque to cover half of his $75,000 entry fee.
"If we don't have a vigorous leadership race, my job is to have various alternatives in place," he added.
Scott Reid, a spokesperson for Mr. Martin, dismissed concerns that the lack of candidates will take anything away from the leadership race.
"There is going to be a very active debate about the future of the party, the future of the government, and the future of the country. And we have an obligation as a party to ensure that," he said.
Akaash Maharaj, the party's national policy chair, agreed, noting that he's been working hard to organize a series of policy workshops across the country for Liberal members which will coincide with upcoming leadership debates.
"Whether we have two candidates or 200 candidates, my hope is that debate will be driven not only by candidates themselves but also by ordinary party members," he said.
Mr. Maharaj, however, underlined that Mr. Martin's big lead could quickly turn the leadership convention into a moot exercise, given that there's a possibility the winner will be known next September when ridings elect delegates.
Mr. Maharaj, who is also running to succeed Mr. LeDrew who must step down as party president after serving a maximum of two terms, said the party will be looking for ways to justify the convention if Mr. Martin is found to be the winner in September.
"If we were to have such results at the delegate selection meetings in September, then certainly we would have to refashion the agenda of the convention so that it gives participants, who will be asked to pay nearly $1000 for the privilege of attending, an opportunity of doing more than just completing a process whose conclusion is already known," he said.
"It could involve a more elaborate policy exercise, taking the result of the policy development exercises which will be held in conjunction with leadership debates and present a summary of our report and findings at the convention."
Mr. Maharaj, along with Gordon Ashworth, have been busy setting up the upcoming leadership debates which must be held before June 20, the cutoff date for party membership sales. Up to six are being planned to be held in each region of the country: the North, in British Columbia, in the West, in Ontario, in Quebec, and in Atlantic Canada.
These would be full-day events, during which policy workshops would take place for party members in the morning followed by a leadership debate later in the day.