02.23.2013 09:18 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: could Trudeau lose?

As the Liberal party’s leadership race inches towards its mid-April conclusion, one fact is undeniable: Justin Trudeau has won it.

The Montreal MP has raised more money than all of his opponents combined. He attracts fans in the thousands, even in previously hostile territory like rural Western Canada.

And successive polls show that, under his leadership, the Liberals could plausibly vault from third-party status to government.

His ascent to the Liberal leadership hasn’t been without its challenges, of course. His musings about Albertans may have cost his party a real shot at winning the coveted Calgary Centre byelection. And his stated positions on the now-defunct gun registry and foreign ownership in the energy sector genuinely upset many traditional Liberals.

Meanwhile, the likes of Jason Kenney, Martha Hall-Findlay and Marc Garneau continue to fling assorted slings and arrows. But to no effect.

The verbal missteps, the undeniably rightward tilt of some of Trudeau’s policies, have done nothing to impede his momentum.

The word “juggernaut” gets applied too often in Canadian politics (remember Paul Martin?). In Trudeau’s case, it fits. No one has seen anything like this in a long, long time.

So, can anything derail the Trudeau juggernaut?

Paradoxically, it is the Liberal party itself that has provided its political adversaries with the ammunition they need to deny Justin Trudeau the Grit crown.

Slightly more than a year ago, more than 3,000 Liberals gathered in Ottawa’s Convention Centre and, in a textbook case of the sort of mass psychosis that occasionally seizes otherwise sensible politicos, voted to create a new category of membership: “Supporters.”

To become a “supporter,” one need only provide one’s name, address, e-mail, date of birth and check a single-sentence pledge to “support” the Liberal party, and not some other party. Once you do that, you can vote for the next Liberal party leader, just like long-time, paid-up members do. That’s it.

The risks inherent in such a ridiculous move are obvious, and certainly should have been obvious to delegates to the Liberal policy convention. Any political enemy can now sign up hordes as “supporters,” then vote for the weakest of the many no-name candidates.

Why face Justin Trudeau in 2015, when you can face off against George Takach, Deborah Coyne or Karen McCrimmon?

Never heard of Takach, Coyne or McCrimmon?

Of course you haven’t. That’s the point. They don’t even hold seats in the House of Commons, but they have arrogantly concluded they should be leader of the (formerly) most successful political machine in Western democracy.

The gaggle of nobodies crowding the stage at the Liberal leadership debates would be entertaining, were it not for the fact that their mere existence provides mischievous Conservatives and New Democrats with a truly historic opportunity to deny Trudeau’s ambitions. Cons and Dippers would be fools not to take advantage.

Will they?

Attendees at 2012’s Grit policy conflab evidently thought not.

But with Elections Canada and the RCMP now investigating the Harper Conservatives in the ongoing robocall scandal, was that such a wise decision?

In the end, the very thing that has made Trudeau seem so formidable may also be the thing that ensures he wins: His online popularity.

On social media — Facebook, Twitter and the like — he is a legitimate phenomenon.

If his leadership team is smart (and they mostly are), they will convert Trudeau’s thousands of social media supporters into voting supporters. It shouldn’t be difficult.

But as the federal Grit convention moves towards its interminable end — held, once again and ominously, in Ottawa — watch for mysterious surges in the “supporter” category.

If there are enough of them, and if they are out to stop a juggernaut, this too may become a fact: Justin Trudeau will lose.


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    smelter rat says:

    “But with Elections Canada and the RCMP now investigating the Harper Conservatives in the ongoing robocall scandal, was that such a wise decision?”

    Heh. I wish.

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    Sean says:

    I’ve never had a problem with the “Supporter” category. However supporters should just vote for delegates and delegates should have to be members for one year. Enough with the voting matrix crap and just let everyone scrap it out on the floor like the old days.

    The idea that the other parties could sign up thousands of people to take over is hard to believe. The Americans have open primaries and Dems/GOP have never had such take overs. A conspiracy so vast could not hold. The Tories can’t even cover up Pierre Poutine, let alone something of that magnitude. People will crow about the Liberals for Life situation, but that will never happen again. They would need a real candidate to support an agenda directly opposed to the party.

    I think Trudeau will obviously win the Convention, to the tune of about 70% I’d say. After that, I think he’s already beaten Mulcair. Harper, I’m not sure. That issue will be settled by attack ads, as usual.

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    Pat says:

    So, just to ask, is there a reason that you’ve never addressed the total lack of concrete ideas or policies on Trudeau’s part? I’m not currently committed to any of the candidates, but it seems to me that having a totally unprepared to govern leader could be pretty damaging to the LPC in the long term. I don’t see how anyone could support someone who hasn’t stated clearly what his actual plans are, and I find it deeply disturbing that anyone would support Trudeau simply because he “could win.” What is the end-goal of this whole electoral government thing? To win the election? Or to govern competently?

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      sharonapple88 says:

      So, just to ask, is there a reason that you’ve never addressed the total lack of concrete ideas or policies on Trudeau’s part?

      Yeah, the lack of concrete ideas and policy were a problem in the NDP’s last leadership race too.

      “Thus far, Thomas Mulcair has done little to define his policy agenda or clarify his political beliefs. Perhaps he is taking a classic front-runner approach and trying to coast to the finish-line while avoiding anything controversial. His main economic policy plank (with very minimal details) is a cap and trade policy to address greenhouse gas emissions. His rhetoric and his background suggest that he is on the right wing of the NDP. Somewhat surprisingly he has not felt obligated to define his commitment to social democratic nostrums beyond policies on pensions and women’s equality. ”


      And it seemed to be a problem in the 2004 Conservative leadership race.

      “Consider what substitutes for policy debate and leadership self-promotion between Stronach and Harper. And we’re only going back two weeks in this outbreak of drive-by smears. ”
      – Don Martin


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      TalkToWolf says:

      To win ! It’s obvious that none of the parties adhere to a clear PURPOSE and set of PRINCIPLES for governing.

      The sole purpose and main task of politicians is to win and implement their ideological pol.ticies and to serve their ideological supporters.

      What really need is to get back to basics and demand that the sole purpose and main task of politicians is to serve “ALL” Canadians and to fight injustice.

      But the probability of that happening rests with “ALL” Canadians to demand such a PURPOSE of Government.

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    Sam Van Bergen says:

    Seems like the “gaggle of nobodies” are there to make the whole thing less a coronation – as a film director I know kids: “don’t disparage those extras!” But beyond the exploitable weakness of “supporters,” the whole change in political financing I think has been problematic for the Liberal Party. If the Cons can’t neutralize JT via the “surge” (why you didn’t require a minimum say $20 donation is beyond me – this would have raised money while ensuring only the truly insane would be fake Libs), you had better get to raising some serious cash to fight the attack ads and dirty tricks etc. As a music dude, you know it’s about shows and merchandise. JT tshirts anyone?

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    Patrick says:

    Really confusing post. I’m not sure I gathered the key take-aways from this.


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    Catherine says:


    A concerted effort before the March 3rd deadline

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      Publius says:

      Just imagine the ‘supporters’ with lots of time on their hands, like long-term prison inmates, voting; and even union members voting as a block after being instructed by their union bosses! And how about direction from the pulpit, temple or the mosque? Makes ya shudder how desperate Liberals are looking for votes.

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        bluegreenblogger says:

        Really? It makes you shudder does it, that the Liberal Party is attracting a LOT of new people to their ranks? Well I have some news for you. Elections are won by attracting supporters, not by exclusive clubs. Just look at what the Conservatives have done by attracting little homogeneous groups like Rural Long gun owners, religious fundamentalists, law and order freaks, etc etc. If large numbers of motivated people are joining the Liberal Party, then that spells a victory doesn’t it? These supporters are not going to disappear when the leadership race is over. Many will hang around and roll up their sleeves. Anyway, I have made my point, and have to get back to work now.

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          Publius says:

          I shudder at all the extremist creeps in all the parties trying to jerk the parties around for their neurotic needs. Thank God the leaders and party executives are well grounded and know what has to be done to be acceptable to the average voter in their quest for power.

          On second thought, I suppose the NDP executive and long time members must be shuddering over their Quebec vote and the extremist Quebec MPs overwhelming the NDP caucus.

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        Attack! says:

        This sounds like ‘Observant’ – making fantastic accusations from which he concluded how desperate the Liberals are.

        There’s only about 14,000 federal prisoners with sentences of 2 years or more in total http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/legal31p-eng.htm

        How many of those even have internet access? Really think the LPC’s done outreach to sign them up as supporters? Why would they: they’re in no position to be able to support the party financially and are unlikely to be tapped for campaigning even when they get out, and even though they’ve been able to vote since 2004, gee, that coincides with the steep decline in LPC support so would be unlikely to be targeted as a population worth the effort — particularly since they’re apt to be a very cynical and not particularly friendly bunch.

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          Publius says:

          Okay, so you disagree with what I wrote about federal prisoners, but can I assume you agree with the rest of my comments? It’s easy to pick one gaffe and then attempt to denigrate personally. Attack! yourself.

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            Attack! says:

            Um, no, ‘Publius,’ you *shouldn’t* assume from the fact that I didn’t bother to reply to *every* component of your straw man argument about how ‘desperate’ the LPC are for allegedly trying to capture captive audiences to become leadership supporters…. because it’s obvious how absurd and offensive (to them) it is to suggest that congregants and union members would most likely comply simply in virtue of being asked OR that their leadership would comply with the request TO ask them (esp. churches, since this would violate their charitable status by engaging in such overtly partisan activity; and unions are supposedly more aligned with the NDP federally).

            And if you’re NOT ‘Observant,’ the manic frequency & offensive tone of your posts suggest you suffer from a similar affliction as he does.

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    HolmesIV says:

    Interesting, Warren. Have read you a long time. I have become energized by the Liberal leadership race, and somewhat more likely to vote Liberal (you’ll have to run a good candidate in my riding though) as a result of the “supporter” system

    I agree it’s a bold gamble. But the idea of being able to vote for the leader without formally becoming a member of the party as long as we are not members of another party and assert our support of general Liberal Party principles is, I think, a good thing. Please keep in mind you’re dealing with an engaged, Tory-centric (though far from absolute; I’ve donated to the Liberals before, and voted Liberal both Federally and Provincially) family.

    I’ve signed up as a supporter and I am urging ten other members of my extended family to do so. Yes, the political consultant in you could say “Crap, darn Tory infiltrators” (except we all split Liberal/NDP/Tory). More likely to say that you’re actually engaging 7/10 non-Liberal people with the Liberal political process. That has value, even if our favoured candidate doesn’t win.

    The voting method is clever; rank candidates. Granted, if neither Takach (yes, make fun of me by all means, but he does seem to have a handle on where Canada is going economically, and appropriate contempt, like Garneau, for the fundamentally anti-conservative (and anti-liberal) Conservative Party Omnibus bills. Err… Granted, if neither Takach, nor Garneau nor Findlay make it… yeah, I admit it, I won’t be that enthused. But even then I will have paid attention to the Liberal Party, and its debates and its attempts to shift the Overton Window. (Which it seems to be working hard on on cannabis and the Indian Act).

    Oh and if it’s any consolation, most of the 10 members of my family will not be Takach supporters. They’ll probably vote for Trudeau. Doh. Still, I actually admire what the Liberal party has done here.

    It’s a ballsy move, but a plausible one.

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    bluegreenblogger says:

    I have to say that I totally disagree with the premise of this article. The supporter category is one of the most significant thing to happen in Canadian politics since the Conservatives created CIMS, their national database. I expected that there would be hundreds of thousands of new contacts added into Liberalist, and I haven’t been disappointed. The real key to the Conservatives success over the past decade has been their ability to segment the population, and communicate directly with the electorate, without resorting to the media as an interlocutor. Building an actionable database, complete with verifiable email addresses in such a short time is awesome. It paid off with a lot of brand new first time donors to the Liberal Party in 2012, (and I mean the Party, not the Leadership contestants), and as the numbers have grown massively since then, it will yield many hundreds of thousands of new dollars in 2013, maybe even into the millions. So it has been PROVEN to grow the pool of prospective donors. It grows the pool of prospective EDA executives, it grows the pool of prospective candidates, volunteers… In short, it is the perfect device for building up the ground game of the Liberal Party in leaps and bounds. I would go so far as to say that the supporter category should be extended, and new prerogatives should be granted supporters to keep them rolling into the database.
    I know it will make a lot of Liberals uncomfortable when Joyce Murray rakes in a huge number of votes from her Leadnow, and Fairvote supporters, but if you look beyond the moment, you will realise that what Joyce has delivered to Liberalist is an actionable database of some extremely well organised, and passionate issue advocates. If the Liberals can keep the ball rolling, and draw in more and more such data…. Can you think of anything that costs so little that can possibly rebuild the Liberal Party in time to win the 2015 general election? Neither can I.
    The very same thing that you decry, the ease of becoming a supporter makes it possible to ‘register’ literally millions of Canadians as Liberals. Do not underestimate the power of a voluntary association like that. When someone starts calling him/her self a Liberal, they are considerably more likely to show up to vote, or volunteer.

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      Publius says:

      The downside is if their preferred leader loses and they are turned off the Liberal party. Supporters should be viewed as fanatic fans, but only if their hero wins. I suppose you can look at it as a “love/hate” relationship, unless you can convert the losing supporters to supporters for the leader they didn’t vote for. Ah, the tangled web we weave.

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        bluegreenblogger says:

        Well, I am sure that supporters will fall away all the time. Lamenting the fact is kind of analogous to declining to earn more income, because you will have to pay taxes on the ‘extra’. Four steps forward, followed by one step back is still an unequivocable win.

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    Catherine says:

    Have an all candidates debate on cooperation.

    I hope that Joyce Murray does not benefit from this ‘cooperation’ without a full discussion for Liberal members. Members

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      bluegreenblogger says:

      I understand the instinct to fall back on the comforts of ‘accepted practice’, by restricting decision making to ‘members’, but I do not think there is something magical about ponying up $10 or $20 for a membership. I think that the Liberal Party has no choice but to be innovative, and work out processes to draw in very large numbers of new people in order to organise for the next General election. Joyce’s sources of support are relevant to the current race, but they are more significant in their implications for future growth and organising around other policy areas and prescriptions. Electoral co-operation is pretty far fetched if you ask me, but building her constituency into a Liberal campaign plank for, say, electoral reform with preferential ballots would be pretty smart move to build a large, dedicated, and totally NEW base of supporters for the Liberal Party. But I do not care whether or not that turns out to be the case for the Liberals. What I care about is that it will be pretty darned easy to do that in a whole lot of different policy areas with a supporter category to draw the names, and new Supporters in. I will be voting for Trudeau when the time comes, but that does not mean I am not observing with fascination how each campaign is leveraging the supporter category. There have been some pretty effective efforts made by more than just the Trudeau team.

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        Catherine says:

        Actually, we have a leadership race going on, why not have the debate?

        Fair and square?

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Why do I have a nagging urge to reach out and call Joe Clark? I understand he allegedly had an unfortunate experience with bus loads of “Instant” Tories a while back…

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    Publius says:

    If the Liberal leadership race voting system was truly democratic they would have 2 additional voting options together with the named candidates. (a) none of the above, and (b) a write-in name. Now wouldn’t that be interesting? 🙂

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    Marc-Andre Chiasson says:


    “The traditional delegate system tends to benefit well-organized candidates, particularly those who are long-time, established members. Under the delegate model, every riding sends the same number of voters at a leadership convention and so a candidate who can quickly lock up the key organizers in ridings can often win a leadership contest.

    The commission’s report found, ”this process often leads to too much power being concentrated in the hands of too few party members.”

    There was a concern that a full one-member, one-vote system would benefit areas of the province where the party is very strong. The commission said it worried, while arguably more inclusive, the one-member, one-vote system could lead to “alienating smaller ridings” or it could cause “the unintentional regionalization of the party.”

    Instead, the commission is recommending that the party membership adopt a weighted one-member, one-vote system that uses a preferential ballot.

    In this system, every riding will be assigned a specific number of points and a preferential ballot.

    When the ballots are first cast, leadership candidates will get the percentage share of the points based on the number of votes they get. If no candidate gets 50 per cent of the ballots, the candidate who had the fewest votes is dropped off the list.

    Then that candidate’s votes are gone over again and the votes for the second choice are reassigned. The process continues until one candidate has 50 per cent of the vote.”

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    K says:

    “in a textbook case of the sort of mass psychosis that occasionally seizes otherwise sensible politicos”

    Sorry, I’ve suffered temporary psychosis and can’t recall which event you wrote this in reference to, but I’ll assume you’re describing the public face of JT’s support base (-:

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