The next Liberal leadership contest will be a real race, says party president Mike Crawley.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Crawley said he had already met with six or seven prospective candidates, including former and sitting MPs, discussing the rules for the race.
“They want to know what they are getting into and whether they can be competitive,” Crawley said.
The party has established a rules and expense committee that is expected to report in late June or early July on deadlines and spending limits.
The party’s board of directors will also decide in early June whether or not interim Liberal leader Bob Rae will be allowed to run, and if so, whether or not he’ll need to step down and when he'll have to declare his intentions.
Rae is widely believed to be after the leadership, despite taking the interim position on the condition that he would not use it as a platform to campaign for the permanent top job. Other prospective candidates have expressed concerns that, due to his position, Rae would have an unfair advantage in the race.
The board will also set a date for the race or narrow the window currently set to between March and June 2013.
“The goal of all of this is to create a certain level of certainty so any prospective candidates can, before the summer begins, … have an understanding of what the rules are, what the landscape is and make a decision on whether they’ll come forward as a candidate,” Crawley said.
On the one-year anniversary of their crushing electoral defeat, the Liberal Party is announcing Wednesday a new effort to connect with Canadians and make the party more relevant, financially sound and electable.
The Grits are creating a new category of support, so-called 'Liberal supporters,’ who will be able to vote during next year’s leadership race.
Any Canadian who isn’t a member of another political party and is interested in the Liberals will be encouraged to sign up. The party will start communicating with their supporters, asking them for feedback and collecting information in order to improve Liberalist, a voter identification database that is weaker than the Conservatives’ and NDPs’ and could allow the party to engage in targeted campaigns and fundraising drives.
Crawley said the goal is not to get people’s information to immediately bombard them with fundraising requests, but to build a relationship of trust and find potential donors down the line.
“The idea is to make this as unintimidating as possible. We’re not looking to get every data point on an individual, we are looking to kind of get as many contacts and begin building a relationship. It’s like any human relationship,” Crawley said.
People don’t want to be part of political parties anymore, he added, saying this was an innovative way to bring people who don’t want to be members and activists within the party fold.
Many delegates at the Liberal convention in January, where the idea of supporters was first discussed and voted on, raised concerns that their party could be swarmed by political rivals seeking to influence the outcome of a leadership race.
Crawley confirmed the party has no way of verifying whether a Liberal supporter who pledges they have no membership with another party is telling the truth
“We rely on them saying that they are not a member of another political party,” he said. But, he added, it is a lot easier to hijack a political party with a few thousand members than to hijack a movement with who knows how many supporters.
Now that the party is in third place, Crawley said, it needs experiment and take risks in order to rebuild. If few Canadians join as Liberal supporters it wont' be the end of the world, he suggested.
“The party’s goal is to ensure there is a robust, dynamic, open, competitive, transparent leadership contest with multiple candidates that will both engage Canadians through the supporters category or class but also have a very vigorous debate about ideas and about the direction of the party going forward.”