OTTAWA - Vancouver MP Joyce Murray is joining the federal Liberal leadership contest with a daring call for co-operation with other progressive parties in the next election to ensure defeat of Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

Murray says she believes Liberals, New Democrats and Greens should have the option of conducting run-off nominations to choose a single candidate in tightly contested ridings where a united progressive front would guarantee defeat of the ruling Tories.

She is the first contender to broach the controversial idea, which is consistent with her broader pitch that she is a collaborative politician who brings unique perspectives and attributes to the race.

"One of the things that I bring is just the full spectrum of the Canadian experience," the 58-year-old told The Canadian Press in an interview shortly before officially announcing her leadership campaign Monday.

"I'm an immigrant (from South Africa), a woman, a mother who went back to school while building a business ... and then I pull that together in a way that is typical of women, which is working with people, collaborating, co-operating, finding a way forward and then delivering."

Murray noted she is also the only contender so far with any decision-making experience in government, having served as a cabinet minister in British Columbia.

She said her background leaves her uniquely positioned to balance environmental sustainability and economic growth. She's a former environment minister, but also a successful businesswoman, who co-founded with her husband a reforestation company that now employs 600 full-time and 600 part-time employees in five countries and which planted its billionth tree last year.

At a news conference to launch her campaign, Murray also touted her credentials as a westerner, although she would not directly slag leadership front-runner Justin Trudeau for a two-year-old television interview in which he lamented the sorry state of the country when run by Albertans rather than Quebecers.

"I am not planning to give the Conservatives their next three or four attack ads in this campaign," she said, adding that she doesn't accept the notion that the race will be a boring coronation unless contenders are "tackling each other in the boxing ring."

Still, Murray criticized the party for its history of choosing leaders who hail either from Quebec or Ontario.

"That is part of the old culture of the party that has led us into the trouble our party is in today. So those kinds of ideas have to change. It's insulting to the 15-20 million Canadians that don't live in Ontario or Quebec."

Murray is decidedly to the left of most other leadership contenders, who've been positioning themselves as business-friendly, "blue" Liberals.

She's an unapologetic advocate of legal marijuana and an ardent environmentalist who favours a carbon tax, although she's open to suggestions of better ways to put a price on carbon.

But her proposal for co-operation with other parties is bound to be the most controversial.

Murray sees the idea as a way to get rid of the Tories and start serious reform of the first-past-the-post electoral system to ensure future elections more accurately reflect each party's popular vote.

The current system is not only unrepresentative, she said it "rewards demonizing other parties, it rewards dirty tricks in elections, it rewards toxic, polarized, divisive behaviour in Parliament and it's turning Canadians off.

"If our electoral system is broken, we need to have a conversation about what's more suitable for Canada. But clearly, we are never going to have that conversation with Stephen Harper in the driver's seat."

To make sure Harper is ejected, she said progressive voters need to be able to unite behind a single candidate in some ridings.

Murray wouldn't impose the idea of co-operation; she'd ask Liberals to endorse it at their next convention, then leave it to local riding associations to decide whether to use it or not. It would be a one-time tactic only for the 2015 election.

She stressed she is not proposing a merger with the NDP or any other party.

Still, Murray's openness to co-operation with other parties is risky. It's bound to spark a backlash from some Liberals who believe it's a defeatist admission that the party can't beat the Tories on its own.

Rival contender David Bertschi immediately denounced the proposal as sacrificing "Liberal values for political expediency." The Ottawa lawyer said a Liberal party led by him would run a full slate of candidates.

But the proposal could also help set Murray apart from the pack chasing presumed front-runner Trudeau, who is widely thought to have a huge head start in the race.

Trudeau rejected the idea of co-operation with other parties, saying in Montreal Monday evening that he intends to run Liberal candidates in every riding if he's elected leader.

Even if Liberals were to embrace the idea, however, there's no guarantee the NDP and Greens would be willing to go along. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has adamantly ruled out any co-operation with Liberals, although Green Leader Elizabeth May has been more open to the notion.

On other issues, Murray said:

— "We have to put a price on carbon, there's no way around that." She said B.C.'s carbon tax has proved to be an effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without hurting the economy but "if there is a better way, I'm open to it."

That said, Murray added she doesn't see tax as a dirty word. "When we talk about tax as if tax is a four-letter word, I disagree. ... It's a tool for accomplishing the goals of society and protecting the public interest."

— She supports continued development of Alberta's oil sands, although "they have to be developed in a more sustainable way."

— She supports a pipeline to move Alberta's energy resources to eastern Canada. But she's opposed to two pipeline proposals to move unrefined oil sands bitumen through B.C. for shipment to China.

"I think that those pipelines represent a huge investment and long-term commitment to a bad business model," since it relies on subsidized oil sands development in an environmentally unsustainable manner and amounts to exporting the value-added refinery jobs.

— She favours legalizing marijuana. "Why do we want to put more young people in jail for a cannabis offence? Why do we want to continue supporting it being controlled and regulated by criminals? I think it's time to legalize marijuana, regulate it, control it, tax it."

— She would, as prime minister, ensure women were appointed to at least 40 per cent of the positions on federal agencies, boards and commissions, including the federal cabinet.

Murray joins a crowded field of contenders, including Trudeau, Bertschi, former Toronto MP Martha Hall Findlay, Toronto lawyer Deborah Coyne, retire Canadian Forces Lt.-Col. Karen McCrimmon, Vancouver prosecutor Alex Burton and David Merner, former president of the party's B.C. wing.

Montreal MP Marc Garneau, is set to join the contest Wednesday, while Toronto lawyer George Takach is to follow Thursday. Ontario government economist Jonathan Mousley is still hoping to enter if he can raise the stiff, $75,000 entry fee.

So far, only Trudeau and Coyne have officially registered as candidates, filed the required nomination papers and paid the first of three $25,000 instalments on the entry fee.

Related on HuffPost:

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  • Liberal Leadership Race 2013

    Here are the remaining candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

  • Justin Trudeau

    Age: 40 Occupation: MP for Montreal-area riding of Papineau <a href="http://justin.ca/en/">Website</a>

  • Joyce Murray

    Age: 58 Occupation: Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra, former B.C. Liberal environment minister <a href="http://joycemurray.liberal.ca/">Website</a>

  • Martha Hall Findlay

    Age: 53 Occupation: Former Liberal MP for Willowdale and 2006 leadership candidate <a href="http://www.marthahallfindlay.ca/">Website</a>

  • Martin Cauchon

    Age: 50 Occupation: Lawyer, former Montreal Liberal MP <a href="http://martincauchon.ca/">Website</a>

  • Deborah Coyne

    Age: 57 Occupation: Lawyer, professor <a href="http://www.deborahcoyne.ca/">Website</a>

  • Karen McCrimmon

    Occupation: A retired Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian forces and mediator. <a href="http://karenforcanada.ca/" target="_hplink">Website</a>


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  • Here are the 6 things you need to know about the<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/liberal-leadership-race"> Liberal leadership race for 2013</a>.

  • 6. The Dates

    The Liberal Party of Canada will hold an all-candidate showcase on April 6, 2013 in Toronto to kick off a week of voting before announcing the new leader on April 14 in Ottawa. Whoever wins will the seventh leader for the party 10 years.

  • 5. Who’s Running

    There are at least eight people challenging Justin Trudeau for the title. They are: defeated Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay, lawyer and former professor Deborah Coyne (also the mother of Trudeau’s half sister), lawyer and failed Ottawa-area Liberal candidate David Bertschi, prosecutor and Vancouver Kingsway Liberal riding association president Alex Burton, the former head of the federal Liberals in B.C. David Merner and retired air force pilot and unsuccessful Ottawa-area candidate Karen McCrimmon. B.C. Liberal MP Joyce Murray and Montreal Liberal MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau are expected to announce their bids next week, sources tell HuffPost. Ontario Ministry of Finance economist Jonathan Mousley has also sent emails telling reporters he is considering a run, but has not officially declared his candidacy. So far, the party hasn’t officially registered anyone’s name. Some candidates, such as Bertschi, are still collecting the 300 signatures needed in three provinces and/or territories in order to enter the race.

  • 4. Drop Outs Expected

    The party expects for candidates to drop out before debates begin in late January and had made it easy for them to do so. Liberal Party President Mike Crawley told The Huffington Post Canada the party designed a three- stage payment structure for the non-refundable $75,000 entrance fee in order to make it “really easy” for weak candidates to drop out. “The whole idea was to allow more candidates to come forward and test the waters and then as the second and third payments come up, I think candidates will see how much money they raised and whether they have the support, and they may or may not decide to continue,” Crawley said. “It is very deliberate to encourage a lot of interest at the beginning but to narrow it down to those who are serious as we begin the debates.” Candidates must hand over $25,000 the day they officially register. Those who have registered must pay another $25,000 on Dec. 15, 2012 and a third and final instalment of $25,000 on January 13, 2013. That is also the last day for any candidate to join the race. As for the debates, the first will be held in Vancouver on Jan. 20. Other dates include: Feb. 2 in Winnipeg, Feb. 16 in the Greater Toronto Area, March 3 in Halifax and March 23 in Montreal. The party executive has yet to decide on the debate format.

  • 3. Staying In The Black

    The Liberal Party might charge you to attend a debate, their showcase in Toronto on April 6 or the announcement in Ottawa on April 14. Charging admission — especially for debates — is another controversial point the party’s executive still hasn’t decided on. Liberal insiders say this is nothing new, the party charged delegates $995 to participate in the 2006 leadership selection in Montreal and charged $25 for the public to attend candidates debates. Former Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, an organizer with Trudeau’s campaign, told HuffPost he hopes the party won’t charge people even a nominal fee to attend the debates. “I understand the desire of charging a fee for a service, but we are in the business of proposing to lead a country and generating excitement about our ideas and proposals and we need to make it as accessible as possible.” While, Crawley stressed no decision has been made, he said the party is looking at cost recovery options to fund the showcase, the announcement and all the debates. Since this is also the first non-delegate convention, the party is grappling with need to keep costs low. The party fears the candidates’ registration fee and the 10 per cent levy on all the money raised during the campaign may not be enough to keep the party in the black during this five-month race.

  • 2. Dirty Tricks Possible With ‘Supporters’?

    For the first time, Liberals are inviting non-members to vote for leader. But some in the party believe these supporters should still have to pay to cast a ballot. The party created a “supporter” category at their last convention in January 2012 that allows anyone who is interested in the Liberals to pledge their support online and vote for the national leader in April. So far, 30,000 people have signed up to be supporters. The supporter category is controversial. Some party members suggest only serious devoted Liberals should be allowed to cast a ballot and members and supporters should have to pay to vote in the race. Although the rules say a fee could be applied, Liberal Party President Mike Crawley told The Huffington Post Canada he is staunchly opposed to the idea. “This is not something that I support,” he said flatly Tuesday. “I would be surprised if we end up putting a fee on voting.” But some candidates, such as B.C.’s Joyce Murray, see value in having a nominal fee attached to a vote as a way of ensuring only genuine supporters cast a ballot. She also doesn’t think $5 will discourage anyone who wants to vote from doing so. “I think the principle of ensuring that supporters are real genuine supporters it is an important one and I leave it to the board to qualify supporters to ensure that our intention, which is that those are people who are genuinely in support of the Liberal Party, is what we are getting,” she told HuffPost Wednesday. Murray said that when the party opened up its leadership race, people understood there was a risk that some people from “for example the Conservative Party” would sign up as supporters in order to try to influence the outcome. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/robocalls-scandal">The Tories, who are currently defending themselves from allegations that they purposefully misdirected voters to non-existent polling stations</a>, are not above such tricks, she said. “It wouldn’t be surprising if they would have a concerted, strategic, co-ordinated attempt to change the outcome of this race. So we have to be practical and we have to have measures that as best as possible ensure that won’t happen,” she said.

  • 1. Supporters Could Be Denied The Vote

    Even if you sign up to be a supporter, you could still be denied the ability to vote. The Liberals are looking at ways of verifying that supporters are who they say they are. The aim is to ensure supporters live where they say they do (the votes are weighted by electoral district) and that they are not a member of another political party. Crawley said the party is not sure yet how they are going to verify everyone’s identify and their party affiliation. He said the party will ask supporters to register and to supply additional information but declined to elaborate. The party’s executive has until March 17 to decide on registration procedures.