OTTAWA - Former cabinet minister Martin Cauchon is making a late entry into the already crowded federal Liberal leadership race.
Cauchon submitted his nomination papers and $75,000 entry fee just hours before the party's registration deadline of midnight Sunday.
Assuming everything is in order and is verified by the party in the next day or two, Cauchon will become the ninth candidate seeking to lead the once-mighty party out of the political wilderness.
He is expected to officially launch his campaign later in the week, just in time for Sunday's first leadership debate in Vancouver.
Cauchon, who as justice minister spearheaded the move to decriminalize marijuana and legalize same-sex marriage, will likely position himself as a champion of progressive Liberalism amid a leadership field that has so far shown a pronounced rightward tilt.
He waded into the fray before Christmas, blasting front-runner Justin Trudeau for calling the Chretien-era long-gun registry a failure and urging leadership contenders to have the "backbone" to stick with traditional Liberal principles.
Cauchon retired from politics in 2004; his attempt at a comeback in 2011 in his old Montreal riding of Outremont was thwarted by Tom Mulcair, now NDP leader.
He will be the third candidate from Quebec in the current contest, along with Trudeau and fellow Montreal MP Marc Garneau, Canada's first astronaut.
The other candidates who've been officially confirmed by the party are: Vancouver MP Joyce Murray, former Toronto MP Martha Hall Findlay, Toronto lawyers George Takach and Deborah Coyne, retired Canadian Forces officer Karen McCrimmon and Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi.
Cauchon's last-minute entry could prove problematic. Trudeau, who launched his campaign in early October, is widely perceived to have a huge head start, both in terms of fundraising and recruiting supporters. The others have been stumping the country, drumming up support, since at least November.
Murray, who advocates one-time electoral co-operation with the NDP and Greens, has already established herself as the lone left-wing voice and has garnered support from some prominent progressive Liberals, such as former cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy.
However, Cauchon is a respected figure in the party, particularly among Chretien loyalists, and still has time to make his mark during five crucial debates.
The contest will culminate with the election of a new leader on April 14.