10/09/2012 09:59 EDT | Updated 10/09/2012 11:03 EDT

Liberal Leadership Candidates: Can Anyone Challenge Trudeau?


Justin Trudeau is in, but who will take the plunge along with him?

Trudeau’s run for the Liberal leadership has whittled down the list of other interested candidates. At this stage, it appears unlikely that the 2013 leadership convention will have as impressive a line-up as the 2006 version. A poll released last week by Harris-Decima for The Canadian Press showed that Trudeau was head and shoulders above all other potential candidates, with 36 per cent of Canadians saying they would be certain or likely to vote Liberal with him at the helm.

Certainly, polls of all Canadians this early in the contest have only so much to say. But Thomas Mulcair led in every NDP leadership poll and went on to win.

Marc Garneau, Liberal MP for a Montreal riding and former astronaut, is likely to be the main adversary to Trudeau. He managed 18 per cent in the Harris-Decima poll. He has expressed his willingness to run despite Trudeau’s front-runner status. If the race does indeed end up being a face-off between Garneau and Trudeau it could be a boon to the Liberal Party’s fortunes in Quebec, though both have higher profiles nationwide than they do among francophones in the province.

While Garneau is unlikely to build the kind of momentum that Trudeau now enjoys, he could be a compromise candidate if Trudeau does not perform as some Liberals hope. Stéphane Dion and Dalton McGuinty both won their party’s leadership unexpectedly. Garneau could grow into the role as McGuinty did, but he does not seem to be the kind of leader who could pull the party out of its third-place position. He has the personality to instead run a principled, reasonable centrist party that could play a similar role to that of the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom.

Mark Carney placed third in the Harris-Decima poll with 16 per cent of Canadians saying they would be certain or likely to vote for a Carney-led Liberal Party, but there is no real indication that he is actually interested in the job. If he did decide to run he would be a strong contender, but his low score in this poll suggests he is not the juggernaut that some have made him out to be.

Denis Coderre, at 15 per cent, placed fourth in the poll but is far more likely to be a candidate for the mayoralty of Montreal. A recent survey put him as the front-runner in the city’s next election, and with the problems that Gérald Tremblay is currently having with the Charbonneau corruption inquiry the timing is perfect for Coderre to swoop-in as the city’s saviour.

Behind these four was Gerard Kennedy, who ran unsuccessfully in the 2006 leadership race. He had a higher profile at the time, having just resigned as an up-and-coming cabinet minister in Ontario’s government. He is now a defeated MP with low visibility, but he could be another compromise candidate if he decides to run.

David McGuinty, Martha Hall Findlay, Martin Cauchon and Joyce Murray — all potential candidates — did more poorly in Harris-Decima’s poll and, if any of them do run, they will need to impress a lot of people to have a chance. But they are all capable of challenging Trudeau and giving members an alternative choice to Garneau.

More candidates may emerge from the woodwork as the official launch of the race in mid-November approaches. But with the list of quality candidates shrinking — not growing — the odds are very good that Trudeau will retain his front-runner status straight through to April.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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