11/14/2012 02:29 EST | Updated 01/14/2013 05:12 EST

Liberals can't be everything to everyone: leader candidate Martha Hall Findlay

CALGARY - Former MP Martha Hall Findlay has announced her candidacy for the federal Liberal leadership, saying the party has to stop trying to be all things to all people.

Hall Findlay, 53, with a backdrop of red and white balloons, chose to make her announcement Wednesday in Calgary — a move she called symbolic.

"Of course it's symbolic. I hope that people notice that I made a point of launching this campaign here in Calgary for that very reason," Hall Findlay said. "The national party needs to become a national party once again."

She said the Liberals must show courage if they are to win back respect and regain power.

"The Liberal party proved in the 1990s that it had the guts to do what was right — fiscally and economically," she said of the deficit-cutting government of the day. "It was tough, but it was right. And we must show that kind of courage again.

"The Liberal party must have the courage to no longer try to be everything to everyone. We must stand for what we believe is right."

Hall Findlay, who also sought the party's top job in 2006, is the second high-profile candidate this time around. She came forward on the first official day of the leadership campaign.

"In 2006 there were some who questioned my run for leadership. But soon most were calling it gutsy. Before long people were coming up to me all the time to say how much I inspired them," Hall Findlay said.

"We need to take on (NDP Leader) Thomas Mulcair right where it counts and where he's the weakest — the economy. We need to take on (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper, take the fight to him, not just wait and react defensively to the next round of attack ads."

Hall Findlay joins Justin Trudeau, who announced his candidacy six weeks ago, and five others so far. They are Toronto lawyer Deborah Coyne, Vancouver Crown prosecutor Alex Burton, Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi, David Merner, former president of the party's British Columbia wing, and retired military officer Karen McCrimmon, who also made her announcement Wednesday.

"Allow me to say I told you so," said Trudeau at an event at the University of Toronto on the eve of Hall Findlay's much-anticipated announcement.

"I told you there'd be a lot of very strong candidates getting into this race that were going to bring forward tremendous ideas," he said.

"We're going to have a great debate about where the Liberal party needs to go with voices from across the country — people who know the Liberal party matters in this country."

Hall Findlay positioned herself as an "intelligent" candidate who graduated from high school at 15, became a lawyer and worked on international business deals. But she said she also has experience as a hard-working mom who knows the value of a hotdog cut up into Kraft Dinner.

Her first political success was in the Toronto riding of Willowdale, where she won in a federal byelection on March 17, 2008. She was re-elected in the general election later that year, but lost her seat in the 2011 vote. Hall Findlay said she would like to run in Willowdale again.

Hall Findlay was the first declared candidate in the Liberal leadership race to succeed former prime minister Paul Martin in 2006. She was eliminated from the first ballot and threw her support behind eventual winner Stéphane Dion.

Dion stepped down after the Liberals failed to win the next election in 2008 and was replaced by Michael Ignatieff. He, too, resigned after the Liberals were reduced to rump status in the 2011 vote.

Bob Rae has been interim leader since and is not entering the leadership race.

A University of Lethbridge political scientist said having Hall Findlay in the race is good news for the party.

"They need a contested election. They cannot afford a coronation," said Peter McCormick.

"That's the quickest way to put an untested Justin Trudeau into the maw of a federal general election, which is a rather horrific place to be if you don't have the right kind of experience. A leadership race would be the beginning of that kind of test for him."

McCormick suggested Hall Findlay's chances of winning are slim, but added "you can never tell when lightning might strike."

He said she is more likely to be concerned about making sure that certain issues and ideas will be "illuminated and discussed" during the leadership campaign.

"She's run before. She's a connection with the past. She's a recognized name within a corner of the party and she speaks for a set of issues and policies she wants to make sure is addressed during the leadership race."

Hall Findlay has brought in Stephen Carter, credited with some notable successes over the last couple of years, to run her campaign. He successfully steered Naheed Nenshi to the Calgary mayor's chair two years ago when there were other candidates with a higher profile, and he ran the leadership and provincial election campaigns for Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

Carter has sent out a number of tweets in recent days critical of Trudeau, whom he called "too shallow" to be leader.

Hall Findlay said she has "great respect for Justin," but wasn't about to concede defeat despite polls showing Trudeau's popularity.

"When was the last time polls were right at the beginning of a campaign?" she asked.

"Sorry but I just don't have a lot of faith in polls and I really don't have a lot of faith in a poll that is done at the beginning of November in 2012 when the next federal election is not for another 2 1/2 years."

McCormick said Hall Findlay's choice of Calgary to announce her candidacy is an interesting one since the city isn't known as a Liberal stronghold. Trudeau also held his first major campaign event in Calgary after announcing his candidacy in his home riding in Montreal.

"Justin Trudeau has started a new fad for Liberals. You come out and demonstrate that even here in the desert I can find some water."

Wednesday's official start of the leadership race was a low-key affair. The party issued a brief statement and released a video on its website that advises people that participating in the leadership contest is "as easy as 1-2-3." Sign up, register, vote.

For the first time, the party is allowing anyone willing to sign on as a supporter — not just fee-paying, card-carrying members — to vote for the next leader.

"It is a complete page-turner for the federal Liberal party," president Mike Crawley said in an interview.

"We've said we're going to make it as easy as possible and open the doors up as wide as possible, far wider than any other party does."

More than 30,000 Canadians had already signed up as supporters by the end of September, even before candidates started declaring themselves. Crawley said that number has risen slowly but steadily since.

The party also announced Wednesday that it plans to hold five leadership debates across the country: Jan. 20 in Vancouver, Feb. 2 in Winnipeg, Feb. 16 in the Toronto area, March 3 in Halifax and March 23 in Montreal.

A final "showcase event" for candidates is set for April 6 in Toronto to kick off a week of voting. The results are to be announced April 14 in Ottawa.

- With files from Joan Bryden in Ottawa