02/02/2013 13:06 EST | Updated 04/04/2013 05:12 EDT

Federal Liberals opt for interviews over leadership debate

Nine federal Liberal leadership candidates met in Winnipeg on Saturday in what the party called a "Davos-style" format, where each candidate had to answer specific questions put to them by the moderator.

Former Liberal candidate Harvey Locke, who ran and lost in the Calgary byelection to Conservative Joan Crockatt last November, conducted the one-on-one interviews before a sold-out crowd of 400 Liberal supporters.

The nine candidates vying for the party's top job are MPs Marc Garneau, Joyce Murray and Justin Trudeau, former MPs Martin Cauchon and Martha Hall Findlay, lawyers David Bertschi, Deborah Coyne and George Takach, and retired Lt.-Col. Karen McCrimmon.

The candidates answered questions submitted by Liberals in the region with themes ranging from agriculture and rural issues, transportation, foreign ownership, crime prevention and export of natural resources.

The party described the question-and-answer session as an opportunity for the candidates "to introduce themselves to the public early on in the debate process."

Several Idle No More protesters briefly interrupted proceedings and one banged a drum, asking if aboriginal people were the first item on the agenda. One protester told reporters they didn't feel respected because aboriginal issues were not a theme of the meeting.

Nik Nanos, president and CEO of Nanos Research, told CBC News this format may trigger "a first round of dropouts from the race — because if one cannot do well in this candidate-friendly format, then you are likely to be a weak candidate."

And while this format lacked the media appeal as a debate, Nanos said it gives Liberal supporters a chance to "size up" the candidates a little more closely.

According to Nanos, "there will be increasing pressure to narrow the field to bring greater focus on candidates with the greatest likelihood to win the leadership."

Overall fundraising efforts will play a role in determining how long a candidate can afford to stay in the race for.

Trudeau currently leads the pack in fundraising efforts with $673,156.53 in donations from individuals up to the end of December 2012, according to Elections Canada data.

Running a distant second is Martha Hall Findlay with $149,77.45, followed by Marc Garneau with $122, 616.11. The others are as follows:

- George Takach: $106,233.00 (9.2%)

- Joyce Murray: $56,554.06 (4.9%)

- Karen McCrimmon: $20,275.00 (1.8%)

- Deborah Coyne: $16,355.00 (1.4%)

In total, the candidates had raised $1,153,535.11 by the end of December.

Liberal leadership hopefuls will debate each other next in Toronto on Feb. 16.

A new leader will be chosen on April 14 in Ottawa.