03/08/2013 11:57 EST

Justin Trudeau On Track For For First Ballot Win In Liberal Leadership Race


The fat lady can start warming up her vocal chords.

About 294,000 Canadians have signed up to vote for the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Justin Trudeau’s campaign claims as many as 170,000 are his supporters — an assertion that no other campaign dares refute.

If Trudeau’s team has gathered that many supporters, it puts him at 60 per cent of the total and on track for an easy first ballot win. But the math is not as simple as that. Among those 294,000 eligible voters are an undefined number of members and supporters. The former are paid members of the party who can likely be counted on to vote, while the latter were able to sign-up for free and may be less committed. As the party did not announce how many members the Liberals now have, one can safely assume the vast majority of new sign-ups are supporters.

This is not necessarily something the Liberal Party should be ashamed of. It seems that the campaigns were focusing primarily on signing-up supporters rather than members, as they have the same voting rights when it comes to choosing the leader. Those supporters can be transformed into members at a later date. For a political party, having the names, phone numbers, and/or email addresses of almost 300,000 supporters is money in the bank.

However, the party could be setting itself up for a disappointing turnout rate for the leadership vote. The New Democrats had 130,000 members eligible to vote in their leadership race, but only about half of them casted a ballot. It might be too much to expect even that level of turnout for the Liberals due to the new supporter category. Still, it seems likely they will at least have more ballots cast in their leadership race than the NDP did in theirs.

But unlike the NDP race, in which votes were equally weighted, Liberal contestants may care more about where the votes come from than the overall number. Each riding in the country carries the same weight, so the 82 members and supporters in Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, as reported by The Globe and Mail’s Daniel Leblanc, are just as important to each candidate as the 5,300 voters in Newton-North Delta.

According to that report, British Columbia has more eligible voters than the much larger Quebec. On the face of it, that would seem to give Joyce Murray a boost. She is a B.C. MP and her co-operation plan is similar to what Nathan Cullen, also an MP from British Columbia, was proposing during the NDP leadership race. But B.C. has only 36 ridings, whereas Quebec has 75. Even Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba together have 56 and will carry more weight than B.C.

That makes the small number of eligible voters in these three Prairie provinces worth their weight in gold. With fewer Liberals to sway, the endorsements Justin Trudeau has received from MPs Ralph Goodale and Kevin Lamoureux, as well as that of Jon Gerrard (leader of the Manitoba Liberals), could come in handy.

It will make winning the ground game incredibly important. Marc Garneau and Martin Cauchon might not have a chance of winning Trudeau’s Papineau riding (where there are more than 2,000 eligible voters), but they can take a run at a Quebec riding like Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, which is worth just as much. Nevertheless, they still face an uphill battle. They may have a shot at ridings with few members, but the 2,000+ supporters in Papineau can be put to good use by the Trudeau campaign elsewhere on the island of Montreal. Team Trudeau already command a team of volunteers undoubtedly larger than the number of supporters some of the campaigns have signed-up.

The rules of the leadership vote will level the playing field somewhat, and make it possible for some contestants to shine if they perform well in some regions. Even so, there seems to be little question that Trudeau will win.

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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