Garneau’s exit brings Trudeau closer to federal Liberal Party leadership

Justin Trudeau has already been anointed the next leader of the Liberal Party by one of his main rivals in the race, all the while winning a crucial extension in his efforts to allow supporters to register for next month’s vote.

Mr. Trudeau obtained the support on Wednesday of Marc Garneau, the Liberal MP and former astronaut who failed to translate his widespread public notoriety into a successful bid. “I cannot mathematically win,” he said as he announced his exit from the race.

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The shakeup has thrust Liberal MP Joyce Murray – and her controversial plan for increased co-operation with the NDP and the Green Party – into a possible second-place finish in the leadership race that will end on April 14. In that context, the idea of a deal with the opposition can be expected to survive within party ranks in the leadup to the 2015 general election and possibly later, depending on the results.

The Liberal Party agreed to a request from the Trudeau camp to extend the Thursday deadline by which party members and supporters could register to vote in the race. At of the start of this week, less than a third of the party’s nearly 300,000 signed-up supporters and members had taken the supplementary step of registering to vote, creating a potentially embarrassing situation for the party.

Some Liberal officials argued the registration period should last as long as possible but, in the end, they decided to allow just one more week with a new deadline set for March 21.

Other candidates, including Ms. Murray, opposed extending the deadline – a move that was perceived as working in Mr. Trudeau’s favour. Ms. Murray said in a statement that she accepted the party’s decision. But she warned that changing the rules “at this late stage has inherent risks, particularly when only one of the campaigns asserts that changes need to be made.”

There are seven remaining candidates in the race, but as he announced his exit, Mr. Garneau said that Mr. Trudeau holds a commanding lead over all rivals, pointing to a poll of 50,000 party supporters that netted 6,000 answers. Mr. Garneau said that Mr. Trudeau received 72-per-cent support, well ahead of himself (15 per cent), Ms. Murray (7.4 per cent) and former Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay (5.2 per cent).

While he was in the race, Mr. Garneau was critical of Mr. Trudeau’s lack of experience and dearth of policy proposals. As he left the race, however, Mr. Garneau said that Mr. Trudeau had “risen to the occasion” and showed clear leadership skills.

Ms. Murray, however, disputed the results of Mr. Garneau’s poll, stating the numbers came from an unreliable robo-call and that the race is still wide open.

Meanwhile, Canada’s largest seniors’ advocacy group says it has been snubbed by Mr. Trudeau, who is the lone candidate not attending its coming leadership forum. “It’s a sense of entitlement,” Susan Eng, CARP’s vice-president of advocacy, said of his refusal to attend the March 20 event in Toronto.

“You might think you will run away with the leadership but, you know what? You are still the third party,” she said. “And if you want to become government again, you are going to need our people and do you really want to blow us off?”

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