The race for the Liberal leadership has so far been a cakewalk for the charismatic MP with the prime ministerial pedigree – and it became just that much easier Wednesday when Marc Garneau, one of the top contenders in what is becoming a field of also-rans, bowed out.
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But Mr. Trudeau has not won any fans at CARP, the national non-profit organization that works on the behalf of older Canadians. He is alone among the candidates in refusing to attend a leadership forum that the group has organized to help its members get acquainted with the people who want to lead the federal Liberal party.
“It’s a sense of entitlement,” Susan Eng, CARP’s vice-president of advocacy, said Wednesday.
CARP, a non-partisan organization, routinely holds events of this sort during political contests. There was a forum during the Toronto mayoralty race, during the Ontario election, and during the last federal election. The group has also had events with Alice Wong, the Conservative Minister for Seniors, Thomas Mulcair, the federal NDP Leader, and Dwight Duncan, the former Ontario finance minister.
Normally, politicians and candidates are eager to attend because older Canadians are politically engaged and they turn out to vote, said Ms. Eng.
So it was only natural, she said, that CARP’s members wanted to hear from the Liberal leadership hopefuls. And she organized a forum for early afternoon in Toronto on March 20, the same day that all of the candidates would be in town to attend an evening fundraiser for the Liberal party called the Ontario Heritage Dinner.
“The other campaigns leaped right in,” said Ms. Eng.
As for Mr. Trudeau, she said, “right from the outset he said, ‘oh yah yah, tell us what to do, sure we will try to fit you in blah blah blah.’” But, even though Mr. Trudeau will be at the Heritage Dinner, Ms. Eng said his campaign team has now called to say he will not be at the CARP forum.
When asked why he would not take part, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trudeau said: “The Liberal party developed a robust schedule for this race of five all-candidates debates. Justin’s campaign includes a full schedule that was built some time ago around that existing debate schedule.”
Ms. Eng said obviously CARP would have liked to have a “marquis” name like Justin Trudeau at the forum but it will still proceed with the other candidates. And she has a message for the man who won’t be there: “You might think you will run away with the leadership but, you know what? You are still the third party. And if you want to become government again, you are going to need our people and do you really want to blow us off.”