A race for the top job in the federal Liberal party gained momentum on Friday as rank-and-file party members began the selection process for convention delegates to choosea new leader.
The three-day process will result in the selection of14 delegates from each of Canada's 308 federal ridings. The delegates will attend the leadership convention in Montreal from Nov. 28 to Dec. 3.
"We've been playing with Monopoly money up till now," said contender Michael Ignatieff. "This weekend we get real money and I'm looking forward to the result."
About 200,000 members will select about 4,600 delegates, with 4,312 of those coming from the 308 riding associations across the country and another 310 being chosen by clubs.
Delegateswho have pledged themselves to a particular candidate are required to vote for thatperson on the first ballot.
According to pundits, the front-runners are Toronto MP Ignatieff, former Ontario premier Bob Rae and and former environment minister StÃ©phane Dion. There are now eight candidateslooking to replace interim Liberal leader Bill Graham.
A few candidates resigned from the race recently, including Vancouver MP Hedy Fry, Toronto MP Carolyn Bennett and Vaughan MP Maurizio Bevilacqua.
All have thrown their support behind Rae, whose comments Friday seemed to express an awareness of the perils of peaking too soon.
"I think you want to be somewhere where you've got some room to grow, you've got enough support so you can move up as the balloting continues," said Rae.
Delegate election meetings were scheduled across the country at riding associations and clubs. The three-day process has been dubbed the Liberals' "super weekend" to lend excitement to the race.
Members will be given a two-part ballot. In the first part, theycan indicate which leadership candidate they support, while in the second part, theycan list their 14 delegate choices.
About200,000 Liberal party members are eligible to vote, but party officialsadmit less than half will likely cast ballots.
Approximately 850 automatic delegates — a list that includes riding presidents, past candidates and senators — will make their choices clear on the convention floor.