Former MP Martha Hall Findlay threw her hat into the Liberal leadership ring Wedneday afternoon, the first official day of the race, with a promise to bring smart, strong and courageous leadership to her party.

Hall Findlay launched her campaign in Calgary by delivering a speech that laid out why she wants to run — for a second time — to lead her party.

She promised to release policy papers every few weeks during the five-month campaign to stimulate debate, most focused on the economy.

In June, Hall Findlay released a report that called for an end to Canada's supply management system and on Wednesday she said she has received overwhelmingly positive reaction to that position — except from some politicians and dairy farmers.

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Former MP Martha Hall Findlay announces she will be a candidate in the federal Liberal leadership race during a press conference in Calgary, Alta. Wednesday. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

Hall Findlay called on her fellow Liberals to show some "guts."

"The Liberal Party proved in the 1990s that it had the guts to do what was right, fiscally and economically. It was tough, but it was right. We must show that kind of courage again," she said.

The former MP, who lost in the 2011 election, took shots at NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, saying he is weak on the economy, and at Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

"We need to take on Stephen Harper, take the fight to him, not just wait and react defensively to the next round of attack ads," she said.

Hall Findlay, who is currently working at the University of Calgary, said she was announcing her candidacy in the city to show that the Liberal party is still a national party. She said she would like to run for Parliament again in Willowdale, Ont., where she was MP from 2008-11.

She also ran for the leadership in 2006 and had owed money to herself from that campaign, but cleared that debt with donations last month.

Contrasts with Trudeau

Hall Findlay was asked about entering a race in which Montreal MP Justin Trudeau is already the perceived frontrunner. She said she likes Trudeau and that the Liberal race will be one between candidates who genuinely like each other.

But later, on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, she contrasted her experience with that of Trudeau's.

"I've lived my life in a very different…way than Justin has. I firmly believe that I bring a great deal of substance, intelligence, experience. I have huge business experience," she told host Evan Solomon. "I've worked as a lawyer on international transactions, I've run small businesses effectively and met payroll. I've run big businesses and managed large teams both here and in Canada and in Europe.

"That kind of experience is really valuable, especially when you know that the biggest issue facing Canada and Canadians is the economy. We need to get this stuff, we need to understand it, we need people who actually know what they're doing."

Hall Findlay's campaign is being run by Stephen Carter, who ran the successful campaigns of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alberta Premier Alison Redford. He is said to be a brilliant organizer, with a penchant for finding new constituencies for candidates. He has also taken his shots at Trudeau.

In Oshawa, where he was speaking to university students on the first official day of the leadership campaign, Trudeau was asked about Carter's reported remarks last month, in which he portrayed Trudeau as a lightweight and "fluffy."

"A lot of people are going to say a lot of things about me. A lot of people have. I welcome Martha into the race. She's going to be a strong performer as a candidate and you know, if my opponents are underestimating me then I have no problem with that."

Trudeau also tapped a frequent theme of his recent public appearances: the need to engage young people in politics.

"The class of 2015 first-time voters needs to demonstrate that young people can and will get involved in shaping their society, their future," he told students at Oshawa's University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

"For me getting young people involved is not just about getting a few more people out to vote. It's about making sure that we actually generate the political capital and the kind of capacity as governments, as politicians ... to actually start a conversation about some of the big and serious challenges we're facing and how we're going to develop solutions to those."

Cities for debates announced

The party's national board of directors kicked off the race Wednesday by announcing locations for five candidate debates: Vancouver, Winnipeg, the GTA, Halifax and Montreal. The party will hold a final all-candidates "showcase" in Toronto on April 6 to kick-off a week of voting, with the winner announced on April 14 in Ottawa.

Candidates must pay a fee of $75,000, with the first third due when they register. Jan. 13 is the last day to register and to make the final payment toward the registration fee.

A new party "supporter" category means people who want to help choose the leader but not become party members will also be able to vote.

With her announcement, Hall Findlay joined Trudeau and other declared candidates:

  • Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi.
  • Vancouver lawyer Alex Burton.
  • Toronto lawyer and professor Deborah Coyne.

Retired Lt.-Col. Karen McCrimmon, a 31-year veteran of the Canadian Forces, was set to kick off her campaign Wednesday evening in Ottawa, according to her website.

Other possible candidates include former Montreal MP Martin Cauchon, Montreal MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau, former president of the B.C. branch of the federal Liberal Party David Merner, economist Jonathan Mousley, Vancouver MP Joyce Murray and Toronto lawyer George Takach, who has a campaign team that includes veteran Liberal organizer Mark Marissen.

Liberal MPs Denis Coderre and Dominic LeBlanc, as well as interim leader Bob Rae, have said they won't run.

Would-be candidates have much to prove

Other than the MPs or former MPs who might run, few of the candidates or would-be candidates have shown much to prove they can muster the financial resources or the constituencies that would put them over the top. 

So far, it can almost be said that Justin Trudeau is in the position of running against himself. Two public figures who would have been considered major contenders — former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty and Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney — have ruled themselves out. 

Much has been written about Trudeau’s social media skills, manifested by his more than 165,000 Twitter followers, which might be put to use for an end-run around the traditional Liberal elites to attract supporters.

But a Liberal insider says the irony is that Trudeau actually has the support of almost all of the traditional party elites, and that he might be trying to portray himself as someone who is not the new establishment.

Some of the potential leadership candidates are tentatively feeling out whether they can raise enough money for a respectable run.

Money 'essential'

Mousley, who is currently on leave from Ontario's Ministry of Finance, says on his website that donations are "absolutely essential."

Merner told a Victoria radio station Monday that he’s trying to raise $100,000 in donations by the end of the month. The  party's leadership rules include a $950,000 spending limit.

"I'm a $100,000-by-the-end-of-November guy. If I can raise the money I'm in, if I can't I'm out," Merner told CBC News.

The Victoria resident resigned his position as president in B.C. in June, saying at the time he was leaving "to focus on fundraising and other activities that are essential to participating in the Liberal leadership race as a candidate."

Merner, a longtime Liberal and former government lawyer, said he won't be signing up right away when candidate registrations open Wednesday.

The party is planning to gather in Ottawa Monday for a kickoff party and celebration of longtime Liberal MP and elder statesman Herb Gray.

Corrections

  • This story has been edited from an earlier version that incorrectly stated that the Liberals are holding an event in Ottawa on Friday. In fact, the event is Monday, Nov. 19.
    Nov 14, 2012 9:43 AM ET