Martha Hall Findlay takes 2nd run at Liberal leadership

Martha Hall Findlay is trying again for the top Liberal job, and this time is considered to be in the top tier of the eight-person race.

Taking aim at Justin Trudeau, she's running an edgy, aggressive campaign

Liberal leadership candidate Martha Hall Findlay has put forward some edgy policy proposals, while taking some shots at frontrunner Justin Trudeau. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Martha Hall Findlay is trying again for the top Liberal job, and this time is considered to be in the top tier of the eight-person race.

As someone who may be among a small pack nipping at the heels of presumed front-runner Justin Trudeau, she's at times run an edgy, aggressive campaign. 

That's a contrast to her last run at the leadership in 2006, when she entered as an unknown and finished last.

This time, there's little doubt she set out to win, buoyed by the catch of Calgary-based Stephen Carter as her campaign adviser, the mastermind behind underdog campaigns of Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alberta premier Alison Redford.

Between leadership runs, she was an MP who snagged high-profile critic posts such as international trade, transport and public works. She was a regular on TV political panels, performing well as a fast-on-her-feet talker who could throw political barbs with skill and humour.

She went into the race this time with some baggage, however. She lost her Willowdale seat in the last federal election, and she had a nagging leadership debt hanging over from the 2006 contest.

 "I paid everyone off," she explained in an interview with CBC News. "It's hard to ask people to contribute money just so you can put it into your own bank account."

Federal Liberal leadership

This is the fifth in a series of profiles of the candidates for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

The eight remaining candidates will be showcased at an event in Toronto April 6, commencing a week of voting by party members and supporters. The winner will be announced April 14 in Ottawa.

Once she decided to run this time, she quickly collected enough donations to get rid of the debt, although she won't reveal how much she's additionally raised for her leadership bid.

"We've actually raised more than we thought we would, and we have raised a lot in small donations and from every province."

Her background reveals someone who is gutsy and a risk-taker. As a young divorced mother, she raised three children while putting herself through law school, holding down jobs she describes as "as a waitress, in construction (primarily as a carpenter), and coaching young ski racers."

As a lawyer, she worked for Mobility Canada and Bell and is now at EnStream, a mobile phone payment company. She's also an executive fellow at the University of Calgary.

She has criticized Trudeau for attempting to represent the middle class on the grounds that, as the son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, he couldn't possibly be a member of it. She later apologized for her remarks.

But in a way, Hall Findlay and Trudeau have some things in common. Both had parents who could finance top-notch skiing and private schools. Both were the children of split-up families, although Hall Findlay finished growing up in Owen Sound, Ont., not at 24 Sussex and a Montreal mansion. 

On the issues

Hall Findlay favours legalizing of marijuana, as many of the candidates do. She also favours what she calls a price on pollution, and has even suggested a hike in the GST, although she adds her preference would be to cut spending. "There is room to cut spending. What is the number now for the F-35? Twenty billion?"

Martha Hall Findlay salutes the audience following her speech at the Liberal Leadership Convention, Dec. 1, 2006 in Montreal. Findlay is taking her second run at the Liberal top job. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

She isn't opposed to the purpose of  Northern Gateway pipeline. "It's completely hypocritical to say we support the oilsands, but we don't want a market for them," she says.

But she says the project must be environmentally sustainable and work with First Nations aspirations so it has what she calls "social licence."

A big part of her policy focus is directed toward women, although she says women's issues are economic ones that apply to everyone. It's something her manager Stephen Carter has top of mind: the power of women voters as a bloc, a phenomenon that's been growing since the 1990s and was a defining factor, according to Carter, in the Nenshi and Redford campaigns.

So her opposition to supply management, a system that imposed quotas and fixes prices for eggs, dairy products, chicken and turkey dairy is not anti-farmer, she says.

"My God, the people who are hurt the most by supply management are the lowest-income Canadians. They tend to be single-parent, single-mum families who suffer the most."

She used her closing statement at the Halifax debate to swing attention back to her agenda and got a hand from the audience, as she took issue with candidate Marc Garneau's statement that he favoured universal daycare if the country's finances were in order.

"Marc, we can't afford not to. This is an issue that affects a discussion we had earlier about gender equality, it is a fundamental question about equality of opportunity both for women, single parents and for children."

It was a great save for her, but by then the narrative of the race had solidified, in part due to her. It had become, not about policy, if it ever was, but whether Justin Trudeau has the mettle of a leader. 

Yet her own definition of herself could be viewed by some as not a bad mission statement for Liberals: "People … like me, who are market-oriented, who understand the importance of trade and embracing global opportunities, who are very socially oriented."