Copps loses Liberal nomination fight

Longtime Hamilton MP Sheila Copps loses fierce nomination fight with new Liberal cabinet minister Tony Valeri

Canada's Minister of Transport Tony Valeri derailed the campaign hopes of longtime Hamilton MP Sheila Copps Saturday night, winning the right to run as the Liberal party's candidate in a redrawn local riding.

The boundaries of some federal constituencies were recently changed, leaving the two Liberal members of Parliament in a showdown over Hamilton East-Stoney Creek. It became a fiercely contested nomination race.

About 11,000 people were eligible to vote Saturday. Although only about 5,300 cast ballots, organizers called the turnout "historic." At one point the line of people waiting to vote snaked around the outside of the high school.

Counting was supposed to begin at 7 p.m. EST, but organizers extended the voting hours until around 10 p.m. Results were announced about 11:45 p.m. An exact breakdown was not made public.

"What an exciting day this has been," Valeri said shortly afterward, as the crowd chanted his name. "All of Hamilton can be proud, all of you can be proud."

Copps sat expressionless as her disappointed supporters slowly filed out of the building.

Copps may run as independent

Although she has previously threatened to leave the Liberal party if she lost the nomination, Copps signalled the need for unity before Saturday's vote: "Tony, whatever happens in this fight, we're all believing in the building of our great party, and we'll do it together."

She said she would consider her options and decide within a week whether to run as an independent.

Copps has been a Hamilton MP for the past 20 years, and served as deputy prime minister and heritage minister in Jean Chrétien's government. But she was dumped from cabinet when Paul Martin became Liberal leader last fall.

Heading into the vote, Valeri claimed to have the backing of about 7,000 members. Copps said she had roughly 6,600 members.

During his final pitch for support Saturday, Valeri urged the crowd to get behind "the renewed Paul Martin Liberal government." He acknowledged his rival's contributions under the former prime minister, but said: "It's not about our past, it's about our future."

Copps, on the other hand, talked about the importance of lobbying for "the true values of liberalism," and said she was the best choice to represent immigrants and the working class.

During the past few months, Copps has accused Martin of trying to push her out of politics by not supporting her as the candidate. But the prime minister has said he doesn't want to take sides in Liberal contests involving the redistribution of ridings.

Valeri, who was endorsed by Hamilton's mayor and several business and labour leaders, had said he would not run for Parliament as an independent if he lost Saturday's vote.