Federal Liberals slash spending limit in leadership race

Candidates for Liberal party leader will have a campaign spending limit of $950,000 and will not be allowed to carry more than $75,000 in debt, according to rules announced Thursday.

Candidates to face campaign spending limit of $950,000, debt limit of $75,000

Arlene Perly Rae, left, and Liberal MPs Carolyn Bennet, Frank Valeriotte and Kirsty Duncan applaud as interim Liberal leader Bob Rae speaks to the Liberal caucus in Montebello, Que. Wednesday. The party has announced rules for electing its next leader. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Candidates for Liberal party leader will have a campaign spending limit of $950,000 and will not be allowed to carry more than $75,000 in debt, according to rules for the leadership contest posted Thursday.

That contest will culminate in the party announcing its new leader in Ottawa April 14, 2013, following a final "candidates showcase" on April 6. The race officially starts five months ahead of that election date, on Nov. 14.

The party has set an entry fee of $75,000, according to rules posted on the party's site Thursday.

The $950,000 spending limit is far lower than the $3.4 million candidates were allowed to spend in the 2006 leadership race that saw Stéphane Dion overtake Bob Rae, the party's current interim leader, and Michael Ignatieff, who went on to replace Dion as leader. The limit excludes the registration fee, travel and some other expenses like policy research.

"The spending limit on [individual] donations according to Elections Canada is much lower... it's roughly a fifth [of what it was]," Party President Mike Crawley explained.

"We also want to have a leadership race that attracts as many candidates to come forward. We certainly want to recognize if candidates can raise money, that they will be able to put together an effective campaign, they'll be able to promote their ideas better, but we also want to have a debate and a discussion of ideas and want to attract those with new ideas to come forward as well."

The borrowing limit reflects the trouble many previous leadership candidates had repaying their debts when the rules for federal fundraising changed. Ken Dryden, Hedy Fry, Martha Hall Findlay and Joe Volpe still owe tens of thousands of dollars from their failed leadership campaigns.

Past candidates with leadership debt still eligible

Crawley said candidates from the last leadership race who still carry that debt are eligible to run in this contest. Candidates won't be able to go over the $75,000 debt limit at any point in the campaign.

Rae said the party wants to have the most broad-based race in Canadian history.

"We do think it's taking us to a new level in terms of the amount of participation and the openness of the process," he said at a noon press conference at the close of the party's summer caucus retreat in Montebello, Que.

Crawley said voting will take place up to April 14. A new "supporter" category in the party means people who want to help choose the leader but not become party members will also be able to vote.

The party has signed up more than 20,000 supporters already, Crawley said, and expects more to come as contestants start campaigning. The party has 50,000 members.

The campaign spending limit doesn't include the non-refundable entry fee. The entry fee is to be paid in three installments ending a week before the first debate.

The party will apply a 10 per cent levy to leadership campaign donations to offset the cost of the race and will require monthly spending reports, the rules say.

Party success about more than new leader, Trudeau says

The success of the party will depend on a lot more than simply picking the right leader, Montreal MP Justin Trudeau said Thursday, just hours before the party was to formally announce the rules.

Trudeau, son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, has said he's feeling tremendous pressure to run for the party's leadership, a move he'd intended to put off for a few more years.

Heading into a meeting of MPs and senators at the Liberal caucus retreat Thursday, Trudeau said the Liberals have tended to look for a leader "that's going to fix everything for them and not understand that there's a tremendous amount of hard work" for the party, he said.

"It's not about picking the right leader and having everything fall into place, it's about working as a team, and that's the kind of thinking we need right now."

Trudeau wouldn't say whether he would run.

"I think I have something to offer, yes, but I know I'll offer it through the Liberal Party through the next years. What role I'll occupy in the Liberal Party, we'll see," he said.

Contenders waiting for rules

Marc Garneau, another Montreal MP, said he expects people to start announcing their intentions in October or November once they've had a chance to look at the rules and assess their chances.

Garneau says he's starting to form his leadership team, but hasn't said officially that he'll run.

"What I've been thinking about is policy — policy that focuses on the economy, on health," he said. "Health is the big elephant in the tent. It's costing more provincially, it's costing more federally... we need to approach it from a more intelligent point of view. We need to do some experimenting here."

Speaking to CBC News Wednesday, another possible contender said he was hoping for a strict borrowing limits.

"We shouldn't pretend that we can raise and spend millions of dollars that I think, a) would be unwise and, b) would leave people in a vulnerable position in terms of debtload," New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc said. "If you can't raise it as you're going, why do you think it would be better to raise it after you've lost?"

LeBlanc had also called for a steep entry fee.

"I don't think if somebody wants to practice something that they learned at the Toastmaster's Club about speeches, a national leadership convention is the best place to have a practice run," he said.

Read the mobile-friendly Twitter stream here.