Liberal leadership candidates call for more time to register

Several of the candidates vying to lead the federal Liberals want the party to extend a deadline for supporters to register to vote, citing a low number so far and a lack of email addresses.

Several Liberal Party leadership candidates say supporters didn't provide email addresses

Liberal Party candidate Justin Trudeau speaks while Joyce Murray, moderator Harvey Locke, Marc Garneau, David Bertschi and Martha Hall Findlay listen in at the Liberal Party of Canada leadership debate in Winnipeg, Feb. 2. The deadline for voter registration in the race is March 14. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Several of the candidates vying to lead the federal Liberals want the party to extend a deadline for supporters to register to vote, citing a low number so far and a lack of email addresses.

Justin Trudeau's leadership team on Monday asked the Liberal Party for a one-week extension to the March 14 voter registration deadline so supporters can be given more time to register to vote by mail for the party's next leader. They also asked the party to set up a system of registering by phone and for a change that would allow potential voters to register even during the voting week of April 7-14, just the way voters are allowed to register at the polls during regular elections, as long as they provide proper ID.

Marc Garneau's team is onside with an extension of the registration deadline, noting that it was Garneau's team who first warned the party of a low number of registrations, and expressed concern about elderly members who don't have email addresses.

Another candidate, Deborah Coyne, said in a statement Tuesday said she supports an extension. She urged the party to use robocalls or a phone bank to urge potential voters to register, prioritizing those who did not provide emails. 

Otherwise, Coyne wrote, "The media narrative will be that these signups were not committed ... and that the supporter system is a failure. We don't want to hobble our next leader out of the gate unnecessarily."

Murray campaign opposes extension

Joyce Murray's campaign officials said Tuesday that they have had no problems with the registration of supporters, and they're happy with the process. Murray's team intends to oppose any extension of the registration deadline.

The Liberal Party rules committee is meeting with representatives of all the candidates Tuesday in Ottawa where the request for an extension for registration will be considered. The party says it has already registered 90,000 voters, about a third of the 294,000 combined supporters and party members who signed up to vote in the contest.

Trudeau's team claims to have signed more than 150,000 supporters, a number that would make him the clear front-runner, and a number so far ahead of the other candidates that it's possible his supporters could become complacent about taking the final steps of registering and voting.

The news from his own team that many of his supporters are having trouble registering may be the first sign he could be under threat.

Trudeau's team says that many of his supporters didn't provide email addresses when they signed up to support Trudeau, either because they are seniors and don't have email, or for privacy reasons declined to provide an electronic address. 

Cyrus Reporter, a spokesman for the Trudeau team, said he suspects about 30,000 supporters who signed up with other leadership candidates, or through the Liberal Party, also did not provide email addresses, only postal addresses.

Reporter told The Canadian Press that "tens of thousands" of Trudeau supporters did not provide email addresses, and are having trouble registering to vote by mail, partially because some registration forms were mailed by the party only at the end of last week. 

Supporters are a special category of voters created by the Liberal Party for the federal leadership race which has eight candidates vying for the top job. Supporters don't have to become party members or pay a membership fee.

Rival camp says Trudeau team hurt themselves

However, some people from rival camps are saying that Trudeau team members have "hoisted themselves on their own petard," by not giving the Liberal Party the email addresses of his supporters so other campaign teams can't try to poach them.

One strategist, who didn't want to be named, said it's Trudeau's own fault if many of his supporters aren't being registered fast enough by mail, and that his campaign's request for a deadline extension for registration shouldn't be granted.

"The reality is they were told from day one, guys, look, if you mess around with this, and you have to mail it out, we may not have time to do the registration process, because they also have to confirm the information is correct. It was never intended to be a mailing system. Who doesn't have an email today?"

The Canadian Press reported that the Trudeau team said some registration forms were mailed late last week, and many people still haven’t received them, and that some supporters outside Ontario won’t receive the forms until one or two days before Thursday’s registration deadline.

In an email to the CBC, Reporter said Trudeau's campaign staff encouraged "wherever possible, to have supporters provide email addresses when signing up.... We feel very strongly that LPC [Liberal Party of Canada], among other measures, need to adjust this timeline so as not to disenfranchise these people."

The Liberal leadership will be decided April 14.