Federal Liberals kick off leadership debates with crowded event on Sunday

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

To cooperate or not to cooperate? That is the question.

On Sunday, the nine federal Liberal leadership candidates will convene, in Vancouver, for the first of five debates and, according to the Hill Times, this one could include some fireworks. That's because the candidates will be debating, among other things, the prospect of electoral cooperation with the other 'progressive' parties.

"The assignment of electoral cooperation as one of the seven debate topics at the two-hour Vancouver debate on Sunday, beginning at 1 p.m. Pacific Time, is an indication the party is ready to meet one of the most controversial party topics that has surfaced following the near-calamitous Liberal showing in the 2011 May election."

The issue has the potential to create some divisions and rifts between the different camps.

[ Related: Liberal debate will see 9 candidates on crowded stage ]

MP Joyce Murray, who launched her campaign in November, is proposing that in Tory-held ridings, the Liberals, NDP and Greens elect candidates as they currently do, with the winners in a run-off before the general election to see which one faces the Conservative candidate.

"I can ensure you that I'm going to give my heart to the re-invigoration of our party as the best choice but I also will do all I can to avoid the worst choice which is another Harper majority." she told Yahoo! Canada News.

Meanwhile, Martin Cauchon — who just joined the leadership race this past weekend —told iPolitics that someday, in the future, the Liberals could merge with the NDP but not while he's leader.

[ Related: Cauchon files 11th hour leadership race papers ]

"We can never say never but for the time being we’re running with the Liberals. We live in a British system of Parliament so that allows for various solutions," he said.

“But for now I’m running as a Liberal and we’re going to be running next time as a party.”

The other Liberal leadership front runners — Justin Trudeau and Marc Garneau — have categorically refused to cooperate with the other parties whatsoever.

"I don't think it's going to be necessary," Trudeau told CTV's Question Period last month when asked about strategic alliances with other 'progressive' parties.

"Honestly what I'm seeing on the ground in the past month or so, is that people are excited about politics done differently. It is not defined around left or right...so, I'm going to run 338 candidates in the next election if I'm Liberal leader."

According to the Canadian Press, the leadership candidates will also debate foreign ownership, the environment, social housing and Pacific Rim trade.

[ Related: Are the federal Liberals in the midst of an epic comeback? ]

Leadership debates in this country are usually mellow affairs. Often, candidates will spend more time criticizing the policies of other parties than each other's.

That might not be the case with the federal Liberals, however.

2013 LPC Leadership debates:

• Vancouver (January 20)
• Winnipeg (February 2)
• Greater Toronto Area (February 16)
• Halifax (March 3)
• Montreal (March 23)

All the debates will be streamed live at Liberal.ca.