Green Party withdrawal from Labrador by-election becomes hot topic in final Liberal debate

Saturday marked the fifth and final debate of the Liberal leadership contest.

Like a lot of the other debates, this one was a ho-hum affair.

The issue that did spur some disagreements, however, was the Green Party's statement — from earlier in the day — in which they said they would not run in the Labrador by-election and throw their support behind the Liberals to defeat Conservative Peter Penashue.

"The electoral situation in Labrador is very unsettling. The call for the by-election is potentially rushed given that Mr. Penashue may still be found guilty in the Elections Canada investigation of his 2011 campaign," Green Party leader Elizabeth May said in the statement.

[ Related: Greens urge NDP to stand down in Labrador byelection to defeat Conservatives ]

Penashue, who recently resigned his seat in Parliament after it was learned that he accepted illegal campaign donations, beat out his Liberal opponent in the 2011 election by only 79 votes.

"The Green Party is committed to electoral cooperation in the interest of proportional representation," May added.

"At this point, only the NDP joins the Greens in officially supporting voting reforms that eliminate First-Past-the-Post. Some Liberals, notably leadership candidate Joyce Murray, favour cooperation and proportional representation. I call on all progressive voters to make the Labrador by-election a place where the goals of cooperation and proportional representation are advanced."

Murray is the only Liberal leadership candidate promoting one-time electoral cooperation with the NDP and Greens to beat Stephen Harper's Conservatives in the next election as a means to implement proportional representation.

[ Related: How Joyce Murray could beat Justin Trudeau and win the Liberal leadership race ]

Liberal leadership candidates Justin Trudeau and Joyce Murray at the Vancouver debateDuring Saturday's debate, Murray took credit for May's decision, noting that this showed that her plan could work.

The other candidates disagreed heartily.

"We need a new kind of politics, but when we look [at] the old style politics...[it] is the idea of winning at all costs. And that's what really worries me about the idea of cooperation," Justin Trudeau said.

"Because it's a single minded focus, not on governing but on winning, on taking away power from people we don't like."

Martha Hall Findlay echoed Trudeau's comments.

"I get it, I understand. We all want to replace Stephen Harper in 2015," she said.

"But, very interesting about Elizabeth May. We did this actually once before in the reverse. We did not run a Liberal candidate against Elizabeth May in 2008 in Central Nova. It didn't actually work so well. [May didn't win], Liberals were furious at not having a Liberal candidate to vote for. The Conservative vote went up and the Liberal Party is still hurting in Nova Scotia as a result.

"More importantly, I don't know that we've really done the numbers. We are in third place. The NDP have a lot more seats than we do. If this were to work...we would replace Stephen Harper with Thomas Mulcair."

With the debates now complete, the party will now host a Candidate's 'showcase' on April 6 in Toronto. Supporters who have registered will be allowed to vote by phone between April 7 and 14.

The winner will be announced on April 14 in Ottawa.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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