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Why is Sheila Copps running? Because that's what she does Add to ...

Sheila Copps wanted to run, so badly.

For more than 10 years, since her leadership loss in 1990, the feisty Heritage Minister had talked to her friends about the next time, in conversations starting: "When I run for Prime Minister again . . ."

But on a May evening in 2001, she may not have liked what she heard. Buoyed by press reports speculating that she was contemplating a run, Ms. Copps made a round of calls to friends seeking their opinions about a possible leadership bid. Those calls revealed concern and little enthusiasm from some of the people who had been with her in 1990.

Her former staffer and best friend, Danielle May-Cuconato, and her husband, Mario, were not optimistic about Ms. Copps's chances in a fight against Paul Martin for the leadership of the federal Liberals and the Prime Minister's job.

Ms. Copps's husband, Austin Thorne, was also worried. A prudent man, the former electrician, now a labour-relations consultant, didn't want to see his wife hurt.

"Sheila, you've got to be careful," Mr. Thorne told his wife, according to a close friend.

There was genuine concern from these people; they didn't want her to look bad.

Some wondered what she needed to prove. There were those, too, who had plans, and other options, in mind. She could co-chair the leadership convention, and by remaining neutral ensure a spot in a Martin cabinet that would set her up well to run again for the leadership the next time. Even better, why not support the Martin bid, play a major and high-profile role in his campaign? That too would guarantee her a prominent seat in a Martin cabinet.

But Ms. Copps wanted to run -- because that's what she does -- and for all the negative responses, there were positive ones, from a new guard around her, encouraging her to explore her options.

And so this is how the 50-year-old wife, mother, cabinet minister and political animal found herself at a Tim Hortons in her beloved city of Hamilton on Thursday at lunchtime.

Against the better judgment of those old friends -- and Brian Tobin and Allan Rock, who had dropped out of the race figuring Mr. Martin couldn't be beaten -- Ms. Copps announced her intention to run, becoming the first Liberal officially to launch a bid to succeed Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and take on Mr. Martin.

Jacques Lefebvre, her former director of communications, was one of the new guard, advising that she explore her options. So was Isabelle Metcalfe, a veteran Liberal organizer and an Ottawa consultant.

More important, Mr. Chrétien was in the background quietly giving her encouragement. "Sheila is very loyal to the PM," said one friend, adding that she would not be in the race today if she had not had his support.

It was Ms. Metcalfe who finally convinced Ms. Copps to go.

"Clearly, she always wanted to," a friend says.

This is why: When Ms. Copps was a teenager she planted herself in front of a liquor store, determining it was the best place to sell chocolate bars for a high-school fundraiser. The liquor-store manager didn't think so, and asked her on several occasions to leave.

"I don't how many times this went on, but she kept on coming back," said Vincenza Travale, 64, Ms. Copps's former high-school Italian teacher. "Eventually, the manager gave up and let her stay there."

Ms. Copps plays politics with the same determination. She loves to debate ideas and to try to prove herself again and again. In everything she does -- from the plucky teenager selling chocolate bars to the savvy politician manoeuvring legislation through cabinet -- she is aggressive and persistent.

"When Sheila goes into something, she goes full bore," says a friend. She lobbies, she pesters, and she builds coalitions.

She likes to win.

And though she hasn't won the big prize yet -- the Ontario Liberal leadership in 1982 or the federal leadership in 1990 -- she seems to win despite the loss.

"Every time she has gone she has proven that she can carve a slice of the Liberal membership for herself and the ideas that she is trying to promote," another friend says.

From her bid against David Peterson in Ontario, the 29-year-old neophyte politician emerged with new strength in the party. From her bid against Jean Chrétien, she would eventually emerge as the deputy prime minister, environment minister and Heritage Minister.

But first came nine years in opposition, where Ms. Copps was defined by her aggressive tactics as a "rat-packer" and where she was famously called "baby" by Tory minister John Crosbie and jumped over chairs to get at another minister, Sinclair Stevens.

Essentially, that is the Sheila Copps most Canadians still think they know: the combative woman, who because of her gender and aggressive approach can be intimidating to many, especially men.

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