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Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, centre, chats with delegates during the party's biennial convention in Montreal, Sunday, Feb. 23. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, centre, chats with delegates during the party's biennial convention in Montreal, Sunday, Feb. 23. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Convention provides hints at Trudeau’s candidate wish list Add to ...

Justin Trudeau has a wish list for candidates - and he’s making it clear who he favours. A hug here; a hearty handshake there and certain people featured as keynote speakers at the four-day biennial convention provided a clue as to who the Liberal leader wants on his team.

“Justin has been very clear he does not want to appoint,” says Navdeep Bains, the former Ontario MP, who is co-chair of the Ontario campaign. “That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have preferences. He is looking for skill sets … he is attracting good candidates.”

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The warm and sustained hug he gave Bill Morneau, a Toronto businessman, who was also a keynote speaker during the convention, was a good indication of how Mr. Trudeau feels.

In addition, Mr. Morneau, the executive chairman of Morneau Shepell, has been appointed to the party's Economic Council of Advisors. None of Mr. Trudeau’s team is confirming that Mr. Morneau is planning to seek the nomination in a downtown Toronto riding - but it’s almost a sure thing, according to one senior Liberal.

He could end up in Toronto Centre and newly-elected MP Chrystia Freeland, another member of the Trudeau dream team who won Toronto Centre in the September by-election, would run in a neighboring riding.

Also on the wish list is Jody Wilson-Raybould, regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, who was front and centre during the convention as one of the three co-chairs. Jim Carr, the former head of the Business Council of Manitoba, was very present over the four-days. He was given prime speaking spots - he wants to run in a Winnipeg riding but will face still competition from the widow of former Liberal MP and cabinet minister, Reg Alcock.

But Mr. Bains, who is likely to seek the nomination in the Mississauga Malton riding, cautions that even the preferred few have to attract membership support and fight a nomination battle.

“He is not going to use the leader’s prerogative of appointing them,” noted Mr. Bains. “He wants them to go through a nomination process.”

This is a departure from the past - in 1993, Jean Chretien appointed several women to bring up the number of female MPs in his caucus. In 2010, then-leader Michael Ignatieff appointed former Ontario cabinet minister Peter Fonseca to a Mississauga riding where 11 people were vying for the nomination. That did not sit well with many Liberals; Mr. Fonseca lost in the 2011 federal election to a Conservative.

Imran Mian was a victim of that Ignatieff appointment. He had been organizing for the nomination only to have the chance to win taken away.

For him, the open nomination process is welcome. “This is the only way forward and the only way to engage Canadians and bring back everyone who has been sitting on the fence for the last number of years,” he said in an interview at the convention Sunday. There are now 121 ridings in Ontario.

Quebec campaign co-chair Pablo Rodriguez, a former MP who was defeated in his Quebec riding by the so-called orange wave in the 2011 campaign, says he is being inundated with requests to run. (The Liberals lost seven of their 14 MPs in the 2011 election.

“In the last election we had to be on our knees and beg somebody to run for us,” he said. “This is the opposite problem, which is a nice problem.”

He says there are over 200 people who are interested in running in the 78 federal Quebec ridings - 120 have ordered their kits (prospective candidates have to fill out a “green light” application form, answer a set of question and if they are deemed qualified they will then be interviewed by the party and if that goes well be deemed a candidate).

Mr. Rodriguez, who is hoping to run again, says there are as many as eight prospective candidates in some ridings; four in others.

So, this could make for messy and nasty fights among Liberals.

“So yes, it’s going to be a challenge to manage this,” he said. “It’s a challenge to avoid infighting but at the end of the day everybody is selling [membership] cards … people are raising money. It’s very good for the party.”

Denis Paradis, who also lost his seat in the last election, is considering another run. He said he won’t make up his mind for a couple of months.

He wasn’t the only former MP at the convention - others like Dan McTeague, from Ontario, were participating over the weekend. He is planning another run.

Mr. Bains, meanwhile, says former MPs know they won’t be getting any “preferential treatment” and “will have to earn it.”

Like Mr. Rodriguez, he says this new process is designed to allow the party to build its data base, which will help with fundraising and outreach.

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