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Delegates line up to cast their ballots for the new party executive at the Liberal convention in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2012. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Delegates line up to cast their ballots for the new party executive at the Liberal convention in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2012. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Deborah Coyne enters Liberal leadership race Add to ...

Liberals yearning for the glory days of Trudeaumania as they head into a leadership contest could face a choice between Pierre Trudeau’s eldest son and the mother of his only daughter.

Justin Trudeau is actively reconsidering his initial decision to stay out of the race.

But Deborah Coyne isn’t waiting for the 40-year-old Montreal MP to make up his mind.

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She’s taking the plunge Wednesday.

“Our families have always been very separate so I have not been speaking to Justin Trudeau,” Ms. Coyne told The Canadian Press, wishing him “all the best” in whatever he decides to do.

“If the two of us happen to end up in the leadership contest together, I don’t see anything awkward about that. I think that’s wonderful.”

“The more people you have in, bringing different perspectives to bear, different suggestions about where the country should go, different ideas for rebuilding the party, the better.”

Nor, Ms. Coyne maintains, will it make for uncomfortable half-sibling relations. Daughter Sarah is “very supportive of me and interested in what I’m doing,” but she’s heading into her final undergraduate year at an American university and won’t be involved in the leadership campaign.

While Justin Trudeau would be the presumptive front-runner should he jump into the contest, Ms. Coyne knows she’s a long-shot.

But she says she’s running because she believes Canadians are fed up with polarizing partisanship and that gives the Liberal party a golden opportunity to re-emerge from its current third-party status as the party of “bold, principled” national leadership on important public policy questions.

“I’m in this to make sure it’s an ideas-based campaign. I believe I have a vision and a program that will resonate with many Canadians.”

Ms. Coyne, 57, has been involved in public policy debates for decades, as a lawyer, university professor, constitutional activist and author of numerous books and articles on a variety of issues. She is probably best known for her role in advising former Newfoundland premier Clyde Wells during his fight against the Meech Lake constitutional accord and for spearheading efforts to rally public opinion against the subsequent Charlottetown accord.

It was during those constitutional wars that Ms. Coyne’s relationship with Pierre Trudeau, an influential figure in scuppering both accords, flourished, resulting in Sarah’s birth in 1991.

Given her experience with past constitutional conflicts, it is perhaps not surprising that some of the central ideas Ms. Coyne is advancing now as a leadership contender are aimed at depoliticizing divisive federal-provincial issues.

Among the more novel ideas on 23 different subjects outlined on her campaign website, are proposals to:

  • Replace sporadic first ministers meetings with a formal council of Canadian governments, based on the model used by Australia and designed to create a “more collegial and collaborative” mechanism for tackling issues in need of a national response, including criminal justice, the environment and energy.
  • Create an independent advisory commission tasked with reforming and managing equalization and other federal transfer payments to provinces in a manner that promotes “greater equity and equality of opportunity for all Canadians, regardless of residence.”
  • Expand the powers of the national health council to facilitate consensus on national health care standards, including the best mix of public and private care.

 

Among other things, Ms. Coyne is also calling for a carbon tax and a reassessment of the utility of supply management for dairy products. The one-time Liberal candidate – she was a sacrificial lamb put up against then-NDP leader Jack Layton in 2006 – rejects the notion of a Liberal-NDP merger.

Her vision for the country also includes some echoes of Pierre Trudeau’s philosophy – such as her view that the country needs a strong national government to impart a sense of common purpose and to demonstrate that Canada is “more than the sum of its parts.

Nor does she shy away from defending Mr. Trudeau’s 1982 deal to patriate the Constitution with a Charter of rights, maintaining that national leaders need to “seize every possible opportunity” to counter the “old canard” that Quebec was “excluded” from the deal.

Still, Ms. Coyne bristles at suggestions that “somehow I’m just a mouthpiece for things that Pierre Trudeau may have said in the past.”

“Whatever I’m saying there is not at all just repeating, it’s what I’ve come to learn in my years of experience, most of which were long before I even met Pierre Trudeau” in the mid-1980s.

She points out that her views on things like collective rights and special status for Quebec are shared by millions of Canadians, manifested in public opposition to the Meech and Charlottetown accords. To ascribe them to one person, namely Mr. Trudeau, does a “disservice” to Canadians, she says.

Ms. Coyne, who currently bills herself as a Toronto-based independent public policy consultant, says her vision for the future of the country and the party “is built on ideas and history and views of what’s going to happen in the future. It’s not tied to any single person. ... It’s placing this in a continuum and it’s looking forward.

The Liberal leadership contest won’t formally begin until November, culminating in a leadership convention next April.

Shane Geschiere, a 32-year-old Manitoba paramedic with no political experience, is the only other person so far to openly declare his intention to enter the race.

A multitude of others are mulling whether to take the plunge, including Montreal MP and first Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau, Ottawa MP David McGuinty, New Brunswick MP Dominic LeBlanc, former MPs Gerard Kennedy, Mark Holland and Martha Hall Findlay, one-time candidates David Bertschi and Taleeb Noormohamed and Toronto lawyer George Takach.

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