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Dorothy Goubault cheers as she waits for federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau to deliver his opening address on day one of the party's biennial convention in Montreal, Thursday, February 20, 2014. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Dorothy Goubault cheers as she waits for federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau to deliver his opening address on day one of the party's biennial convention in Montreal, Thursday, February 20, 2014. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Liberals pushing for more female candidates in next election Add to ...

Justin Trudeau is pushing for more women to run as candidates in 2015.

Rather than setting targets or percentages for female candidates as some previous leaders have, Mr. Trudeau is instructing riding associations to prove to him that a serious effort was made to find a competent woman to run.

“We have never had a leader who has made such a huge commitment,” Judy Sgro, veteran York West MP, told The Globe Friday. “So I think it’s really encouraging for women that you have a leader who truly recognizes the world is made up of 51 per cent women.”

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Ms. Sgro said riding associations will have to form three-member search committees – and not all three members can be men – to go out and find women who want to run. They have to prove they have searched seriously. She says that could include placing an ad in a newspaper or a sending out a newsletter in the riding – but it has to be done with diligence.

“[Mr. Trudeau] just said to all our riding presidents. … You have to show me where you looked,” she said.

At the National Women’s Liberal Commission meeting at the convention Friday morning, more than a dozen women stood up when asked if they were considering running for a nomination. They were applauded by the other women in the room.

It’s always been hard to attract women to politics and then get them elected. The Liberals have tried many iterations, such as in 1993 when former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien controversially appointed women to ridings, which meant they didn’t have to face nomination battles. Other Liberal leaders tried to set targets for women candidates, but struggled to reach them.

In the 2011 election that saw the Liberals drop to third-party status, the number of women in the caucus was reduced to only six from the 19 elected in 2008.

For the Conservatives, only 17 per cent of their caucus – or 29 MPs – are women. The NDP, meanwhile, have 39 per cent of their caucus female – on the strength of their remarkable breakthrough in Quebec in the 2011 campaign.

A recent Ipsos Reid poll shows that 38 per cent of women trust Mr. Trudeau compared to 32 per cent for Stephen Harper and 31 per cent for NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.

The Montreal Liberal convention, meanwhile, has focused on election readiness. One of the convention sessions deals with obstacles faced by female candidates.

The party hopes to have one-third of their candidates nominated by the summer, and the rest by the end of the year.

But finding more women is not the only challenge for the Trudeau Liberals.

Darrell Bricker, Global CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, told The Globe that Mr. Trudeau cannot form a majority government without shaking loose the middle class from the Tories.

Mr. Trudeau speaks often about the plight of the so-called middle class but has been criticized for not offering details as to how he would support them.

Mr. Bricker said middle-class Canadians “still want lower taxes, smaller government and law and order.”

“When the Grits talk about the middle class they remind me of Marxists talking about the working class – they understand them as a sociological and economic concept, they just don’t get them (at least not yet) as real people,” Mr. Bricker said. “That’s because the Grit brain trust are all downtown elites – regardless of where they started life or how much money they make.”

He said when the middle class are asked what they most want from government it is a tax cut – something the Trudeau Liberals are not pushing.

“When government says middle class a lot of those we would define as middle class actually think they are talking about the ‘working class.’ And, that’s not them. That’s also why they see the NDP as best understanding the middle class and also having the best policies for them.”

Mr. Trudeau is to speak Saturday, in what is being billed as a substantive speech and may provide more details as to his economic plan. The 3,000 delegates who are in Montreal, however, don’t seem worried about their leader’s performance.

The mood is buoyant and energetic. Winnipeg delegate Robin Dowsett described the convention two years ago as “flat” while this one is full of hope.

Montreal MP Irwin Cotler says he is finding a lot of energy, engagement and new faces. “I am very excited about it,” he says, noting that the polls are in their favour.

“We are kind of in sync between what is going on in here and what is being thought out there,” he said.

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