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Liberal leader Justin Trudeau acknowledges applauses from supporters during a rally at the Hilton hotel in Quebec City, February 19, 2014. (MATHIEU BELANGER/Reuters)
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau acknowledges applauses from supporters during a rally at the Hilton hotel in Quebec City, February 19, 2014. (MATHIEU BELANGER/Reuters)

Liberals gear up election strategy at convention Add to ...

Justin Trudeau and his national campaign team are using this week’s convention as a jumping-off point to frame strategy for the upcoming election and nail down potential candidates.

The Liberal leader will spend three hours behind closed doors with his senior campaign strategists on Friday, the second day of the four-day biennial convention in Montreal, to go over the nominations and start planning for 2015 – the election year.

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Liberal sources say the party wants to have one-third of its candidates nominated by this summer – and the rest by the end of the year. Nova Scotia incumbents Geoff Regan and Mark Eyking, for example, are to be nominated this month in their ridings in a bid to show the Liberal Party, although third in the House of Commons, is election-ready.

Mr. Trudeau is putting a focus on the future at the convention – a change from past Liberal gatherings that celebrated achievements such as balanced budgets. This is Mr. Trudeau’s first national convention since he won the leadership last year.

Noticeably absent will be former Liberal prime ministers. Senators will have no special status, and delegates – about 3,000 are expected – will vote on a resolution banning them from national caucus, confirming Mr. Trudeau’s recent decision to make senators who were appointed as Liberals sit as independents.

At a caucus meeting in Quebec City on Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau confirmed that his team is in pre-election mode, but warned that the platform would not be unveiled until the campaign.

“The electoral strategy is very simple and it’s in our slogan. It’s ‘Hope and Hard Work.’ It’s reminding ourselves that Canadians are not a negative, cynical people, we are a people who believe in opportunity and optimism,” Mr. Trudeau said.

He said the speakers at the convention would aim to find ways to “make Canada work for the middle class and for all Canadians.” The goal will be to “build a platform and build a solution for governing this country.”

“The electoral platform, as is the case for all political parties, will only be published during the next election campaign,” Mr. Trudeau said. “I will continue to put forward a number of ideas.”

He said he would take to the podium at the convention to discuss economic matters with the delegates. He is also scheduled to make a short speech on Thursday evening – billed as a welcome to his hometown of Montreal – and a longer one with a policy emphasis on Saturday afternoon.

“What I will be reminding the attendees at the convention is the fact that, top of mind for all Canadians is the economy, is their jobs, is their kids’ prosperity, is their retirement, their parents’ health care,” Mr. Trudeau said. “These are very real concerns and the bulk of our conversations at the convention will be on economic matters.”

There will also be a lot of conversations about election readiness. Several sessions are planned on branding, campaign training, mobilizing the grassroots and messaging.

The Liberals have brought in two former strategists for U.S. President Barack Obama to talk to delegates about election strategy, including using social media as effective campaign tools.

A spotlight is also being put on potential candidates, such as Jim Carr, the former head of the Business Council of Manitoba, who is participating in two panels. The former provincial Liberal, who has been out of politics for two decades, is seeking the nomination in Winnipeg South Centre.

Mr. Carr is known for the so-called Manitoba miracle, using the council to push government to adopt an ambitious immigration policy. He was able to bring together political parties and politicians of all stripes, including prime ministers and Manitoba premiers. This consensus-building approach is consistent with Mr. Trudeau’s efforts to rise above the partisan fray and engage as many Canadians as he can.

Mr. Carr said he would talk about immigration, First Nations education, energy strategy and what he hopes to bring to Mr. Trudeau’s team, which is “lots of years of experience putting together coalitions, creating consensus among people.”

He said he wants to tell delegates how “we as a national party can learn lessons from people in Manitoba and elsewhere who have been able to … set a policy agenda sometimes outside government, to give government some space.”

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