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Federal Liberal Party leadership candidates Justin Trudeau, left, and Joyce Murray take part in the final leadership debate in Montreal on March 23, 2013. Both leadership candidates butted heads over the question of co-operating with other parties in strategic voting. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS)
Federal Liberal Party leadership candidates Justin Trudeau, left, and Joyce Murray take part in the final leadership debate in Montreal on March 23, 2013. Both leadership candidates butted heads over the question of co-operating with other parties in strategic voting. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS)

Liberals work to fill seats at leadership showcase amid low ticket sales Add to ...

Liberal party officials are working to fill the 1,500 seats at their national showcase of leadership candidates Saturday, amid reports of low ticket sales.

As of Friday morning, more than 200 people had purchased $150 general admission tickets for Saturday’s event, which features the six candidates’ final speeches – but without the suspense and hoopla of a delegated convention. The Liberal party has recently tried to open up the organization, including the creation of the supporter category of Canadians who could vote in the leadership race without becoming members of the party.

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Party officials vow they will fill the 1,500 seats at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre Saturday afternoon for a tribute to outgoing interim leader Bob Rae, a speech by former prime minister Paul Martin and then speeches by the six candidates.

Saturday’s event, billed by the party as the nearest thing to an actual convention, will feature demonstrations by supporters before each candidate’s speech, buttons and signs, and maybe a hospitality room or two. It will kick off a week of voting before the new leader is revealed in Ottawa on April 14.

Reports that few tickets had been sold were misleading, officials argued, because they only accounted for the general admission sales. Those tickets are the most expensive at $150 a pop. Regular party contributors from the Laurier Club and Victory Fund can purchase discounted tickets – $75 and $100 respectively. One party official said about 300 of those tickets are gone; there are also $75 tickets for youth members. Observers, who are usually members of other political parties or anyone not registered to vote, pay $499.

But reporting sales numbers right now is also a challenge, says an official, as tickets can be purchased right up until the event begins Saturday.

In addition, each of the six candidates is entitled to 100 tickets. However, candidates may use fewer or request more than their allotment. A party official would not say if any candidate has so far requested more tickets nor would the official say if candidates have to pay for their tickets.

However, the event Saturday will be mainly a gathering of supporters from Toronto and southern Ontario. Other Liberals do not need to spend the money to come to Toronto as they can vote anytime during the week online or by phone.

The party decided against a delegated convention, such as the one held in 2006 in Montreal that elected Stephane Dion as leader. Instead, it opted for a process in which anyone could join the party, without a fee, and vote.

The idea was to try to increase party memberships and also compile names of potential supporters who can be wooed and contacted up to and during the next election. The process attracted about 300,000 supporters but fewer than half of those – or 126,000 – registered to vote. Even fewer are expected to cast their ballots.

Some party members are grumbling about this process, saying the party did not communicate well with the supporters about how to register to vote.

Six leadership candidates are still in the running: former cabinet minister Martin Cauchon, Toronto lawyer Deborah Coyne, former MP Martha Hall Findlay, former military officer Karen McCrimmon, B.C. MP Joyce Murray and Quebec MP Justin Trudeau.

With files from the Canadian Press

Follow on Twitter: @janetaber1

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