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Interim Leader Bob Rae shakes hands with Liberal supporters at an Ottawa news conference on May 2, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Interim Leader Bob Rae shakes hands with Liberal supporters at an Ottawa news conference on May 2, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

With Rae eyeing top job, Liberals open doors to outside 'supporters' Add to ...

The federal Liberals, who are stuck with third-party status for at least the next three years, have followed through on a bid reignite the interest of Canadians by allowing non-members to take a greater role in party affairs – including voting for the next leader.

Mike Crawley, the party president, said Wednesday the national council has agreed to a motion approved at a policy convention in January to allow non-members to play an active part in Liberal affairs.

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“Liberals decided that the party had to fundamentally change in order to grow, in order to rebound,” Mr. Crawley told MPs, senators, party supporters and the media at an event Wednesday to announce the Liberal plans to rebuild.

“But it’s not just a question of the Liberal party having to fundamentally change,” he said. “Members of the party decided also that politics in Canada had to fundamentally change.”

That means creating a new way to get involved with politics and that political parties can no longer be a closed club, Mr. Crawley said. As of Wednesday, any Canadian can become a “supporter” of the Liberal Party, which will allow them to vote for the next leader without paying a membership fee.

“What we’ve created with this supporters category this morning is a party without walls in which ideas can flow in and flow out, a party which is constantly reaching out and engaging with Canadians,” Mr. Crawley said.

Bob Rae, the interim Liberal Leader, said the change in rules marked a significant moment in Liberal party history.

“We could have played it safe, we could have done things in a different way,” he said. “But we realized that we had a chance to make a real difference in how our party organizes itself and how we move forward.”

The party has been lagging in the polls since Thomas Mulcair was elected NDP Leader in March. A new survey by Harris-Decima that conducted for The Canadian Press, suggests the Liberals have slipped below 20 per cent in popular support with New Democrats at 33 per cent and the Conservatives at 30 per cent.

So the Liberals are keenly aware of the need to revitalize.

The party’s rules say the interim leader of the party cannot be in the running for the permanent position and the national executive will decide in June whether Mr. Rae would have to step aside if he wishes to join the contest.

Mr. Rae has not yet made his intentions clear.

“What I have said consistently from the beginning is that I will follow very respectfully the rules of the party,” he said in response to questions from reporters on the subject. “As the rules have been set out by the executive, I am excluded from running. And I am also saying I am not putting the decision on anyone else. I am saying that before I make a decision, I have to hear from the executive.”

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