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Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau makes his way to the stage during the 2013 Liberal national showcase in Toronto on April 6, 2013. Mr. Trudeau has fundraised significantly more money than his competitors. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)
Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau makes his way to the stage during the 2013 Liberal national showcase in Toronto on April 6, 2013. Mr. Trudeau has fundraised significantly more money than his competitors. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Trudeau’s magnetism exerts strong pull on the fundraising trail Add to ...

Justin Trudeau hasn’t won the Liberal leadership yet, but already he has at least 90 outstanding invitations from supporters or groups from across Canada clamouring to throw him a cocktail party or other fundraising event.

It’s an indication that not only is he expected to get out more votes, he might also have the answers to his party’s long-standing funding woes.

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Mr. Trudeau has been spending part of this six-month campaign appearing at intimate gatherings, typically in a supporter’s home in a small town or big city, raising thousands of dollars for a two-hour event.

In Halifax recently, he raised nearly $100,000 during the two hours he visited businessman Brad Langille’s home. In Edmundston, N.B., Mr. Trudeau met with 40 people, who each contributed $1,000, and brought in another $40,000 for the team.

But he’s run out of time – as one of his strategists says, he “physically couldn’t” go to every fundraiser pitched to him.

All of this is an example of his appeal as a retail politician – something the Liberals haven’t seen in a leader since Jean Chrétien.

A long-time Liberal organizer noted that in the past few years, party members voted for the smartest guy in the room, believing leaders like Stéphane Dion or Michael Ignatieff, with impressive academic credentials and résumés, were enough to sway voters.

But these men had trouble connecting with Canadians – and attracting votes and raising money. Mr. Trudeau doesn’t. Throughout the campaign, he has attracted significant crowds and has been so successful at fundraising that it’s expected his campaign will contribute at least $1-million to the Liberal war chest when the leadership ends next week. In Eastern Ontario alone, he has about 600 volunteers.

Two of his supporters – Sandra Pupatello, former candidate in the Ontario Liberal leadership race and Isabel Metcalfe, former federal candidate and Trudeau organizer from Ottawa – joked that during his speech in Toronto Saturday they were at the front of the room acting like a pair of teenagers. He connects with younger Canadians on social media – he has nearly 200,000 followers now on Twitter. On Saturday, he tweeted a picture of himself and his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, dancing outside the doors of the hall at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

“Here’s Sophie and me getting our groove on to Martina Sorbara [songwriter and daughter of former Ontario Liberal finance minister Greg Sorbara], just before the big speech,” he tweeted. “Let’s get out and #vote.”

His team, meanwhile, is using social media to encourage supporters to give money. Last week, his two senior strategists, Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, e-mailed Liberals asking for $5 donations to help fight the expected Tory attack ads.

Elections Canada fundraising filings show that Mr. Trudeau had raised more than $1-million in four months and that was almost double the amount of all the other candidates combined. More than half of Mr. Trudeau’s donors gave $50 or less.

Ironically, it was the Liberals who reformed political financing and have suffered the most from the changes that came in 2004. The Tories are experts at raising small amounts from a large pool of donors – the Liberals had for too long relied on big corporate donations, which they banned in the reforms.

And the Liberals are still suffering. According to Elections Canada, the Conservatives raised $17-million last year, compared with $9-million for the Liberals.

Mr. Trudeau, his supporters hope, can change this – and so far he is proving that he can. He’s also serving notice that he won’t let the Tories define him through attack ads as they did with Mr. Dion and Mr. Ignatieff.

In Saturday’s speech, Mr. Trudeau characterized Stephen Harper as a divisive leader with few ideas. He called the Harper government “unambitious,” suggesting the Prime Minister has little else than attacks to put on display in the Tory window.

The new Liberal leader will be announced on Sunday afternoon in Ottawa after a week of online and telephone voting. Mr. Trudeau will be spending the week on the phone, encouraging his volunteers and voters to mark their ballots.

If Mr. Trudeau wins, as expected, he will immediately be facing Mr. Harper in the House of Commons. The plan, according to one Trudeau strategist, is for Mr. Trudeau to spend the weeks before the summer break questioning and sparring with the Prime Minister in Question Period, scrumming with reporters and learning the ropes of Parliament as a party leader.

And during the summer, Mr. Trudeau will finally be able to accept the invitations to those cocktail parties and fundraisers that he couldn’t get to during the campaign.

LIBERALS BREAK GROUND WITH A MORE TRANSPARENT VOTING PROCESS

Voting to determine the next leader of the federal Liberal Party started Saturday, after the six candidates – including front-runner Justin Trudeau – delivered their final speeches at a national showcase held in Toronto this past weekend.

The speeches and tribute to outgoing interim leader Bob Rae were the final event of a six-month campaign. The winner is to be announced in Ottawa on April 14.

Nova Scotia MP Geoff Regan, one of the 127,126 Liberals registered, cast the first ballot at a kiosk at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. In an effort to be open and transparent, the Liberal Party is posting the numbers on its website, even showing the results by province.

Voters have until 3 p.m. ET on April 14, to cast their preferential ballot – ranking candidates in order of preference – by phone or online. About 1,000 supporters are expected to gather at a downtown Ottawa hotel for the results at 5 p.m. Former prime minister Jean Chrétien, who was not at the Toronto event, is slated to speak in Ottawa.

Mr. Trudeau’s team says it expects to win the Liberal leadership on the first ballot, attracting 55 per cent to 65 per cent of the vote.

While he’s considered the front-runner, he’s not taking it for granted – he plans to remain in Toronto for a few days to work the phones, call potential voters and ask for support. He also will be calling campaign workers to encourage them to keep up the momentum. Other candidates will surely do the same.

This is the first time the national party has held a leadership contest this way. It’s brand-new territory and there have been mixed reviews about Saturday’s event, which was billed as a “mini-convention” with buttons, signs, T-shirts and other election swag. But it didn’t have the excitement and drama of a traditional delegated convention.

BY THE NUMBERS

1 – Nova Scotia MP Geoff Regan was the first person in Canada to cast a ballot for the Liberal leadership under its new rules. He voted after the speeches Saturday at one of the booths set up at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

127,126 – Registered Liberal voters eligible to elect the new leader.

6 – Candidates in the race. There were originally nine but three dropped out, including Canada’s first astronaut, Marc Garneau, who was considered Justin Trudeau’s biggest competition.

1,586 – Supporters and observers who attended Saturday’s final speeches.

$1.1-million – Amount of money raised so far by Justin Trudeau from 8,400 donors compared with $225,000 from 2,000 donors for Joyce Murray and $193,000 from 1,100 donors for Martha Hall Findlay.

Follow on Twitter: @janetaber1

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