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Think of it as Grass Skirt Diplomacy.

Martha Hall Findlay has learned quickly what to say and what not to say when it comes to the little hula dancer that sits on the dashboard of the bus she's hoping will carry her to the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

She won't tell you where the grass skirt dances highest, but she will say where the skirt bounces least: Saskatchewan.

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"It's a great way to learn about the infrastructure of this country," she laughs. "I now know where all the bad roads are as well as the good.

"And Saskatchewan has good roads."

The original idea was to hang a pair of fuzzy dice from the rear-view mirror, but the big red campaign bus -- with the candidate's picture and "It's Time"painted on the side -- didn't have the right sort of mirror, so they went with the bobble doll instead.

The dice, perhaps, would have been more appropriate -- for there is no bigger gamble in this so-far dreary leadership race than Martha Hall Findlay.

She began as a complete unknown -- jokingly calling herself "Martha Who Who" -- but over the past several weeks, this trilingual Ontario lawyer who barely lost to high-profile Conservative candidate Belinda Stronach in 2004 and was bounced in favour of Stronach, now a Liberal, in the 2006 election, has been getting unexpected attention from the right quarters.

The Globe's John Ibbitson wrote, after listening to her in one dreadful leadership forum, that "she was the only one who made you think the Liberals might be the party of this century, rather than the last."

Both of the Toronto Star's political pundits, James Travers and Chantal Hébert, have written approvingly of her. Hall Findlay, said Travers, "who entered first and hopes to finish strongly by being everyone's second or third choice, is justifiably gaining attention as a fast study." Hébert said that, of the three women trying for the leadership -- Ontario's Carolyn Bennett and British Columbia's Hedy Fry, both former cabinet ministers, are the other two -- Hall Findlay "is the only one who has the necessary language credentials and the presence that front-line politicians are made of."

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At the last forum, held in Moncton, Hall Findlay won the day twice.

After candidate Scott Brison said he wouldn't want to see The New York Times slam Canada as a fair-weather partner in the war on terrorism had the government motion on extending the effort in Afghanistan been defeated, Hall Findlay shot back that Canada's foreign policy was not something that should be tailored to fit the headlines of U.S. newspapers.

Her finest moment, however, came when she declared the obvious that no one else has dared say: "The Liberal debate needs a little more pizzazz."

"It's been crushingly boring," Hall Findlay says. "And it needn't be."

She finds the format of the leadership forums restrictive, mostly dry exchanges between candidates who largely agree with each other -- or at least agree to gang up on the perceived front-runner, Michael Ignatieff.

She finds that matters of substance and of immediate import to Canadians, such as the importance of maintaining a single-tier health-care system, are simply not being addressed.

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She would like to see new formats attempted, and suggests "roundtable" sessions that would involve journalists questioning the candidates, or one-topic debates, such as on the environment, which might be broadcast over the Internet to a wider audience.

But the greatest problem, she concedes, is "a singular lack of personality."

With Phase I of the leadership race drawing to a close, with the next official forum not scheduled until September, she sees summer as a perfect opportunity to inject a little "personality" into the campaign.

She would like to see the candidates have a barbeque cook-off or perhaps even head off on a "survival" canoe trip, although she thinks she might have a bit of an advantage in her choices. If other candidates have their own ideas of how to fire up this snooze, she's open to any suggestion.

In the meantime, she's heading out across the country in that big red bus with the hula dancer on the dash.

"Every town we drive into becomes an 'event,' " she says. "It's something I didn't anticipate at all. But we're getting great local media out of it.

"And what a great excuse this has been to drive across the country and just talk to people. What I'm finding is a huge appetite among Liberals to feel that it is important again to be a Liberal in this country."

What she is also finding is that her own appetite is an issue: she's so busy running she forgets to eat. She's been losing weight to the point that, in Moncton, she finally could take the heat and boredom of the campaign no longer and stepped away.

"I had to hike up my pants," she says. "I felt just like that guy in the Canadian Tire ad wearing that heavy tool belt!"

And if some people got a chuckle out of it, so much the better.

"We have to throw some life into this thing."

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