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Martha Hall Findlay announces that she will be a candidate in the federal Liberal leadership race during a press conference in Calgary, Alberta on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012.Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press

It was one of the longest lead-ups to a federal leadership race in Canadian history, starting 562 days ago with the resignation of Michael Ignatieff. But the contest to decide who will take the helm of the third-place Liberal Party is now officially on.

Who are the candidates?

Lots of people have declared their intentions, many with stellar credentials. Few have the political experience that would make them an obvious choice to lead a federal political party.

The list of those who have stated their intention to run, as of Wednesday, included Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi, Vancouver lawyer Alex Burton, Toronto lawyer Deborah Coyne, Toronto lawyer Martha Hall Findlay, Victoria lawyer David Merner, Toronto economist Jonathan Mousley, and Quebec MP Justin Trudeau.

How difficult will it be to become a serious contender?

Very. Unless you are Mr. Trudeau or perhaps Ms. Hall Findlay.

Each candidate must pay of $75,000 in entry fees, $50,000 of which is due by Dec. 15. And having deep pockets of their own won't help – they must raise this money in donations of no more than $1,100 each from individual Canadians. That means finding a large number of donors, all of whom are willing to contribute to a candidate who will be starting from the back of the pack.

On the other hand, even though most of the candidates are not household names across Canada, many are well known within the party itself. And it is largely Liberals who will be voting.

The big question is how many contestants will remain in the race on Dec. 16.

Why is Mr. Trudeau considered the frontrunner?

Justin Trudeau had the lead in this contest before he declared himself to be a candidate – something that can be attributed to name recognition and charisma. If there is anything that Liberals want in their next leader, it's star power. They need someone who can at least knock the NDP off its game, if not make a head-on rush at the Conservatives.

Repeated polls have suggested that the Liberals could do very well with Mr. Trudeau as their leader. And the party's fortunes appear to have taken a positive turn just because he is in the race.

But Ms. Hall Findlay declared herself to be a serious contender this week by announcing not only her candidacy but a team led by the same people who propelled Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Alberta Premier Alison Redford to power.

Still pondering his options is Quebec MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau.

What lies ahead?

There will be five debates in major cities across Canada starting in Vancouver in January.

The race is unusual in that, as part of its renewal process, the Liberals have decided to let non-members cast votes. It is impossible to predict at this point what effect the so-called "supporter" class of voter will have on the outcome.

The voting will begin on April 6, and the Liberals have opted for a preferential ballot. The voters will mark their ballots just once. If their preferred candidate is at the bottom of the list after the first count, their vote will go to their second choice, and so on, until someone tops 50 per cent. The votes will be weighted to give each riding an equal say in the final result.

What are Liberals saying?

Party president Mike Crawley: "By the time the debates start, which is the real show, in January, they will have had to pay the full freight, the $75,000. So it's kind of like a funnel … by the time you get to January, you will be narrowed down to the serious candidates that have been able to raise money, whose ideas have attracted supporters."

Martha Hall Findlay: "It's called leadership by example. And if one looks at all of the things that I have done in my life as a lawyer, as a business person, as a parent, both here in Canada and abroad, what somebody has been able to do and what they have been able to accomplish in the past speaks volumes about what they are capable of doing in the future."

Alex Burton: "We can't keep doing things the same way and expecting a different result. We've really got to try not just new approaches in the Liberal Party, we've got to try new things in politics. Four out of 10 Canadians not voting in the last election – there's got to be a way to try and re-engage with Canadians and I believe I can be the voice that can do that."

David Bertschi: "I have met with Canadians from coast to coast to coast. There is a lot of hope in the air but we have to give them an alternative to Stephen Harper. The days of the professional politicians who don't have experience in business, who haven't lived in the real world without a whole bunch of drama, is behind us. We are looking at principled, focused leadership."

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