Justin Trudeau is facing heat for the first time in his leadership campaign over two-year-old comments in which he criticized the dominance of Alberta politicians in Canada and extolled the virtues of past prime ministers from Quebec.
The controversy echoes recent comments by fellow Liberal MP David McGuinty who urged Conservative politicians in Ottawa to "go back to Alberta," and further shakes the Liberal Party of Canada's fragile support in Alberta ahead of an important by-election in Calgary.
In an interview two years ago, Mr. Trudeau said that "Canada isn't looking good because it's Albertans who are controlling our community and social-democratic agenda. It's not working."
Mr. Trudeau then suggested that the most important prime ministers in the recent history of Canada were also Quebec MPs, mentioning his father, Pierre Trudeau, and his successors Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. As part of his critique of Alberta politicians, Mr. Trudeau argued that Quebeckers were a crucial presence in federal politics.
The comments were replayed on Sun TV on Thursday, one day after Mr. McGuinty's resignation as the Liberal critic for natural resources, and prompted Mr. Trudeau to state they were taken "out of context."
"Justin knows that Calgary, Alberta, and all of Western Canada are at the very heart of Canada's future," the Trudeau campaign said in a statement. "We need to get beyond the divisive politics of the Conservatives and include all Canadians."
Mr. Trudeau is seen as the frontrunner in the leadership race, as shown by his early fundraising figures. According to Elections Canada, Mr. Trudeau had raised $95,000 in donations – or 10 per cent of the spending limit – before the official start of the five-month race earlier this month. Mr. Trudeau has collected enough money to cover the $75,000 entry fee, a relatively high amount that is seen as a barrier to many of his would-be rivals in the race.
Mr. Trudeau was the first officially registered candidate in the race to replace Michael Ignatieff, and he is the first to publish fundraising data on the website of the federal electoral watchdog. The numbers go from the launch of his campaign on Oct. 2, at an event in his home riding of Papineau in Montreal, until the official start of the Liberal leadership race on Nov. 14.
Donors who offered the maximum contribution of $1,200 to Mr. Trudeau's campaign include Mr. Trudeau himself, his wife Sophie Grégoire, his brother Sacha, Liberal MPs Dominic LeBlanc and John McCallum, former senator Leo Kolber, former MP Navdeep Bains, activist Craig Kielburger and businessman Stephen Bronfman. Mr. Trudeau has also received donations from members of his campaign team such as Daniel Gagnier, Gerald Butts, Herb Metcalfe and Bruce Young.
Overall, the Trudeau campaign has received donations from 664 supporters. Mr. Trudeau's team is pleased with the figure, which shows that the campaign had raised one-tenth of its target before the race officially started.
Toronto lawyer Deborah Coyne was the second candidate to officially enter the race, according to the Liberal Party of Canada, although her initial fundraising report has yet to be published. Liberal MP Marc Garneau is preparing his own leadership bid, while former Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay and other lesser-known figures have already announced their plans to join the race.
The non-refundable entry fee, which needs to be paid in full by mid-January, is seen as too stiff for some of them to actually enter the race. The spending limit for the entire race is $950,000.
The next leader of the Liberal Party will be selected at a convention in Ottawa on April 14. The party has scheduled five debates across the country and a final showcase in Toronto ahead of the vote. Elections Canada calls on candidates in leadership races to present a fundraising report when they register, and another one four weeks before the actual vote. The final report must be filled within six months of the end of the race.