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Liberals officially kick off leadership race, but leave crucial decisions on hold

Interim Leader Bob Rae and party president Mike Crawley take questions at the Liberal policy convention in Ottawa on Jan. 15, 2012.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The race for Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada is officially underway. But one of the most crucial decisions – how to identify members of the new supporter class, and whether they should pay – remains up in the air.

The party's national executive met by teleconference Wednesday morning to approve the bylaw setting the groundrules for the contest.

Candidates for leader can submit their nomination papers – and the first $25,000 tranche of the $75,000 entrance fee – from Wednesday forward. The second payment is due Dec. 15, with the third and final installment due Jan. 13, which is also the last day for candidates to enter the race.

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The executive also settled on six leadership debates, starting in Vancouver on Jan. 20, followed by Winnipeg on Feb. 2, Greater Toronto Area on Feb. 17, Halifax on March 3, Montreal on March 23, with a final "showcase" in Toronto on April 6, the day voting begins.

During voting week, party members and supporters will be able to cast a ballot in one of four ways: by mail, by phone, by Internet and in person.

The votes will be counted and the winner announced at a meeting in Ottawa April 14.

The executive has still not sorted out the details of the new "supporter" category, which allows people to vote for leader without actually having to join the party.

Supporters will have to both sign up – signal their interest – and register – provide information confirming their identity – before they are able to cast a ballot. The cutoff for joining the supporter category is March 3, five weeks before voting begins.

But the executive still hasn't decided on whether to charge a fee for joining the supporter category, which could undermine efforts to mass-recruit supporters for individual campaigns. That decision is expected before the end of November. And details of how much information supporters must provide when they register have also not been nailed down.

Montreal MP Justin Trudeau has already announced his intention to seek the leadership and is actively campaigning. Former Toronto-area MP Martha Hall Findlay is expected to declare she is in the race Wednesday. Quebec MP Marc Garneau is also actively considering a run, with several lesser-known candidates also expected to file nomination papers.

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