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liberal leadership

Federal Liberal Party leadership candidates wave to the crowd after a debate in Halifax, March 3, 2013.Devaan Ingraham/Reuters

The Liberal Party remains weakest in francophone Quebec and the Prairie provinces, giving Ontario and British Columbia the biggest say in the selection of the party's next leader, according to a riding-by-riding breakdown of Liberal members and supporters.

With nearly 300,000 eligible voters, the Liberal Party has extolled the current race as a success, but the regional breakdown reveals how the party still faces an uphill battle in parts of the country that have long been resistant to the Liberal brand.

More than half of the eligible voters in the race are in Ontario (125,000) and B.C. (40,000), giving those provinces a bigger say in the vote than their relative share of the overall Canadian population. The Atlantic provinces are also slightly overrepresented in the party's list of eligible voters, while Quebec and the three Prairie provinces are clearly under-represented.

Each of Canada's 308 ridings will have the exact same weight in the election of the next Liberal leader on April 14, but the number of members and supporters in each of them varies wildly. The variations carry a strategic importance: Underdog candidates say they can make up ground on front-runner Justin Trudeau by winning over relatively small numbers of supporters in ridings that have low numbers of eligible voters.

The riding-by-riding list shows there are 82 eligible voters in the northern Quebec riding of Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, and 99 in the Saskatchewan riding of Battlefords-Lloydminster. By contrast, the party has more than 4,000 members in two Ontario ridings, namely Mississauga-Brampton South (4,407) and Bramalea-Gore-Malton (4,986), and in the British Columbia riding of Newton-North Delta (5,306).

Each of these ridings will be worth a total of 100 points when the final votes are counted. As such, whether a candidate wins 50 per cent of the vote in Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou or in Newton-North Delta, he or she will receive 50 points. In that context, a vote in the smaller ridings will be worth much more to the eight candidates than a vote in the big ridings.

"That's the game at this point," said Martin Cauchon, a former Liberal minister who is attempting a political comeback. "Over coming weeks, the goal is to convince people … to change their support."

Liberal MP Marc Garneau added he will "focus on ridings where I think that it will be to my strategic advantage." Another candidate, former Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay, said her strategy is now to persuade supporters to switch to her camp. In a statement, she pointed out that "all supporters and members are free to change their mind right up to the moment they cast their ballot."

The Liberal Party has announced there are more than 290,000 eligible voters in the race to find a permanent replacement to Michael Ignatieff. The party has refused to provide a specific breakdown on the number of members, who have paid for their card, and supporters, who registered at no cost.

Mr. Trudeau's campaign has amassed up to 170,000 of these eligible voters, while other campaigns have refused to provide their own internal numbers.

Mr. Trudeau has decided to keep a low media profile at this point in the campaign, with his team stating the race has become a "ground game." The goal is to get the campaign's 7,000 volunteers to kick into action and make sure that eligible voters, whether members or supporters, actually take the next step of registering for the vote ahead of the March 14 cutoff. Only registered voters will receive a PIN to vote online or by phone.

Of the 27 ridings that have fewer than 200 eligible voters, 16 are in Quebec and the 11 others are in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Nunavut. Of the 21 ridings with more than 2,000 eligible voters, there are 11 in Ontario, four each in B.C. and the Maritimes, and one each in Manitoba and in Quebec, namely Mr. Trudeau's own riding of Papineau.