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A delegate walks past the main stage at the Liberal policy convention in Ottawa on Jan. 13, 2012. (Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
A delegate walks past the main stage at the Liberal policy convention in Ottawa on Jan. 13, 2012. (Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

'Stay loose and relaxed,' former PM says as meeting of Liberal minds begins Add to ...

For a convention that’s being billed about rebuilding and renewal, Liberal youth chose to go way back to the past for advice on the future.

Former prime minister John Turner, who was an MP in the 1960s and led the party in the 1980s, spoke Friday morning, telling them to “stay loose and relaxed.” He reminded them that they are the future of the party and said that after religion there is no more honourable vocation than public service.

This is the first day of the third party’s three-day policy convention, in which Liberals hope to chart out a roadmap to recovery. The convention space is decorated with big red building blocks that say “RE Building” in French and English.

There are an estimated 3,000 delegates, according to Liberal officials – 1,000 of them are said to be under 30 years of age. But there are many old faces in attendance, too. Paul Martin is here as is former Foreign Affairs minister Pierre Pettigrew and other defeated and former MPs.

Mr. Turner's message, meanwhile, was (as it has been since he was elected to the Commons) to give individual MPs more power, allow them to vote freely and for goodness sake, don't let the leader appoint candidates to ridings.

He even gave a little history lesson, explaining the importance of the Magna Carta of 1215 and how it embraced democracy. “This party has to be built at the local level from the bottom up,” Mr. Turner argued.

His message, however, is not unlike that of the current party hierarchy, which is pushing for a radical reform – a primary system – in the selection of a leader. That process, which officials hope will open up the party to more Canadians, is to be voted Sunday.

Between then and now there's a lot of politicking going on. And as with every convention it all happens in the corridors.

Early Friday morning, Sheila Copps, the former deputy prime minister, was working the delegates. She's running in a hotly-contested race for party president – and was working on four hours sleep.

Mike Crawley, the former Ontario Liberal Party president, is Ms. Copps's main rival. He was spotted, too, in the hallway speaking to a clutch of delegates.

Meanwhile, Montreal MP Justin Trudeau was selling raffle tickets to raise money for the Judy LaMarsh Fund that supports female candidates. The winner of the raffle will be able to shave off Mr. Trudeau's moustache Saturday before convention delegates.

Earlier Friday, Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae dropped in on the National Liberal Women's Commission, where he acknowledged hat the party has a long way to go to achieve gender equality with its candidates.

He noted, however, that unlike previous leaders, he does not favour appointing candidates to ridings. Jean Chrétien had used his power as leader during his tenure to appoint a number of women to winnable ridings.

Notably, the women's commission chose support for a woman's right to choose abortion as its priority resolution. There are concerns about the Harper government's commitment to this and so Liberal women want to emphasize their stand.

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