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Trudeau continues to dominate Liberal leadership race as Bertschi drops out

Liberal party candidate Justin Trudeau speaks while Joyce Murray, moderator Harvey Locke, Marc Garneau, David Bertschi and Martha Hall Findlay listen in at the Liberal Party of Canada leadership debate in Winnipeg on Feb. 2, 2013. It was billed as a debate, but the two plush chairs on stage made it clear Saturday's Liberal leadership event would not be your typical candidates' battle.


Justin Trudeau's dominance of the race for Liberal leader is intensifying, after he raised $100,000 in just two hours at a Halifax cocktail party and faces one fewer opponent with long-shot candidate David Bertschi's decision to drop out.

Mr. Bertschi, an Ottawa lawyer, announced Thursday he was abandoning his candidacy. There were reports this month about the poor financial health of Mr. Bertschi's campaign and that both his campaign manager and financial agent had quit as a result.

This now leaves six candidates bidding for the leadership. Montreal MP Marc Garneau dropped out last week and threw his support behind Mr. Trudeau. He said a Trudeau win was a "fait accompli," noting that Mr. Trudeau has the support of the majority of Liberals.

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In addition to support, Mr. Trudeau has money. On Tuesday night in Halifax, 100 well-heeled Nova Scotians paid $1,000 each to hear the front-running candidate speak and mingle with him at a cocktail party in a posh residence on the Northwest Arm.

The spectacular modern home, which boasts dramatic views of the inlet off the Atlantic Ocean, is owned by Brad Langille, who made his fortune in gold.

Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison, who recently declared his support for Mr. Trudeau, introduced the candidate. His MP colleague, Geoff Regan, was also there. Mr. Regan's sister, Nancy Regan, a former television anchor, played master of ceremonies. Their father, Gerald Regan, is a former Nova Scotia premier.

There were a number of lawyers and business people also at the event.

Mr. Trudeau chatted with the guests when they first arrived and then spoke for about 15 minutes before taking questions.

He took a couple of shots at the federal government, arguing that Canada's reputation abroad has suffered as a result of Conservative policies.

"There seems to be a real interest in what he [Mr. Trudeau] can do for Canada internationally," said Rick Foster, a Halifax real-estate agent, who attended the event.

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Mr. Foster added that Mr. Trudeau also focused his talk on education, which has been one of his major policy planks. He has pledged to have 70 per cent participation in postsecondary education. But what stood out for Mr. Foster was the mix of people who attended the event, including both young and old party members.

"The old guard, who would have been Chrétien people, were there in full force and I think that was an indication – if they had not shown up – there could have been troubled waters. I think it was great he was able to attract a whole gambit of people."

Mr. Foster was referring to the decades-long fights over leadership – between John Turner and Jean Chrétien supporters and then between supporters of Mr. Chrétien and Paul Martin – which weakened the party.

Mr. Trudeau and the five other candidates will participate in their last debate this weekend in Montreal. The new leader will be announced on April 14 in Ottawa.

With reports from The Canadian Press

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