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Liberals have handed Michael Ignatieff a sizable lead that he will carry into the party's December leadership convention, with three contenders still fighting to emerge as his chief rival.

Three days of voting for leadership convention delegates during the party's "super weekend" effectively cut the field from eight hopefuls to four real contenders, and made Mr. Ignatieff the clear front-runner but still far enough from a majority that he can be beaten.

The results left open the question of which candidate will be the one who leads the charge against him.

Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy and Stéphane Dion were all bunched together -- and each had mixed results.

The surprise of the weekend was Mr. Kennedy, who ran a strong second to Mr. Ignatieff in English Canada, virtually tying him in Ontario and Alberta. Mr. Kennedy was all but shut out of Quebec, where he took less than 2 per cent of the delegates.

As results trickled in late last night, Mr. Rae held the edge for second place, but the perception that his campaign was riding a wave of momentum was cut short.

After governing Ontario as NDP premier from 1990 to 1995, he was a distant third in his home province, bolstering concerns among members of his new party that he would scare away Ontario voters in an election.

Although Mr. Dion's second-place showing in Quebec put him in a virtual tie for third place with Mr. Kennedy, he garnered less than 10 per cent of the delegates in the rest of the country and would have to beat out two contenders to face Mr. Ignatieff on the final ballot.

The four other candidates -- Ken Dryden, Joe Volpe, Scott Brison and Martha Hall Findlay -- essentially saw their leadership hopes dashed, as none had more than 5 per cent of the delegates.

The results suggested the leadership is now Mr. Ignatieff's to lose.

"I don't take victory for granted and what I keep emphasizing is I have to win and secure the confidence of a lot more delegates. I've got a third of them but I need a lot more," Mr. Ignatieff said as he cast his vote yesterday.

Mr. Ignatieff will likely take an even larger lead on the convention's first ballot than the weekend's results suggest, because he has a substantial edge among automatic delegates, such as MPs and riding presidents, who can cast up to another 1,000 ballots. Those party officials are generally considered more likely to back the front-runner.

The rookie Toronto MP's campaign will now seek to emphasize that he is the inevitable winner, a move that could attract the kind of donors and delegates such a perception can draw. The three second-tier contenders will have to spend much of their efforts fighting each other.

Mr. Kennedy, whose French is weaker than that of the other top contenders, said his later start in the campaign and his lack of profile in Quebec made it hard to break into the existing networks of Liberal organizers in the province.

Mr. Kennedy's campaign is now expected to take aim at Mr. Rae, arguing that the former Ontario premier's weak results in his native province show that he could not win the key battleground for the Liberals in an election.

"I'm sure Mr. Rae will have his explanation for that," Mr. Kennedy said of the Ontario results. "From my standpoint, everywhere I've been able to get known, I've been able to get good support."

Mr. Rae played down that problem -- and delivered a thinly veiled knock against Mr. Kennedy's Quebec no-show -- emphasizing that he won support in all parts of the country.

"You have a lot of people running in Ontario so you're going to have a lot of votes cast," Mr. Rae said. "If you want to succeed in this campaign, you have to have strength in every province and I think we're proving that."

Mr. Dion said the campaign takes on a new hue today.

"Tomorrow is a new race," he said in an interview. "It's a race about consolidation of delegates and of expansion."

He said he preferred not to comment on the results of the weekend vote until it was complete. In total, 467 Liberal clubs and riding associations were to have voted across the country. By last night, about 85 per cent of the results were in.

The weekend results make second-ballot support crucial for whoever becomes the main challenger to Mr. Ignatieff. A recent survey by The Strategic Counsel found most of the supporters of the candidates behind Mr. Ignatieff would not choose the Toronto MP as their second choice.

Strategic Counsel chairman Allan Gregg said Mr. Ignatieff is viewed by many Liberals as more conservative than they are, which may make it more difficult for him to pick up support in later ballots.

"Now it's really not an issue of organization as much as it is an issue of persuasion," he said. "Personality is going to take a big, big part of this."

The bottom four contenders must decide if they will continue on to the convention, or drop out.

Ms. Hall Findlay finished last, so she will automatically be eliminated after the first ballot. Mr. Volpe, who faces a $20,000 fine from the party after a panel concluded his campaign broke leadership rules, may drop out before the money is due at the end of the month.

Mr. Dryden's popularity with the public and party members did not translate into delegates, perhaps in part because of a poorly financed campaign. One of his senior organizers said he will assess the results in the next few days.

Mr. Brison, seen as a star recruit when Paul Martin lured him from the Conservatives in 2003, has now posted mediocre performances in leadership races of both the old Progressive Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. But a spokesman, Dale Palmeter, said Mr. Brison intends to carry on to the leadership convention to push his policy agenda.

The super weekend votes saw party members in 308 riding associations and 159 Liberal clubs cast ballots to choose about 4,500 delegates who will select the next Liberal leader in Montreal on Dec. 2.

The delegate numbers





Province-by-province results

British Columbia: 0%

Alberta: 2.5%

Saskatchewan: 5.5%

Manitoba: 8.3%

Ontario: 1.6%

Quebec: 1.6%

New Brunswick: 9.5%

PEI: 1.5%

Nova Scotia: 39.9%

Newfoundland: 0%

HOW HE DID: Wins big in his native Nova Scotia, but almost non-existent elsewhere. May end his leadership hopes for a long time as one can't run in every race and lose.





Province-by-province results

British Columbia: 18.4%

Alberta: 18.5%

Saskatchewan: 15.9%

Manitoba: 5.8%

Ontario: 10.3%

Quebec: 29.5%

New Brunswick: 14.6%

PEI: 6.2%

Nova Scotia: 9.3%

Newfoundland: 5.6%

HOW HE DID: Had a strong second-place finish in Quebec, but uneven results elsewhere. Close enough to the top to become the choice of an anyone-but-Ignatieff movement.





Province-by-province results

British Columbia: 2.9%

Alberta: 3.1%

Saskatchewan: 3%

Manitoba: 18.3%

Ontario: 5.5%

Quebec: 1.3%

New Brunswick: 9.5%

PEI: 7.7%

Nova Scotia: 6%

Newfoundland: 14.8%

HOW HE DID: Placed a disappointing fifth. Polls showed he had a higher level of support in the party but his weak organization could not capitalize on it.





Province-by-province results

British Columbia: 17.1%

Alberta: 25.8%

Saskatchewan: 33.3%

Manitoba: 24.2%

Ontario: 27.9%

Quebec: 37.8%

New Brunswick: 34.2%

PEI: 20%

Nova Scotia: 37.2%

Newfoundland: 30.6%

HOW HE DID: The clear front-runner: The race is his to lose. His challenge will be to make his victory seem inevitable to sway second-ballot support.





Province-by-province results

British Columbia: 20.8%

Alberta: 27%

Saskatchewan: 18.9%

Manitoba: 12.5%

Ontario: 26.8%

Quebec: 1.6%

New Brunswick: 9.5%

PEI: 21.5%

Nova Scotia: 4.4%

Newfoundland: 10.2%

HOW HE DID: Strong second to Mr. Ignatieff in English Canada, but picked up only 1 per cent of delegates in Quebec.


Hall Findlay



Province-by-province results

British Columbia: 0%

Alberta: 2.5%

Saskatchewan: 0.5%

Manitoba: 0%

Ontario: 2%

Quebec: 0.1%

New Brunswick: 0.6%

PEI: 0%

Nova Scotia: 0%

Newfoundland: 0%

HOW SHE DID: Places last, raised her profile, which may help her get elected as a member of Parliament.





Province-by-province results

British Columbia: 29.2%

Alberta: 9.3%

Saskatchewan: 20.9%

Manitoba: 28.3%

Ontario: 17%

Quebec: 23.3%

New Brunswick: 14.6%

PEI: 43.1%

Nova Scotia: 2.2%

Newfoundland: 33.3%

HOW HE DID: Second place overall, but does poorly in Ontario which will increase concerns he would be a liability in the vote-rich province in a general election.





Province-by-province results

British Columbia: 8.7%

Alberta: 7%

Saskatchewan: 0.5%

Manitoba: 2.5%

Ontario: 5.6%

Quebec: 2.4%

New Brunswick: 0%

PEI: 0%

Nova Scotia: 0%

Newfoundland: 4.6%

HOW HE DID: If he drops out before the convention, he can avoid paying a $20,000 fine for recruiting supporters who did not pay their own membership fees.