And then there were 10

There's not enough money to support all of the Liberal candidates

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The Gazette, Wednesday, August 16, 2006

With Maurizio Bevilacqua dropping out to support Bob Rae, the inevitable winnowing of the Liberal leadership race has begun.

There isn't enough money, under the stringent new rules, to support 11 candidates. There is no way to organize interesting debates with that many people on the stage - at least the Democrats, in a crowded field in the U.S., have the Rev. Al Sharpton for entertainment value. There is no one entertaining in this field.

And even with Bevilacqua's withdrawal, there are still too many candidates from the Greater Toronto Area, to the point where the Liberals have been dubbed the GTA Party.

Of the 10 candidates remaining in the race, seven are from the GTA, including the two front runners, Michael Ignatieff and Rae. Everyone else is now running to be third, to be the kingmaker in this race, and for future consideration in the next one.

Stephane Dion, for example. He began as a one-trick pony, an advocate for the environment, for which he has strong credentials as a former environment minister in the previous government.

Or former Progressive Conservative Scott Brison, who hilariously told The Hill Times this week: "I was born a Liberal, I just came out a few years ago."

Both Dion and Brison are whip smart, tenacious and determined to stay the course. By staying in, should he finish third, Dion would be the kingmaker, and would emerge as the top dog in Quebec. His problem is, he doesn't have a base in Quebec, other than the West Island. But his candidacy is growing in the rest of the country, and he could move up from the second to the first tier, the top three or four.

Or Joe Volpe, who is running to be the political boss of Toronto, which is like fighting over the spoils of defeat in opposition, but a huge slice of power in the event the Liberals should be returned to government at the next election.

Or Gerard Kennedy, the former Ontario minister, who is running on the slogan "Doing Politics Differently," but who is really running as the candidate of the next generation, on the unspoken assumption the Liberals are going to lose the next election and spend another term in opposition in a minority or majority Conservative House.

But Ken Dryden, who is as smart as anyone in the room, must be aware that his campaign has no traction, no money and very little support. He won six Stanley Cups in eight seasons between the pipes for the Canadiens - no one else in the history of hockey has a 75-per-cent Stanley Cup-winning average. But if he stays in this race, he will finish in the second tier of candidates. Moreover, as of the end of June, Dryden had raised only $43,000, and that doesn't pay the bills.

Equally Carolyn Bennett, who had raised only $65,000 in the first half of the campaign, and Hedy Fry, with only $15,000 raised, should be considering the cost of staying in until the end.

By being the first to withdraw, Bevilacqua gets a nod for recognizing reality, and wins points by being the first to endorse one of the front-runners. By his own admission, Bevilacqua was only in the middle of the pack in the delegate hunt and he'd raised only $26,000 by the end of June. His endorsement of Rae is timely in the sense that it gives a momentum boost to the candidate perceived as a strong second, but not really growing.

It's an interesting match. Bevilacqua is firmly on the centre-right of the Liberal Party, a former minister for financial institutions in the Chretien government, a junior portfolio but an important one on Bay St., especially on the issue of bank mergers.

Rae, a former NDP premier of Ontario, did not exactly have a reputation for sound fiscal management, when he added billions and billions of dollars to the provincial debt between 1990 and 1995.

But if Rae wins, Bevilacqua, not Volpe, will be the new Liberal boss in Toronto. It also means that Volpe will more likely end up with Ignatieff than Rae.

For everyone else, other than Ignatieff and Rae, the best reason for staying is to finish third. For the others, the financial and personal costs of staying in are factors to be considered.

Bevilacqua is just the first shoe to drop. Others are sure to follow before summer's end.

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