With former prime minister Paul Martin formally resigning as Liberal Party leader, party apparatchiks gathered in Ottawa to decide the rules and timelines of the leadership contest to replace him.

Although it will not formally announce its decision until April 7, the Liberal Party of Canada has reportedly decided that the leadership vote will be held Dec. 2 and the convention  will take place in Montreal Nov. 29 – Dec. 3. The deadline to become a member and be eligible vote in the leadership race is July 1.

By some estimates, there are currently about 20 people considering a bid for the leadership. They will have to declare their candidacies no later than Sept. 30 and raise the $50,000 entry fee, but most will likely announce their intention to run (or not) by the beginning of summer.

When The Interim went to press, there were only two declared candidates: Toronto lawyer Martha Hall Findlay, who lost as the Liberal candidate in Newmarket-Aurora, Ont. against Belinda Stronach when she was the Conservative candidate in 2004, and Toronto MP John Godfrey.

Among the likely leadership hopefuls are Stronach, who crossed the floor in 2005 and won re-election in January as a Liberal, former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae, former academic and newly elected Toronto MP Michael Ignatieff, Toronto MP Carolyn Bennett and Quebec MP and former cabinet minister Stephane Dion. Other names being widely mentioned are Toronto MPs Ken Dryden and Joe Volpe, former justice minister Martin Cauchon and former Tory and current Liberal MP Scott Brison from Nova Scotia. Another 10 minor candidates, MPs with no national profile, are considering their chances.

None of the candidates is acceptable to socially conservative voters, which make up a surprisingly large part of the Liberal Party – about one-fifth of the caucus is pro-life or pro-marriage and much of the party’s traditional support comes from ethnic groups that hold socially conservative views, such as Italians, Filipinos and Portuguese Catholics, Chinese and Korean Christians, Sikhs and Muslims.

Each of the candidates supports same-sex “marriage.” Going down the list: Cauchon was a primary mover of the issue under Jean Chretien; Brison is an active homosexual; Stronach cited as one of her reasons for leaving the Conservatives her distaste for the strong pro-traditional values element within the party; Ignatieff has celebrated the expansion of gay “rights” as a triumph of the Canadian understanding of human rights; Rae introduced as premier the most radical expansion of gay rights in 1994 over the objections of his divided caucus (although the move was ultimately defeated); Volpe, who had declared himself pro-traditional marriage during the 2004 election, voted with the Martin government to grant homosexual couples the right to marry; Louise Arbour, currently heading up the UN’s human rights tribunal and a former Canadian Supreme Court justice, favours the gay agenda.
Dryden presents another problem. As Martin’s social development minister, he took a personal interest in creating a national daycare scheme, but in doing so, he disparaged parents who sacrifice to stay at home with their children. Asked about survey data that demonstrated most parents want to keep their children out of institutional care and prefer to have one parent or another family member stay at home with them, Dryden compared such mothers and fathers to people who want to have cake and ice cream every night for dessert. He said such desires must be curtailed, because they are not healthy. His condescending comparison didn’t get the same play as Scott Reid’s comments about parents spending a proposed Tory child supplement on beer and popcorn, but they were no less offensive.

The $5 billion national daycare plan will likely be replaced by the Conservatives with a $100 monthly payment to families for every child under six. Dryden has made it clear he intends to fight the Tories over the issue.

Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer for Campaign Life Coalition, says the list of likely contenders is  “a real dog’s breakfast” and laments the fact “there is no strong pro-lifer in the race.”

Douglas lauded the fact that the party lowered the entry fee and said that by doing so, it enables someone other than the wealthy Stronach and the Power Corporation-connected Rae (his brother, John Rae, works for the company owned by Paul Desmarais), to enter the race. But she was concerned that among the list of candidates rumoured to be interested, only one of the 20 listed by a March 18 Globe and Mail story (Joe Volpe) could be described as even moderately pro-life.

In the meantime, Toronto MP and former defence minister Bill Graham will serve as interim leader of the party. Graham is pro-abortion and pro-same sex “marriage” and, according to “gay lifestyle” magazine fab, is a married bi-sexual with two adult children.

Fab reported in 2001 that Graham had a relationship with a 15-year-old male prostitute, Lawrence Metherel, in 1980. The Toronto Star-owned weekly paper Eye has described Metherel as Graham’s “ex-boyfriend” and “spurned lover.” Graham has never denied the charges.

A person who once worked for a Liberal MP, and now does consulting, told The Interim, “We have sure fallen a long way.” He worried that considering the radical direction the party elite have taken the Liberals, the party could end up alienating many Canadians with its “pro-choice, pro-homosexual, pro-whatever’s-next extremism.”

Meanwhile, Douglas urges pro-life Canadians inclined to support the Liberal Party to watch closely whether a pro-life candidate enters the race and if one does, to purchase a party membership before the July 1 deadline. With a wide-open field and many potential contenders, a socially conservative Liberal might be able to break from the pack. That is, if one can be found who wants to jump into this leadership pool.