The Liberal leadership race is the first real test of the supporter system, and with the cut-off to sign up and vote now passed, we have our first indication of how successful the experiment has been:


That’s over twice as many members as the NDP recruited last spring, and over 100,000 more than the highly competitive 2006 Liberal Leadership Race. It’s hard to say if this boom is due to the supporter system or Trudeaumania II, but as the following table shows, by any metric you use it’s one of the most successful leadership drives in recent memory:

Race Format Candidates Eligible Per Vote Per Pop
2013 LPC WOMOV Supporters 8 294,002 10.6% 0.9%
2013 OLP Delegated Convention 7 45,000 2.8% 0.4%
2012 NDP OMOV 7 128,351 2.9% 0.4%
2011 BQ OMOV 3 36,341 4.1% 0.5%
2011 BC Libs WOMOV 4 92,000 12.2% 2.1%
2011 AB Libs WOMOV Supporters 5 27,567 21.6% 0.8%
2009 ON PC WOMOV 4 42,000 2.9% 0.3%
2009 ON NDP OMOV 4 23,908 2.8% 0.2%
2006 LPC Delegates Convention 8 185,000 2.6% 0.6%
2004 Conservative WOMOV 3 251,000 5.7% 0.8%
2004 ON PC WOMOV 3 61,104 4.0% 0.5%

It remains to be seen how many of these supporters will actually vote, but when it comes to collecting contact information and bringing new blood into the fold, the numbers are encouraging. The Liberals signed up 0.9% of all Canadians and 10.6% of their previous election voters – both totals greatly exceeding any federal leadership race of the past decade.

Of course, huge sign-ups for the 2011 Liberal leadership races in BC and Alberta haven’t translated to electoral success, so it’s a little premature to start measuring the drapes at 24 Sussex.

But this contest appears to have given the Liberals a jolt of life, which is not always the case during a de facto coronation. Paul Martin capped his decade-long regicide in 2003 with restrictive membership rules and a process that left the party divided. The Party establishment was so enthralled with Michael Ignatieff in 2009, that they didn’t even bother giving members a say.

You can argue all you want about Trudeau’s qualifications and readiness for the job, but at the very least this is a coronation that has brought hundreds of thousands of new Liberals into the fold. Open and competitive races are no doubt more difficult on the frontrunner than hotwired acclamations, but both the party and Trudeau will be stronger in the long run because of this process.

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20 responses to “294,002”

  1. But there’s a crucial difference between this race and the others you mention: these aren’t members, they’re supporters. They didn’t even have to meet the minimum hurdle of forking out $10 to join – they just had to sign up.

    That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth having, of course – but it isn’t as though the Liberal party just doubled its actual membership.

    • Definitely true. It gives the LPC a fuller database to work with when it comes to reaching out for volunteers and fundraising, but it’s clearly a lower threshold than a paid membership.

    • Yep, that is the crucial difference. It is great news for the Liberals too, because it points the way forward. You can harvest enormous numbers of names, and email addresses just by asking people to self-identify. How many of those supporters did not vote, or did not vote Liberal in past elections? Assuming the Liberal Party engages them in a dialogue, they are far more likely to actually vote Liberal next time around. They can be mined for volunteer hours, donations, etc. etc. All the things that the Liberal Party needs to do to build their ground game for 2015. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that this quantity of supporters represents 10% of the total ballots counted Liberal in the last general election. If 1/3 of them responded to GOTV who otherwise wouldn’t, then an average of 325 new votes per riding. That swings a surprising number of ridings into the Liberal column. Of course, they are concentrated in fewer than 308 ridings, so presumably Liberal efforts to mobilise them in swing ridings would have been redoubled. This is the way forward. Collect another 300,000 supporters by 2015, and it’s a whole new ballgame.

      • Yes, I do agree it’s a positive development for the Liberal party – no argument there. I don’t see any downside.

        It is up to the party to follow up, however. These people may have signed up, but they aren’t necessarily engaged yet.

    • Agreed on the ‘no coronation’ sentiment. I’m sick of reading about the ‘coronation’. If Trudeau wins the contest by receiving more votes/ridings’ support, it isn’t a coronation. Ignatieff’s appointment was more so a coronation. This is an election by tens or hundreds of thousands of people (if turnout is at all decent, and assuming Trudeau wins). Just because the frontrunner will probably win and because he is a former PM’s son doesn’t make it a coronation.

      • Technically it may not be a coronation, but it’s still not much of a leadership race.

        Now, if there’s a last-minute upset and the leadership goes to somebody other than JT – or maybe even if it’s just close – that will make it more interesting.

        The upcoming debate in Montreal appears to be the last chance to shake things up. Either JT will have to screw up spectacularly – or, much better, Garneau or another candidate will have to offer a simply astonishing performance. But how likely is that?

        • Agreed that it hasn’t exactly been riveting. I expect the next debate will feature most of the candidates basically saying the same stuff they’ve been saying all along (they do love to repeat themselves). Maybe there will be some sparks as various candidates try to siphon support from Trudeau.

          One thing that seems like a major problem for the non-Trudeau candidates is that there are just too many of them, and I don’t see the anti-Trudeau vote coalescing around any one of the three most popular. I envisage a lot of vote splitting in the anti-Trudeau camp.

          • Yes, I agree – so far we haven’t seen a single real alternative to Trudeau, which is part of the problem. And I really don’t see it happening over the remaining month before the vote.

  2. Chantal Hebert wrote a column saying that the Liberals are still looking at barren territory in Quebec and the West, with not many new people signed up there. Even with three high profile Quebec candidates. Still quite a ways to go.

  3. “It remains to be seen how many of these supporters will actually vote”

    Just read a story on the National Newswatch site that only 89,000 have followed through to register to vote, with the deadline two days away.

    • Wow. Really? That’s… not encouraging for the Liberal party. (And probably not a great sign for some leadership candidates, either.)

    • Yes, I saw that number too. I am sure it will be well over 100,000 by the end of the week, but really, it doesn’t matter that much how many vote in the leadership. What matters is that they are tucked away safely in liberalist, and will be a great base to build upon. The REAL trick is to keep the data coming in, and to develop processes to engage all thes enew contacts. It will take som etime I am sure, but well worth the effort.

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