Grit candidates gear up for first debate

Federal Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau delivers economic speech about Western Canada at press conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday January 15, 2013.



OTTAWA -- Nine federal Liberal leadership contestants brushed up on policies and sharpened their barbs as they readied for the race's first debate of five set for Sunday in Vancouver.

And the digs were being aimed at perceived front-runner Justin Trudeau even before the candidates crowded onto the stage.

Vancouver MP Joyce Murray and Kevin Chalmers, campaign manager for David Bertschi, were quick to underscore on Saturday the debate was about showing off policy chops -- and not a charm contest.

"This has to be about policy, not personality," Murray said, adding she expected a lively discussion between the candidates, especially about her proposal for a one-time agreement between the Grits and their NDP and Green Party rivals to put forward candidates with the best chance of beating Conservatives in the next election.

Chalmers said his candidate is ready to rumble even with tight time restrictions on opening and closing statements and responses with nine contestants vying for the spotlight.

"David's a very bright guy," he said. "And he has the ability to be succinct."

And Chalmers maintained Liberal supporters are eager to see the candidates audition for their vote on policy matters and -- mentioning Trudeau -- "less Obama vision."

For George Takach, who like Bertschi is among the lower-profile contestants, it's an opportunity to reach a wider audience.

"He's just focused on connecting directly with Liberals and potential supporters and letting them know they have a choice if they want ideas and experience that comes from outside the Ottawa bubble," spokesman Derek Raymaker said.

Trudeau, Murray, Bertschi, Tackach, Marc Garneau, Deborah Coyne, Karen McCrimmon, Martha Hall Findlay and Martin Cauchon will take the stage for two hours before a sold-out crowd of some 800 supporters.

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