Straight Talk
WARREN KINSELLA - Liberal ‘supporters’ could prove Justin’s downfall

Justin Trudeau walks to the podium to speak to students on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont.

Credits: Clifford Skarstedt/QMI AGENCY

WARREN KINSELLA | QMI AGENCY

As the Liberal party’s leadership race inches towards its mid-April conclusion, one fact is undeniable: Justin Trudeau has won it.

The Montreal MP has raised more money than all of his opponents combined. He attracts fans in the thousands, even in previously hostile territory like rural Western Canada.

And successive polls show that, under his leadership, the Liberals could plausibly vault from third-party status to government.

His ascent to the Liberal leadership hasn’t been without its challenges, of course. His musings about Albertans may have cost his party a real shot at winning the coveted Calgary Centre byelection. And his stated positions on the now-defunct gun registry and foreign ownership in the energy sector genuinely upset many traditional Liberals.

Meanwhile, the likes of Jason Kenney, Martha Hall-Findlay and Marc Garneau continue to fling assorted slings and arrows. But to no effect.

The verbal missteps, the undeniably rightward tilt of some of Trudeau’s policies, have done nothing to impede his momentum.

The word “juggernaut” gets applied too often in Canadian politics (remember Paul Martin?). In Trudeau’s case, it fits. No one has seen anything like this in a long, long time.

So, can anything derail the Trudeau juggernaut?

Paradoxically, it is the Liberal party itself that has provided its political adversaries with the ammunition they need to deny Justin Trudeau the Grit crown.

Slightly more than a year ago, more than 3,000 Liberals gathered in Ottawa’s Convention Centre and, in a textbook case of the sort of mass psychosis that occasionally seizes otherwise sensible politicos, voted to create a new category of membership: “Supporters.”

To become a “supporter,” one need only provide one’s name, address, e-mail, date of birth and check a single-sentence pledge to “support” the Liberal party, and not some other party. Once you do that, you can vote for the next Liberal party leader, just like long-time, paid-up members do. That’s it.

The risks inherent in such a ridiculous move are obvious, and certainly should have been obvious to delegates to the Liberal policy convention. Any political enemy can now sign up hordes as “supporters,” then vote for the weakest of the many no-name candidates.

Why face Justin Trudeau in 2015, when you can face off against George Takach, Deborah Coyne or Karen McCrimmon?

Never heard of Takach, Coyne or McCrimmon?

Of course you haven’t. That’s the point. They don’t even hold seats in the House of Commons, but they have arrogantly concluded they should be leader of the (formerly) most successful political machine in Western democracy. The gaggle of nobodies crowding the stage at the Liberal leadership debates would be entertaining, were it not for the fact that their mere existence provides mischievous Conservatives and New Democrats with a truly historic opportunity to deny Trudeau’s ambitions. Cons and Dippers would be fools not to take advantage.

Will they?

Attendees at 2012’s Grit policy conflab evidently thought not.

But with Elections Canada and the RCMP now investigating the Harper Conservatives in the ongoing robocall scandal, was that such a wise decision?

In the end, the very thing that has made Trudeau seem so formidable may also be the thing that ensures he wins: His online popularity.

On social media — Facebook, Twitter and the like — he is a legitimate phenomenon.

If his leadership team is smart (and they mostly are), they will convert Trudeau’s thousands of social media supporters into voting supporters. It shouldn’t be difficult.

But as the federal Grit convention moves towards its interminable end — held, once again and ominously, in Ottawa — watch for mysterious surges in the “supporter” category.

If there are enough of them, and if they are out to stop a juggernaut, this too may become a fact: Justin Trudeau will lose.

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