Liberal leadership race gets crowded

The federal Liberal leadership race is getting crowded at the starting gate but a stiff entry fee may yet whittle down the field when the party officially fires the starting gun on Wednesday.

That same day, former Toronto MP Martha Hall Findlay -- who just finished paying off her debt from a 2006 bid for the party's leadership -- is scheduled to formally launch her second attempt at the top job.

She's chosen to announce her candidacy in Calgary, politically toxic territory for the Liberals for more than four decades, in a bid to demonstrate a commitment to rebuilding the party into a national movement.

And this time she's recruited the help of Stephen Carter, an old hand at masterminding come-from-behind victories. He managed Naheed Nenshi's successful mayoral campaign in Calgary and Alberta Premier Alison Redford's most recent provincial election campaign.

Retired Canadian Forces Lt.-Col. Karen McCrimmon, who ran unsuccessfully for the Liberals in an Ottawa-area riding in 2011, is expected to take the plunge later Wednesday.

Vancouver MP Joyce Murray is expected to follow suit next week, followed closely by Toronto lawyer George Takach.

Montreal MP Marc Garneau, Canada's first astronaut, is widely expected to join the race shortly as well.

They will join Montreal MP Justin Trudeau, the prohibitive favourite who jumped into the race six weeks ago and is widely thought to have an insurmountable head start.

A clutch of lesser known contenders also took the plunge early, including Toronto lawyer and public policy consultant Deborah Coyne, mother of Trudeau's half sister, Vancouver Crown prosecutor Alex Burton, Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi, Ontario government economist Jonathan Mousley and David Merner, former president of the party's British Columbia wing.

Although the early birds have been criss-crossing the country, delivering speeches, meeting grassroots Liberals, launching websites and issuing email blasts, none can become an official contender until Wednesday and then only after paying an entry fee that turns out to be even steeper than previously thought.

The party has imposed a $75,000 fee for entering the contest, to be paid in three instalments, the first due upon registration as a candidate, the last due by mid-January.

However, since the party has also imposed a tithe of 10 per cent on every dollar raised by leadership contenders, each candidate essentially has to come up with $82,500 in order to cover the entry fee.

"Funding will pose a tough challenge for many candidates, myself included," Mousley conceded in a frank email blast earlier this month, appealing for donations.

There is also a possibility that the party could yet impose a nominal fee on supporters before allowing them to vote for the next leader.

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