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CKA Uber
CKA Uber
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 05, 2006 3:40 pm

Ex-officio Liberals could decide Ignatieff's fate
Updated Thu. Oct. 5 2006 6:20 PM ET

JOAN BRYDEN , Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- The true extent of Michael Ignatieff's lead in the Liberal leadership race depends heavily on how some 850 ex-officio delegates will vote at the party's December convention in Montreal.

And contrary to conventional wisdom, Ignatieff is not necessarily the runaway favourite among the MPs, senators, past candidates, former cabinet ministers and riding presidents who are automatically entitled to attend the convention and may vote for whomever they please.

The distribution of the ex-officio votes has become crucial following last weekend's election of delegates across the country, which left Ignatieff with a solid -- but not insurmountable -- lead.

The rookie Toronto MP and acclaimed scholar took just under 30 per cent of some 4,300 elected delegates. Bob Rae, the former Ontario NDP premier, was second with almost 20 per cent, followed closely by former Ontario education minister Gerard Kennedy and lone Quebec contender Stephane Dion, both of whom scored just less than 17 per cent.

The weekend left Rae, Kennedy and Dion all within striking distance of overtaking the frontrunner during multiple balloting at the convention.

However, many pundits have contended that Ignatieff's lead on the first ballot on Dec. 2 will stretch by as much as five points once automatic delegates are factored in. That would make it much harder for anyone to catch him.

Kennedy, for one, doubts that assumption.

"I'm not sure what the source of conventional wisdom is these days but it might not be too far from the Ignatieff campaign," he quipped earlier this week.

Certainly, Ignatieff has sewn up support from 40 of the 102 Liberal MPs, well ahead of any of his seven rivals.

But it's not certain that Ignatieff has scored nearly so well with the lower-profile ex-officios like riding presidents. Indeed, some rival camps privately predict that Ignatieff's overall share of the automatic delegates will turn out to be less than his 30 per cent share of the elected delegates.

A rough gauge of ex-officio support can be gleaned from online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which posts a regularly updated list of endorsements for each of the eight Liberal leadership contenders.

The latest list shows almost 400 ex-officios, including MPs, have endorsed various candidates. It suggests that their support is distributed more evenly among the leadership hopefuls than that of elected delegates.

Eighty-three ex-officios have endorsed Ignatieff, 81 for Dion, 73 for Kennedy and 54 for Rae. That amounts to roughly 21 per cent for Ignatieff and Dion so far, 19 per cent for Kennedy and 15 per cent for Rae.

Even the bottom tier of candidates, who each scored less than a five per cent share of elected delegates, can claim a more respectable share of ex-officios. Hockey legend Ken Dryden, for instance, has been endorsed by 40 ex-officios (about 10 per cent), lone Atlantic candidate Scott Brison by 35.

The Canadian Press asked each of the top four camps to review the Wikipedia list and provide the names of any additional ex-officio supporters who aren't included. The Rae, Kennedy and Dion camps co-operated and all reported back that the list was surprisingly accurate and up to date.

The Rae and Kennedy camps provided some additional names, bringing Rae's ex-officio support to 64 and Kennedy's to 76.

Ignatieff's camp would say only that "significantly more" ex-officios support the frontrunner than appear on the Wikipedia list. However it would not provide additional names or suggest a more accurate number.

Of course, for all the contenders, winning an endorsement does not necessarily guarantee a vote. Unlike elected delegates, who are bound on the first ballot to vote for the candidates whom they were chosen to represent, ex-officios can change their minds right up to the moment they mark their ballots.

Some bottom-tier candidates, who are now effectively out of the hunt, could see their ex-officio support bleed to top-tier candidates. And the half of ex-officio delegates who've not yet endorsed anyone could still stampede behind one candidate.

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