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Belinda bails

[PoliticsWatch Updated 1:30 p.m. April 6, 2006]

OTTAWA  — Liberal MP Belinda Stronach became the latest high-profile Liberal to sit out the party's leadership race on Thursday.   

"I am announcing today that I will not seek the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada at this time," said Stronach at a noon-hour press conference in Ottawa. 

But Stronach stressed she was not leaving political life.

"I'm not going anywhere. I'm not going away."

Stronach said she believed she could have run "a very competitive campaign and had a chance of winning." 

But she blamed the delegated voting system designed for the party's leadership race as the primary reason she will not enter the race. 

"The Liberal party really needs a much more profound overhaul," she said.

"The leadership convention is still delegated in the old-fashioned way, so that it is about the politics of winning, not winning with ideas."

Stronach said she would prefer a system that attracted new Liberal party members at "affordable prices" and allowed each member a vote at the leadership convention. 

She cited the 1992 Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race that elected Ralph Klein as a preferred system. 

Making things more puzzling, however, was last month when the Liberals released their leadership race rules, Stronach was the only potential candidate to issue a news release praising the new rules.

"The rules for the upcoming party leadership race announced by party president Mike Eizenga demonstrate the party is vibrant and is ready to take the next steps to renew and rejuvenate itself," Stronach said on March 19.

"I was particularly pleased to see the national party executive agree on rules that will ensure the leadership race is a more open, accessible and accountable process from start to finish that will guarantee a level playing field for everyone who decides to run."

The Liberals will select a new leader at a Montreal leadership convention in early December. 

Stronach's potential candidacy was a mixture of positives and negatives.

She ran and finished second in the leadership race for the Conservatives in 2004, is one of the more high-profile Canadian politicians, had a network to help her raise the money needed for a campaign and some Liberals believed she could attract female voters. 

But her negatives were her lack of proficiency in French, relative inexperience and not having deep roots in the party, which joined less than a year ago when she crossed the floor. 

But during the press conference Stronach denied that any of these negatives were factors in her decision not to run. 

"I feel at home in the Liberal party," she said.

"I think for me the way I can have the greatest impact on the renewal of the party is to not seek the leadership," she said, adding that she would feel less constrained speaking on these issues as an MP.

Stronach would not say which Liberal candidate she would back in the leadership race, saying she is going to "wait and see."

Former Liberal cabinet minister Reg Alcock, who was a top Stronach organizer, and Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla were in attendance at Stronach's press conference. 

Alcock also said he has not decided where to toss his support now that  Stronach is out.

Stronach said she spent "in the neighbourhood of $30,000" for her exploratory campaign and denied that she has paid organizational staff.

"That was about travel and some hotel rooms for people that were travelling with me and maybe a few BlackBerries in there." 

: Related Links

> Liberal leadership race 2006- Looking past Chretien-Martin era 

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