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Liberal contenders Martha Hall Findlay and Karen McCrimmon land in Kamloops

A pair of Liberal leadership contenders brought their campaigns to Kamloops on Wednesday, both of them pledging to rebuild what they see as Canada's flagging reputation in the world.

A pair of Liberal leadership contenders brought their campaigns to Kamloops on Wednesday, both of them pledging to rebuild what they see as Canada's flagging reputation in the world.

Fiscal balance, environmental sustainability, social justice and Canada's reputation on the international stage have suffered under the Harper Conservatives, said Martha Hall Findlay, a businesswoman, entrepreneur and lawyer from Toronto.

"We've lost all of that," she said. "My job is to show that's what we stand for."

Hall Findlay was first elected in a 2008 byelection in Willowdale, having lost her first election in 2004 to Belinda Stronach. She was re-elected in the general election that same year but lost her seat in 2011.

She's one of nine candidates vying for a chance to lead the Liberals back to power. And she insisted that Canadians have an appetite for an alternative to the reigning Conservatives.

"These guys are spending like crazy. Their first two budgets were the biggest-spending budgets in Canadian history, and that was before the financial crisis even hit. We now have massive debt."

She blamed the Tories for provoking the Idle No More movement, having killed the Kelowna Accord shortly after they were elected to office in 2006. Under the guidance of former prime minister Paul Martin, the accord would have set Ottawa and Aboriginals on a new course of mutual respect, co-operation and partnership, she said.

How would she regain support for the Liberals in the West, which has all but shut out the party in recent elections?

"It hurts as a Liberal to say this, but it's partly because we haven't tried," she said. Much of the party's attention was focused on Quebec and Ontario, leaving B.C. and Alberta out in the cold.

"If you don't show up and participate in the discussion, it's not surprising that people don't vote for you, because you're not there."

Hall Findlay has been reported as favouring pipeline and tanker connections through B.C., but she clarified that stand.

"The Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline has big problems, but I do support finding access through the west for the oilsands," said Hall Findlay, who works in Calgary part time as an executive fellow of the school of public policy at University of Alberta.

The U.S., Canada's main oil market, could be self-sufficient by 2020. That would mean a complete loss of export market unless burgeoning Asian markets are established. There are plenty of alternatives to Enbridge, she added.

Karen McCrimmon, a retired Canadian Forces lieutenant colonel (and the first woman to command a Canadian air squadron) who retrained as a professional mediator after leaving the service, ran unsuccessfully for federal office in the 2011 election but lost to former Tory defence minister Gordon O'Connor.

Both of those experiences motivated her to enter the leadership race despite having no experience in elected office.

"I served my country for 31 years as a military officer in the Canadian Forces and I've been everywhere from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe," McCrimmon said. "It just brings home how precious this country is, but I see us heading in the wrong direction."

She sees divisiveness and anger infecting the body politic and doesn't want to stand by idly.

"I don't believe Canadians are being served by government, by parliament or even by democracy."

She was one of only a handful of Liberal candidates who increased party support in their 2011 campaigns rather than watching it slip away as most did. That gave her additional incentive, sensing that she could be a part of rebuilding the party.

More than 20 million Canadians are eligible to vote on the leadership question as a result of party reforms designed to attract a new class of supporter. They don't have to be card-carrying Liberals. That openness appeals to McCrimmon.

"And that's exactly the point," she said.

"I want to have a clear conscience from knowing I've done everything I can to get my country back on track."

Republished from Kamloops Daily News