By the time the weekend is over we will know who would replace Dalton McGuinty as Liberal Premier of Ontario. Going into the leadership convention on Friday at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre at Maple Leaf Gardens former Windsor Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) Sandra Pupatello and Don Valley West MPP Kathleen Wynne are in the lead with 27 and 25 per cent of delegate votes, respectively. Neither has a majority, so after the first round of voting, as fifth place candidate Charles Sousa pointed out, “it’s anybody’s game”.
Other Liberals on the slate vying for the top job after McGuinty’s surprise announcement in October that he was stepping down are Gerrard Kennedy, Harinder Takhar and Dr. Eric Hoskins.
Pupatello, characterized as a Liberal ‘pitbull’, is positioning herself as the best prospect the Liberals have to win the inevitable provincial election many anticipate for this spring.
The fact that she was not part of the current McGuinty government, considering the public’s disenchantment over some of its recent policies, may play strongly in her favour.
Her recent private sector Bay Street job places her as business friendly. In contrast to left-leaning Wynne, Pupatello has been called a right of centre Liberal, although she has stated forcefully that she is a centrist.
Should she win the leadership, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan says he will give up his seat for her to run in a by-election.
Wynne was Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs before she quit cabinet to run for the leadership. Characterized as mature and down-to-earth, she was also very influential as Education Minister, and has found strong support outside of Toronto in Eastern and Central Ontario. As a high profile minister in McGuinty’s cabinet, the Progressive Conservatives and the Ontario New Democrats will have a field day with Wynne over Liberal transgressions, the laundry list of questionable spending for which the Liberals are accountable – e-Health, Ornge, the cancelled power plants, health premiums and the Liberals’ energy plan. She would also have to answer to the powerful teachers’ unions for voting in favour of the anti-strike Bill 115.
Third place candidate Kennedy, frontrunner in the 1996 convention that eventually resulted in McGuinty’s win, would not have that burden since he was not a member of McGuinty’s recent cabinet, although he is a former Minister of Education. He gave up the post to seek, unsuccessfully, leadership of the federal Liberals in 2006. Kennedy promises to “ensure that the party and government take steps to ensure gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation are better represented immediately”. Like Pupatello, he would have to run in a by-election to gain a seat. He also has to fight an image of being ‘yesterday’s man’.
Takhar, MPP for Mississauga-Erindale and former Minister of Government Services, is the only person of colour in the race and is burdened by his own share of personal business related scandals although he has consistently been vindicated. He speaks the language of business, promising to create a small business development corporation and a dedicated Ontario infrastructure savings bond. The fact that he is ahead of former Labour Minister Sousa and high profile St. Paul MPP Hoskins tells just how savvy Takhar is. Moreover, the Liberals are known to surprise when their final choices emerge.
Sousa, Mississauga South MPP, calls himself the ‘jobs premier’ and the third alternative compromise candidate. While he has tried to distance himself from McGuinty’s battle with the unions, saying contract agreements are best made at the bargaining table, he does support an austerity budget, meaning he will insist on a wage freeze. He’s not aiming for an early election and wants conciliation with the other parties.
With the least number of years in politics of all the candidates, Hoskins, a physician and Member of the Order of Canada, nonetheless has a stellar résumé, having founded War Child Canada with his wife, Samantha Nutt, who is also a doctor. Hoskins is a rising star in the Liberal party, was Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in 2010 and Minister of Children and Youth Services in 2011. He has laid out a comprehensive plan for rural Ontario where the Liberals have a lot of catching up to do.
These are all capable individuals, but the bigger task will be to convince the electorate to renew the Liberal mandate. That will be a tougher sell.