The next premier – an early look

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday November 21 2012 in Opinion
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By the end of this week, all persons who aspire to be the next leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario, and the next premier – even if it is only for a few weeks – will be known.


There has been a flurry of announcements over the past couple of weeks as cabinet members resign their posts as a prerequisite to entering the race. Of the six that have declared so far, I can say with certainty our next premier will not be an African-Canadian. In the same vein, I can say that the next leader/premier will not be a racialized minority.


Thus far, there are four men and two women in the contest. Of the six, four are currently sitting members of the Legislature. The other two are former members, one of whom has previously tried to assume leadership of the Ontario Liberals and attempted to lead the Liberal Party of Canada.


The current Liberal Caucus has two members of African descent – Margarett Best and Michael Coteau. There are also eight other members who are from racialized communities. There have been hints that two of the racialized members may declare their intentions but, at the time of writing this, they had not done so.


The consensus from the daily media would suggest that the two front-runners are women: Kathleen Wynne, a sitting member and Sandra Pupatello, a former member. Pupatello’s announcement raised a few eyebrows, including mine, not due to her entry into the race but because she went on the record saying that she will not recall the Legislature until she can get a seat in the House if she is elected leader. Imagine that.


“I am more important than the people’s business” seems to be the implication of that position.


Unless you are a member of the Liberal Party in good standing by Friday, November 23, you will not have a chance to choose or be a delegate to the convention which will select the new Premier. The election of the new leader will rely on who is most successful in convincing the delegates at the convention in January that he or she is the best bet to get the Liberals…I was going say “back on the right track”, but that would assume they were before.


Right now, the ground work is in full swing. From the outset of their declaration, these candidates began to vie for the attention of the general public to sign them up as new members of the Liberal Party with the hope of holding their allegiances, while trying to convince older members that he or she is best suited to be leader. Then, these members will gather to elect delegates, a proportion of whom will be expected to vote for the preferred candidate of the riding at the convention.


However, you will, provided you are a citizen and get on the voters’ list, have an opportunity to either endorse that selection or to give that premiership to the leader of one of the other two parties. As I have suggested before, that opportunity may come sooner than expected, as the new leader and government structure must earn the confidence of the Legislature, once reconvened. That could be a problem.


Leadership candidates seemingly tend to have different reasons for entering a race. In some cases, they may exude a sense of confidence that they would be the best choice to lead. They would have emerged from the pack early, into the public eye.


There are others who only want to take a run to elevate their status within the party. When the cabinet postings are doled out, they hope they will be put in a high-profile portfolio. One way they do that is to visibly support a front-runner candidate once they have been eliminated from the balloting, seemingly adding impetus to that front-runner towards a win.


For us on the outside watching, we may gain important clues as to how they will tackle some of the key issues that face our community and how they involve us in the decision making around issues that affect us. Yes, we do need to seize the opportunity to involve ourselves in decision making at this level. At the same time, the Liberal Party can show its willingness to welcome our participation by the way they outreach to our community.


To be sure, we are evidently becoming more involved in partisan politics with the increase of candidates at each election. The African-Canadian community has not yet harnessed its potential power and influence by voting en bloc to ensure that some key demands are met. It is also doubtful that we will, as the size of our community is shrinking in comparison to other racialized communities.


With that, the potential for influence shrinks as well. It appears that we are waiting for a version of Barack Obama to rise in our midst.


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