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Ontario Liberal Leadership

Monday, January 28, 2013 @ 01:01 PM

Choosing a political leader at a delegated convention provides all the excitement and intrigue for a political generation. It is, in fact, the ultimate human theatre.

Kathleen WynneThe stakes are high in all political leadership races, but when the ultimate prize is also to become the Premier of the Province – because the Party seeking its leader happens to be government – the atmosphere, logically,  is more electric than normal.  Intrigue and drama aside, the Liberal Party of Ontario demonstrated to the Province of Ontario that its leadership hopefuls were prepared to duke it out in a media described well travelled series of debates and public appearances by all seven candidates from November 2012 to late January 2013.  The Party’s convention in Toronto held this past weekend was well attended and described by media as well done.

Having attended leadership conventions for all three political parties in Canada since 1976, this convention had the hallmark of being one of the more intriguing I had ever attended.  The Party “thinkers” had decided that it wanted a woman to lead its party into the future and punctuated that decision by electing the greatest proportion of the convention’s delegates to the two women in the race.  Their campaigns were well run, well funded and attracted the most active caucus support for their respective campaigns.   The front runner going in to the convention was Sandra Pupatello, a former  MPP and Cabinet Minister in the McGuinty government elected from Windsor and now a prominent Toronto business woman active in the oil and gas sector.  The second most favoured candidate was Kathleen Wynne (pictured above) MPP for Don Valley West in Toronto since 2003 and a prominent Cabinet Minister throughout her career as MPP.   Hundreds of delegate numbers below Pupatello and Wynne was the remainder of the candidates:  Gerrard Kennedy (pictured waving on the far right above) former MPP and Cabinet Minister in McGuinty’s  government and a one time MP in Toronto started the convention in third place.   Charles Sousa (pictured above far left) MPP from Mississauga South elected in 2007 and, until entering the race, was a Cabinet Minister was in fourth place. Harinder Takhar, MPP for Mississauga Streetsville, elected in 2003 and a Cabinet Minister for his entire career was in fifth place.  Prominent Canadian physician and activist Eric Hoskins,  (pictured right behind Wynne above) MPP and Cabinet Minister since a by-election in 2009 from St. Paul’s rounded out the cast of hopefuls in sixth place.   There was a seventh candidate, Glen Murray, MPP from Toronto Centre Rosedale and a Cabinet Minister since his by-election victory to that seat in 2009 , but he dropped out of the race and chose to support Kathleen Wynne a week before the convention.

Leadership conventions are dynamic events no doubt –  the speeches from the candidates are a highlight and often reveal to delegates who has the “mustard” .  The two front runners did not disappoint with both of them making superbly crafted speeches.  However from this insider’s  perspective Kathleen Wynne’s  speech was the best delivered with a folksy style that characterized her as likeable (a trait that is known in the business as being “retail”).  Pupatello’s  speech was strong on content and delivery but  seemed to pale in comparison to Wynne’s.

That noted, moreover,  political  leadership conventions are neither won nor lost on speeches, they are won and lost on  delegate support.  Delegate support is the ingredient for human dynamic at these kinds of events and deals between candidates  were struck before the convention actually began and although speculation abounds, many arm-chair political pundits could not have known the outcome of those deals in advance of the convention.

Such was the case for this Liberal Leadership Convention.  After a lengthy and quite frustrating delay in the counting of the first ballots, the result was a razor thin margin for front runner Sandra Pupatello.  The surprise after the first ballot was Kathleen Wynne who had generated more delegate support than had been  originally anticipated and therefore generated the most momentum.  Eric Hoskins was dropped from the ballot and moved quickly to Kathleen Wynne, while his most prominent supporter, former Prime Minister John Turner moved to Sandra Pupatello.  At the same time, Harinder Takhar moved to Pupatello leaving only four candidate for the second ballot because there was not a clear fifty percent plus one (50%  +1) delegate margin for any one candidate.

After another lengthy delay in the counting of the second ballot results and a spate of discussions among the candidates for last minute deals,  Charles Sousa and Gerrard Kennedy moved to Kathleen Wynne making for the most drama of the day and creating some vitriol among their delegates making the third and final ballot for  leader of the Party and Premier an historic battle between two women.  It was Wynne who won the day with a two hundred and fifty (250) plus margin of the over 2000 delegates voting.

Wynne became the Party’s  Leader and the Province’s Premier late evening on Saturday.

For the majority of people who never get the chance to experience this kind of an event, many wonder what happens now?

Here’s the drill.

Kathleen Wynne by winning the Leadership of her Party also becomes what is known as Premier- designate until she and her Cabinet are sworn in.  That process of choosing a Cabinet will occur in the next few weeks.  She will then be Premier.  Her choices for Cabinet  Ministers comes from several criteria including:  any deals made at the Leadership Convention, geography (where the MPP is elected from), demography (gender, ethnicity etc) and merit.  That process will likely not be completed until the night before the Cabinet is sworn in.  The swearing in will occur before the Legislature is recalled.

The Premier-designate has said that she will recall the Legislature on February 19, 2013.  That means before that date she will have chosen a Cabinet, hired new staffers for the over 300 jobs available for Cabinet  Ministers Offices and prepare a Speech from the Throne, which is the agenda her new government will be following in the upcoming Legislative session that ensues.

It is widely speculated that a budget may also accompany the Speech from the Throne, but that is highly unlikely given the protracted period of time from now until the recalling of the Legislature.

It is also widely speculated that Premier-designate Wynne may strike a deal for support of her Speech from the Throne and subsequent Budget Bill from NDP Leader Andrea Horwath to avoid an election this Spring.  Speculation is that this minority government could stretch to Spring of 2014.

PC Leader Tim Hudak, our sources tell us, is not as receptive to this kind of a deal and will likely move non-confidence on both  the Throne Speech and Budget Bill.  Given said support from NDP a non-confidence motion will likely not pass.

Of course, both the New Democrat and PC  parties would like a chance at forming a government and speculation abounds that popular support may bounce upward for Liberal Premier designate Wynne in the immediate short term.

Popular support may remain high for Wynne over time because of her personal style , “like-ability” AND if  she establishes a brand and style of government so different from the McGuinty Liberal government.  In order for this to occur, she will have to address issues from the previous two governments of which she was part and move quickly to remedy them.  This includes health, energy and some crown agency troubles that have haunted McGunity’s government in the past 10 years.  This could be a tall order given that many of the Cabinet that she will chose will be among the former McGuinty Cabinet  for her to demonstrate and ensure continuity, capability and experience.  We believe this could be problematic for her –  look for some brand new faces and a potential sea change in key roles.

The only saving grace for the opposition parties in this scenario is that they could use the time to hone their public images more effectively, raise badly needed funds and prepare and/or enhance and focus group test their platforms such that they will appeal more to the general public and the media throughout  the province.

Couple this with the fact that three term governments tend to “institutionalize”  government and become what observers call “fat and lazy”.   Political history suggests that it is difficult for a three term government to get a fourth mandate.

Look for drama to unfold prior to this next Legislative session while the elements of a deal for this current minority government to survive unfold.

- Marc Kealey
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