Ontario Liberals do the unexpected – make a sharp left turn and anoint a former activist party leader and premier
And so the improbable…
Just when you thought there was no liberal left in the Liberal Party of Ontario, they go and elect Kathleen Wynne leader, making her not only the first female Premier in the province’s history, but the first who also happens to be openly gay.
If that isn’t a middle finger to the party establishment…
Wynne’s chances were 50-50 going into this weekend’s convention. Her critics said Wynne couldn’t win. That she was too cerebral. Too downtown Toronto (even though she represents an inner burb). Too policy wonky. Too something or other to beat Tim Hudak in a head to head fight. Or, reach into rural Ontario and win.
But Wynne got a big boost when both Charles Sousa and Gerard Kennedy moved to support her after the second ballot. On the convention floor, you could feel the air go out of Pupatello supporters as they watched Sousa come down from the stands, walk right by and make a hard left towards Wynne, who was waiting on the other side.
At that point, it was all over but for the voting, and the counting, which was momentarily suspended after an unspecified water-related issue. The only unknown: if delegates would follow their candidates’ cue or vote their own choice. And so began the waiting and the arm twisting. Well, maybe not arm-twisting exactly, but there were still entreaties being made by the Pupatello team in a last-minute bid to sway delegates as they lined up to vote.
In the end Wynne prevailed, by some 300-plus delegates over Sanda Pupatello, the frontrunner for most of this contest who continued the not-so-great Liberal tradition of going into a leadership convention ahead on the first ballot and losing by the time all the votes were counted.
Talk about a dramatic turn.
It’s clear that the party establishment had a Pupatello victory in mind. She was supposed to be the can’t-miss candidate.
The offensive launched by Pupatello in the final days of her leadership run, which included endorsements from both the Star and Globe, and practically every other major newspaper in the province, was breathtaking – a little nasty, at times, too.
Indeed, there were more than a few cheap shots levelled at Pupatello rivals. Not sure if that was just arrogance. The effect was that it alienated potential supporters.
Pupatello’s outsider shtick – her claim that she was the best candidate because she is not tainted by the party’s recent scandals – also rubbed a lot of delegates the wrong way.
The Windsor girl’s effervescence is undeniable. When she took the stage to deliver her speech to delegates, she strode with confidence from one end to the other, the music booming, and with attitude to burn.
But Pupatello wasn’t the outsider at all. She was in fact the continuity candidate, anointed by Bay Street, where she had been biding her time after leaving politics 18 months ago for just this moment. She called herself a centrist.
But against all odds, a party that’s been tacking further and further right, shocked the fuck out of everybody and opted for a turn left by choosing Wynne, the activist former school board trustee, who has become quite an accomplished politician, it should be pointed out.
On this night, a party famous for being practical, took a leap of faith. Maybe the renewal business wasn’t just a buzz word of this campaign after all.
Wynne talked in her speech abut the party needing to re-dedicate itself to Liberal values. “Being Liberal,” she said, “is the generosity of spirit that defines us at our best.” On that front, she’ll have some convincing to do.
Dalton McGuinty’s crew have exited stage right. They’re not in charge anymore.
But most sitting MPPs supported Pupatello in this race. Wynne invited them up to share the stage during the inevitable show of unity shot for the cameras shortly after she was declared winner. Her mediation skills are legend. In short order, they’ll be put to the test bringing together her party. But that’s only the beginning. From there, it’s the rest of Ontario she’ll have to persuade – beginning with the few thousand protesters who dogged Liberal party delegates all weekend outside.