Kathleen Wynne. Courtesy of the Kathleen Wynne campaign.
When word started filtering out last week that Michael Bryant - yes, that Michael Bryant - was lending his voice to automated tele-promos for Ontario Liberal leadership hopeful Kathleen Wynne, the Twitterverse snapped to attention.
Sadly for the Liberals, it was the most excitement the race to replace Dalton McGuinty has generated since Premier Dad resigned and the legislature was prorogued.
But the buzz seemed to be for all the wrong reasons, as in, "what the fuck are Wynne's people thinking" by asking the former attorney general to put in a good word for their candidate.
That's because no story mentioning Bryant can be written without mentioning his 2009 confrontation with bike courier Darcy Allan Sheppard and the charge of criminal negligence causing death that followed and was later dropped, leaving him still under a cloud.
As endorsements go, Bryant's is problematic, but mostly for those who don't vote Liberal and may live south of Bloor in the big smoke.
Within party circles, Bryant is still a popular force. The Sheppard drama only slightly dulled the glimmer of the rising-star insignia the famously cocky Bryant used to wear, along with his perpetual shit-eating grin.
That said, there were some within Lib party ranks for whom the Bryant-Wynne connection raised eyebrows.
The other news that could loosely be described as exciting in a ho-hum leadership race was last week's automated telephone poll from somewhere in Illinois asking prospective Liberal convention delegates their choice for leader. It's not known who commissioned the poll.
Party members were targeted even on their cellphones while out of country, so whoever was behind it had access to membership lists, a fact that's unleashed some finger-pointing among folks in rival leadership camps.
But amidst the internal sniping - and bored stares from reporters covering the race - the first tangible evidence emerged this week that there may be an upset in the making.
Let's just say things just got trickier for Sandra Pupatello, the odds-on fave going in given the boatload of sitting MPPs endorsing her campaign.
Some 1,533 Wynne supporters are running in their ridings to be delegates, compared to 1,281 for Pupatello. They're followed by Gerard Kennedy's 846; Charles Sousa's 778; Eric Hoskins's 714; Glen Murray's 461 and Harinder Takhar's 461.
The fact that more Wynne supporters are running to be delegates doesn't necessarily mean they'll be chosen. Some 95 are running in her Don Valley riding alone, according to one source. The candidates still have to get their supporters out to vote for their declared delegates. That vote takes place this weekend.
The bigger challenge for some campaigns lacking financial resources will be to get their delegates to the convention. The weekend vote doesn't leave much time to make hotel and travel arrangements to the January 25 convention in Toronto, especially for those coming from the province's northern reaches.
The voting itself is a complicated affair. Sixteen delegates will be chosen from each of Ontario's 133 ridings. But each riding must send a certain number of women and youth delegates. The wild card: another 400 to 800 former MPs, MPPs and riding association presidents will be automatic delegates to the convention.
If the preliminary numbers show anything, it's that Wynne's campaign is well organized - and, more interestingly, that some Liberals are seriously considering the idea of electing the first female and openly gay premier in Ontario history. And from Toronto, no less.
Quite a switch for a party that's tacked centre-right for the better part of the last decade under McGuinty.
Pupatello might not want to go into Ryerson's Mattamy Centre on convention weekend as front-runner anyway. Historically, candidates in that position have ended up losing. The names Gerard Kennedy and Murray Elston come to mind. An "anybody but (fill in the blank)" reaction tends to spring up against Liberal front-runners.
To be frank, Pupatello's "I'm not from Toronto, so vote for me" routine was not only getting a little tired, but also rubbing a few in the party the wrong way. Being from the city where a fifth of the province's seats are located should be an asset if the party wants to hold onto power. Some suggest there's already an "anybody but" feeling growing against Pupatello, who, despite playing the outsider card, is in many ways the continuity candidate, considering how many of the McGuinty crew are backing her.
If anyone can break the spell and win with the lead going into the convention, it's Wynne, who is well liked within the party and, some say, has been planning this run for two years. She's the closest thing to a consensus-builder among the candidates.
The bigger question for the Libs, pragmatic bunch that they are, is whether Wynne can take enough of the vote in rural and small-c conservative bedrock communities in the 905 to win back a majority. And further, is the party ready for the left turn Wynne represents?
Wynne seems cognizant of the need to shore up her right flank. She kinda danced around a question about the minimum wage during a telephone Town Hall last week. And she's been talking up the need to slay the deficit before anything else.
Alliances between the candidates vying for the leadership - whom they decide to support on the second and subsequent ballots - may have more impact on the future political slant of the party than the delegates themselves.
Right now the group pulling up the rear is centre-right in its orientation. The ground is fertile for someone to come up the middle, as McGuinty did in 96. The boys in this race may be conspiring to put one among them on top. In that case, the direction of Liberal party renewal is anybody's guess.