Area Ontario Liberals have begun announcing their preference’s for the province’s next premier ahead of delegate voting on Saturday, Jan. 12.
Carleton Place-based Roger Martin, president of the Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington Ontario Liberal riding association has endorsed Kathleen Wynne to lead the party at the end of January, while the Liberals’ Carleton-Mississippi Mills candidate in the October 2011 vote, Megan Cornell, has endorsed Sandra Pupatello.
“Sandra, to me, is the whole package,” said Cornell who, as an ex-officio of the party, will be voting at the convention in Toronto to pick a new leader to replace Premier Dalton McGuinty. “(But) I have great respect for all of the other candidates, and I’m not just saying that because I am talking to the paper. I find her (Pupatello) really dynamic and engaging,” she said of the former education, social and community services, and economic development and trade minister.
Cornell said that Pupatello’s economic development work, in both the public and private sector, would bode well for Ontario as it continues to fight its way out of recession, but as one of the few non-Toronto-area candidates in the race.
“She’s from Windsor so she is not from Toronto and she thinks beyond Toronto and that is important to me,” said Cornell.
Cornell said she had made her mind up about Pupatello before a Carleton Place gathering of Liberals in December at the former Carambeck Public School.
Other Liberals are being more tight-lipped about their choices to lead the Grits into a likely spring or early summer election.
Graham Findlay, president of the Carleton-Mississippi Mills Ontario Liberal riding association, is refraining from endorsing any candidate as he will be a returning officer for the delegate election at the Kanata Royal Canadian Legion hall on Jan. 12. Delegates elected to go to Toronto will either go representing a candidate for the first ballot or will be neutral and will make their mind up once in the big city.
“It’s a complex process,” admitted Findlay. “I decided it was appropriate for me to be a team leader,” he added, rather than taking sides.
Findlay said that, for him, one of the calculations that fellow Liberals must take into consideration is the electability of the leader heading in to what he is certain will be a provincial election.
“It won’t be for a year from now,” he said. “It will be before then.”
He also did not mince words as to the uphill battle the party faces if it wants to stay in power in Queen’s Park.
“The party has damaged itself in the last year,” Findlay said. “There has been a lot of good work done by this government. There has been a lot done but it has not been heralded… The last year has not been one to crow about.”
He said that all of the leadership candidates were “all very interesting and all very competent,” but, unbidden, he offered that former education minister Gerard Kennedy “impressed” him, after seeing him at both the Carleton Place Grit gathering and at a debate at Carleton University in Ottawa.
“He was the conscience of liberalism like Dalton (McGuinty) wasn’t,” he said. “(McGuinty) never said where we were in terms of Liberals. ‘We’re not this, we’re not that,’” seemed to be McGuinty’s way of defining the party, said Findlay.
Kennedy, the founder of Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank, and former MP and MPP, was good at defining “here’s what we are. It means this to be a Liberal. He’s the conscience of our party. I am not sure he is the best candidate (but) I will reserve my judgment. Any one of them will be a good premier.”
Bill MacDonald, the Liberal standard-bearer in the October 2011 provincial election, informed this newspaper that he will indeed be putting his name forward for the party nomination during the anticipated election, but he was not going to declare for any leadership candidate as yet, but he revealed that “I’m leaning towards Kathleen Wynne. She’s been very good to us.”
When Wynne was transportation minister, she met with Tay Valley Township Reeve Keith Kerr and Perth Mayor John Fenik at the township offices to discuss local transportation matters about a year or so ago, followed by dinner at a Perth restaurant.
“Kathleen is quite knowledgeable of the area, and she has held a number of portfolios. I can’t count the number of portfolios she’s had!”
While his party colleagues will vote from 3 to 8 p.m. at the United Church in Sharbot Lake on Jan. 12, MacDonald himself will vote at the convention in Toronto.
“I’m still evaluating,” said MacDonald. “They all have strengths. I don’t think that the party could lose with any of them.”
Calls to Martin were not returned by press time, but according to a press release from the Wynne campaign, Martin first met Wynne at a meeting in the riding in 2009. He was running late to a meeting, and upon arrival, “Wynne immediately gut up from the table and came over to introduce herself and shake my hand. What a welcome. What a first impression. I thought, ‘Here’s a politician who gets it, who understands the value of people and the importance of making them feel welcome.’ Kathleen’s ability connect and draw people in is genuine.”
Wynne has held several portfolios in the McGuinty government, including education, aboriginal affairs, transportation, and housing and municipal affairs.
There are several high profile Liberal leadership races going on across the country, federally and in provinces like Quebec. Cornell joked that, after the Toronto convention, with the federal leadership convention set for April, “we (Liberals) will got to sleep Saturday, wake up Sunday, and three fourths of the people will get working on federal campaigns.”