LANARK COUNTY - Area Liberals appear to be bucking provincial voting trends in selecting the next premier.
Unofficial numbers released to this paper on Monday and Tuesday reveal that while Kathleen Wynne has won the majority of delegates with provincial Liberal voters in Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (LFLA), in a surprise upset, Harinder Takhar has captured the lion’s share of delegates in Carleton-Mississippi Mills (CMM).
When both ridings voted on Saturday, Jan. 12, Takhar took eight delegates in CMM, while Sandra Pupatello garnered four. Wynne, Gerard Kennedy, and Eric Hoskins each received one delegate each.
Meanwhile, in LFLA, Wynne ran away with the contest, capturing 10 delegates, with Kennedy a distant second with three delegates. Eric Hoskins picked up two delegates, and Pupatello, who had polled comparatively well just next door, scored only a single delegate.
“I’m happy with the result,” said LFLA provincial Liberal riding association president Roger Martin, who had endorsed Wynne before the vote. “I think it speaks very well to Kathleen’s campaign on the ground. She has campaigned very hard on the ground.”
While Takhar did not pick up any delegates in LFLA, Martin said he was still “quite impressed with the numbers that Mr. Takhar was able to pull,” even though, “he didn’t have a wide-ranging campaign across the province.”
Each riding will send 16 delegates to the convention, and delegates are pledged to vote for their respective selected candidate – but only on the first ballot. As the voting continues in Toronto, as it likely will with multiple candidates, barring the unforeseen, delegates will then vote accordingly as candidates drop off subsequent ballots.
CCM was only able to select 15 delegates.
“What happens now is a mystery to me,” said Graham Findlay, CCM provincial Liberal riding association president, regarding the outstanding 16th delegate spot. “Some people say that it may go to Takhar. A number of those people who say they will be delegates may not go. Personal plans change.”
With a $500 delegate fee, plus up to three nights hotel accommodation in Toronto to account for, Findlay admitted that “we are getting a lot of people complaining about the cost of the convention. Seniors, they are shut out. They just don’t have the money.”
Findlay attributed Takhar’s win in CMM to a large turnout of South East Indian voters, since Takhar was born in India, before immigrating to Canada in the 1970s.
“We have a cultural centre inside of it (our riding) and they really enjoy democracy, the practice of democracy,” said Findlay of the voters, mostly from Kanata. “Good for him. I am quite proud of him.”
By Findlay’s estimation, Takhar’s win is a validation of Canadian multiculturalism and democracy.
“We take the process in such a blasé way, we who have been here so long,” said Findlay, while democracy has had its struggles in other parts of the world. “We take it for granted.”
When asked why Takhar had done so well in CMM and so poorly in LFLA, Martin replied that “I don’t think it comes down to an urban-rural split. We are seeing pockets of support across the province,” for different candidates, though he agreed that the South East Asian vote was strongly mobilized to vote for Takhar in CMM.
While supporting Wynne, Martin commended Pupatello.
“She understands rural issues, she is from a working class environment,” he said, before adding that, if Wynne is elected premier next week, she has promised to add the agriculture and rural affairs portfolio to her duties for a year, just as Premier Dalton McGuinty did upon taking office in 2003 with economic development.
“Here is a chance for the premier to take the issues of agriculture and rural affairs head on. We have been hit pretty hard (and) there is a lot of work to be done. Rural and northern Ontario needs some special attention.”
Across the province, Pupatello had a slight lead of delegates over Wynne in a virtual neck-and-neck race, 248 delegates to 229 respectively. Kennedy was in third place with 121 delegates, with Takhar in fourth at 113. Charles Sousa stands at 87 delegates, Hoskins at 49, with 33 independent delegates, with 62 of 63 polls reporting as of Tuesday morning. Former Winnipeg Mayor Glen Murray dropped out on Jan. 10 and endorsed Wynne.
On top of the 16 delegates each riding is supposed to send, the sitting Liberal MPP, or Liberal candidate from the last election, as well as the riding association president, are also automatically entitled to vote at the convention.
Former LFLA candidate Bill MacDonald, who confirmed he is leaning towards Wynne, but will ultimately make his mind up closer to the convention date, is glad to see two strong female candidates topping the race provincially.
“We can’t lose with either one of them,” MacDonald said, though he cautioned that the numbers are preliminary yet and that anything could happen at the convention. “Don’t take your lead from the media as the first numbers come out.”
Dalton McGuinty, for example, only won on the final and deciding ballot at the last Ontario Liberal leadership convention in Toronto on Dec. 1, 1996, when he beat out Kennedy, who had been leading on every other ballot at the convention.
MacDonald admitted that the Liberals face a tough road ahead.
“(But) I’m old enough to remember that every party had bumps in the road,” he said.
While CCM had turnout in Kanata of around 50 per cent, LFLA turnout in Sharbot Lake was closer to 30 per cent. Findlay attributed his riding’s higher turnout to the mobilization of the South East Asian community.
“If we didn’t have them, we would be down amongst the 30 per cent level,” said Findlay.