Triumphant delegates at leadership convention.
Voting delegates at Saturday’s Ontario Liberal leadership convention in Toronto included, from left, Maggie Conway (former local MPP Sean Conway’s niece) of Toronto, Barry Robinson of Beachburg, Meredith Caplan Jamieson of Bonnechere Valley, daughter Sadie, and Pembroke native Derek Nighbor, who lives in Toronto.
Delegates had to pay $499 to register for last Saturday’s Ontario Liberal Party leadership convention, but Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke delegates say they got their money’s worth.
Eleven of the riding’s 16 delegates supported Don Valley West MPP Kathleen Wynne, who visited the riding Jan. 12 in Cobden, where she met delegates, other Liberal Party supporters and teachers.
Sandra Pupatello of Windsor led by two votes on the first ballot of Saturday’s convention at Toronto’s former Maple Leaf Gardens, but that wasn’t exactly what the former MPP needed to fortify her position in the four-male, two-female race.
When former Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke Liberal MPP Sean Conway saw the first vote count, he knew Pupatello, whom he was supporting, was in trouble. Pupatello still led on the second ballot, 817-750, but with most other candidates’ supporters moving to the camp of contender Kathleen Wynne, it was soon game over.
The sixth leadership convention for Conway in 40 years turned out to be one of the most exciting, but with some disappointment.
“When I saw that result (after the first ballot), to me it was over,” said Conway. “I thought she needed to be 75 to 100 ahead if she was going to go on to win,” said Conway. And he was right.
Candidate Harinder Takhar joined Pupatello’s camp, but it wasn’t enough.
Wynne, who garnered most of the votes from the camps of candidates Charles Sousa, Gerard Kennedy and Eric Hoskins, prevailed 1,150-866 on the third ballot, setting the stage for the swearing in of the 59-year-old as premier.
While she’ll also be Ontario’s first-ever female premier, there are already five other female premiers in Canada.
In retrospect, Conway says Pupatello’s campaign was hurt because she didn’t hold a seat at Queen’s Park and perhaps because she’d been too adversarial with NDP leader Andrea Horvath, the most popular of the three party leaders in recent public opinion polls. Pupatello, who was elected to office in four consecutive terms, didn’t run in 2011 when she chose to work in the private sector.
For Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke delegates, it was an exciting weekend.
Meredith Caplan Jamieson, whose brother David and mother Elinor were both elected members of provincial and/or federal parliament, called this her most exciting of three provincial conventions, following the 1992 Lyn McLeod and 1996 Dalton McGuinty conventions.
“This was my favourite convention ever, by far,” said Jamieson, who has also voted in federal Liberal conventions. “It was just so exciting on so many levels.”
The choice will also bode well for Liberals, she predicted.
“I think we were smart to vote for someone who’s a strong, compassionate, fun leader,” said Jamieson, noting that voters also took less stock in Wynne’s status as a lesbian than the media did.
“That’s the amazing thing about Kathleen. She always exceeds expectations,” she added, alluding to how she trounced then-Conservative Party leader John Tory in the 2007 election in Don Valley West.
Derek Nighbor of Pembroke, who lost by a few hundred seats to Conservative John Yakabuski in 2003, wasn’t sure if the Liberal Party was ready to elect a lesbian leader.
In fact, the Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke delegate was thinking Wynne was headed to a second-place finish before the weekend began.
Hoarse and exhausted afterwards, Nighbor said, “I knew she was the best person for the job, but I wasn’t sure if the Liberal Party was bold enough to make that decision.”
In the end, Nighbor says two factors ruled the day. One, Wynne had the best-organized campaign. Two, she was a superb candidate.
Before Premier McGuinty prorogued Parliament last fall, Nighbor says Queen’s Park was in shambles, with shouting, yelling and a lack of desire to make the legislature work.
Nighbor, who predicts Wynne is going to be a great leader, still wonders if the opposition parties won’t try to force an early election.
“I just hope the opposition comes to the table and makes (this Parliament) work,” said Nighbor.
“It was totally exhilarating, and it made me very proud to be a Liberal,” said Le Passe resident and local delegate Gail Richardson of the convention.
A long-time Liberal Party activist who missed being elected to provincial office by a few hundred votes in Markham more than 25 years ago, Richardson called Wynne exceptional and straightforward.
“She gets to the point. She’s very smart. And she’s personable. All in all, I think we’re in for some good solid Liberal government.”
Richardson’s husband, Izett McBride, was also a Wynne supporter.
McBride, who has spoken to Wynne at different conferences or conventions, is impressed by her focus, energy, and willingness to discuss issues.
“I think it’s been a great day for democracy and humankind in Ontario,” added McBride.
Tom Adamchick, president of the local federal Liberal Party Association, didn’t attend the convention. But he liked his party’s choice for leader.
“I was thrilled,” said the Lake Dore resident. “I really thought she had a speech that hit all the points that we’d be expecting from a leader in Ontario at this point in history.”
Other delegates enjoying Wynne’s triumph came from the same Hurds Lake family — Kevin Dunbar, partner Wendy Smith and daughter Rebecca.
“It was actually pretty exciting and empowering because living in Renfrew County your vote never counts,” said Dunbar.
But this time, he says local delegates not only helped pick the Liberal Party’s new leader, but the next premier.
“I’m hoping she fixes things,” said Dunbar, whose convention highlights included meeting comedian and political critic Rick Mercer of CBC’s Rick Mercer Report.
A retired teacher, Dunbar said Wynne has to do something about teacher disgruntlement and the province’s deficit.
While Dunbar calls himself a “reluctant Liberal,” he says Conservative leader Tim Hudak’s suggestions for educational reform and deficit-reduction leave much to be desired.
Even with Wynne’s victory, former MPP Conway says the Liberals have their work cut out for them, partly because of their recent decision to impose teacher contracts through Bill 115.
After teachers protested in large numbers in front of Saturday’s convention at the former Maple Leaf Gardens, Liberal supporters say something needs to be done to address their concerns.
And Wynne may be just the person to handle the job, says Conway.
“She has a lot of experience in government. She knows how government works. She knows how to bring consensus. And she has a really high energy level.”