For a while there, Kathleen Wynne looked like the luckiest politician alive.
Just six weeks ago, as she surveyed the political landscape, this is what the Liberal premier of Ontario saw:
Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats had been in a witness protection program for months. And, when they were finally starting to show signs of life, they lost their chief of staff to allegations he was indifferent to complaints about sexual harassment.
Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Caroline Mulroney was revealing herself to be completely unprepared for the top job – she looked and sounded uncertain, she was visibly nervous, and she was clearly out of her depth. Her campaign team had oversold her and she had underwhelmed many. Many Ontarians were saying Wynne would eat her alive in a leader’s debate.
PC contender Christine Elliott was doing what she did in the 2009 and 2015 leadership contests: she was phoning it in and giving an entirely new dimension to the Trumpian epithet “low energy.”
Doug Ford – the candidate Wynne most desired – was amazing and charming PCs everywhere. He was being disciplined, strategic and working his tail off.
And for good measure, the last thing the PCs needed was this: Patrick Brown rising from the political dead, doing the rounds in the media, running again for the job that he’d quit, and demonizing those young women who came forward. That, too, incredibly, was actually happening. That, too, was benefiting Wynne’s Liberals.
Six weeks ago, then, the premier of our largest province – the one who has been the most unpopular premier in Canada, according to the pollsters – had been brought back from the dead. By her opponents. She was very, very lucky.
But luck can run out just as fast as one acquires it. A week, per the cliché, is a lifetime in politics.
Brown’s entry into the PC leadership race meant chaos, controversy and Wynne’s likely re-election. Now that’s he’s gone (again), an Ontario Liberal victory becomes a lot less certain.
Eric Hoskins’ sudden resignation as Ontario health minister was very bad news for Wynne, too. He joined departing senior ministers like Brad Duguid, Liz Sandals and Deb Matthews, all of whom Wynne needed in a tough re-election battle to help spread the Ontario Liberal gospel.
Horwath started to show signs of life and started popping up in the media again. Her capable chief of staff came back and Horwath commenced reminding everyone why she’s the most popular leader in Ontario politics.
Ford started self-destructing. He said the abortion debate needed to be reopened, thereby losing significant support among women in Ontario. And he started whining about how the leadership selection rules were unfair – thereby sounding like he knew he was losing.
Mulroney had greatly improved. At the start of the abbreviated leadership contest, she was a political newbie and it showed. But she was starting to pack halls and raise lots of money, and was sounding like a front-bench cabinet minister.
Elliott, meanwhile, acquired big-time momentum. Under the able guidance of Fred DeLorey, Elliott seized front-runner status in the crazy-short campaign, and she commenced showing a lot more energy than she had in 2009 and 2015. In a ranked leadership ballot, she was everyone’s second choice. That means she was most likely to win over the weekend (as I predict she did, on the third ballot). She was the candidate the Ontario Grits fear the most.
Finally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was starting to become a bit of a dilemma for Ontario Liberals: he wasn’t the campaign asset he used to be. A few short months ago, he would have been helpful to any provincial Grit candidate. Now – following months of controversies and missteps, plummeting poll numbers and self-inflicted wounds like the ongoing the Indian imbroglio – the bloom is decidedly off the dauphin’s rose.
And here’s the worst thing of all for Wynne: incredibly, the pollsters were still saying the Ontario PCs have the advantage – notwithstanding all the Brown-related scandal and controversy. With Elliott, Mulroney or Ford at the helm, the polls declared, the PCs would still win handily.
I think the PCs are well advised to never count out Wynne – under that kindly, grandmotherly exterior, there’s a spine of political steel. Wynne, in my experience, will do whatever it takes to win.
That said, her luck may have finally run out.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator. His latest book, Recipe For Hate, has just been published across North America and Europe by Dundurn Press.
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