Liberal leadership aside, Ontario is still a three-way race

Any one of the three parties could win the next election

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January 15, 2013

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TORONTO, ON, Jan. 15, 2013/ Troy Media/ -Two weeks from now, the Ontario Liberal Party will have a new leader – and Ontario a new Premier.

But, whether you are following the race within the Liberal Party to replace Dalton McGuinty, or you are looking at the broader picture of all political parties in Ontario, the question remains the same.

Who’s got what it takes to lead this province at this time?

In the race to succeed McGuinty, Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne came out of the weekend’s delegate selection process with over half of the available delegates between them.

Pupatello did not run in the 2011 provincial election. Her campaign has turned on her being the ‘only candidate from outside the Toronto area’ (Windsor West being her former riding), despite her current post as Director of Business Development and Global Markets for the consultancy firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, in Toronto.

Pupatello took 28 per cent of the available delegates on the weekend, giving her a slight lead over Wynne.

As another member of the Liberal caucus (Teresa Piruzza) currently holds the seat, it’s unclear if Pupatello wins whether she’ll look to be nominated in her old riding, move to the adjacent riding of Windsor-Tecumseh being vacated by the retiring Dwight Duncan, or seek a riding elsewhere in the province.

The only other candidate (in third place based on delegate selection) without a seat is former Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) and former MP Gerard Kennedy. All of the other contenders currently sit in the legislature. (MPP Glen Murray has already dropped out and backed Wynne.)

Kathleen Wynne, in second place with 25 per cent of the delegates, is equally favoured to win the race. (Unlike other races in recent years, it is less likely, in the Ontario Liberal race, that third place will sneak up the middle to take the crown this time.)

The other candidates are Kennedy (14 per cent), Mississauga-Erindale MPP Harinder Takhar (13 per cent), Mississauga South MPP Charles Sousa (11 per cent) and St Paul’s MPP Eric Hoskins (6 per cent). The leader will be chosen in convention in Toronto on the weekend of January 25-27.

The Liberals’ choice of a new leader will create a new Premier, who will have to recall the legislature and bring down a Throne Speech and Budget. Ontario having a minority government, it is quite possible that whomever is chosen will be thrown into a provincial election sooner rather than later.

As a result, eyes in the province are also giving a speculative once-over to PC leader Tim Hudak and NDP leader Andrea Horwath.

Horwath has been keeping a low profile throughout the past weeks (as have almost all members of her caucus). This is partly due to internal party preparation in the event of an election being triggered and partly because if any party is likely to work with a new Premier in the legislature over the budget, it would be Horwath’s NDP.

In 2012, Horwath procured several changes to McGuinty’s last budget in exchange for her party’s support. The Ontario NDP, therefore, has to prepare for negotiations to keep the Liberal government alive while simultaneously differentiating themselves in case of a campaign.

Horwath remains the province’s most popular leader. It’s likely her popularity will take a dip once McGuinty is replaced as the ‘fresh face’ effect comes into play. The NDP remains in second place in provincial polls, as well.

If Wynne wins the Liberal leadership, expect the Liberals to try and shift slightly onto NDP ground, both to keep the government alive and to capture NDP votes. Pupatello’s leadership is more likely to keep the party roughly where it is in the political spectrum.

PC leader Tim Hudak, on the other hand, has already begun the next provincial election campaign.

He has spent the last few months issuing policy papers to clearly differentiate his party in the political marketplace.

Hudak’s problem is that although his party leads in provincial polling, he does not. He is widely seen as a weak and untrustworthy figure.

Although he has worked hard to improve the way he handles interviews, takes questions, responds, and presents himself in public, public opinion has not yet shifted. Grumblings within PC circles about his continued leadership continue despite his handy winning of a vote of confidence at his party’s convention, last year.

Ontario remains a fluid three horse race. Right now, any one of the three parties could win the election (with either a minority or a majority). The next few weeks will likely see the public’s perception of who should lead Ontario change – and with it, the odds of a 2013 election shift, as well.

Troy Media Syndicated Columnist Bruce Stewart is a management consultant located in Toronto.

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