Thrilling Ontario Liberal convention could be the last
Published Saturday, January 26, 2013 10:21PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, January 27, 2013 11:24AM EST
TORONTO -- Ontario Liberals elected a new leader and premier-designate Saturday in a tight, three-round vote, a contest that may have marked the end of delegated leadership races in the province.
Saturday’s leadership convention ended with time for delegates to get an early start at the after-parties, unlike in 1996 when Dalton McGuinty surged ahead from nearly the back of the pack to be declared victor after 4 a.m.
The third and final ballot came down to the two front runners heading into the convention, Kathleen Wynne and Sandra Pupatello, with Wynne getting 1,150 votes to Pupatello’s 866. Wynne is the new Liberal leader and will likely be premier by the end of the week after McGuinty pays a visit to the lieutenant governor.
Saturday’s events could be the last time a party leader will be chosen at a delegated convention in Ontario, making way for a one-member, one-vote system that some argue is more fair, but far less exciting.
The results from the first round of voting kicked off a rush of activity on the convention floor early Saturday afternoon, as Pupatello and Wynne came out separated by just two votes.
The results of first ballot were: Pupatello at 599 votes and Wynne at 597, followed by Gerard Kennedy at 281, Harinder Takhar at 235, Charles Sousa at 222 and Eric Hoskins at 150.
Last-place finisher Hoskins was automatically dropped from the ballot and reporters and delegates watched for signs of where he would throw his support.
After conferring with family and advisors, including former Liberal premier David Peterson, Hoskins led delegates to Wynne’s camp, but not before faking a move to Pupatello’s side of the room.
Asked why he chose to support Wynne, the MPP for St. Paul’s said Wynne encompassed the qualities needed to lead the Liberal party and the province.
“Integrity, compassion, commitment, she’s a team player and all the qualities that we need,” he said.
Just a few hours earlier, Twitter lit up with speculation that Hoskins would drop out before the first round of voting when in his final speech to delegates, he pledged to support Ontario’s next premier, “whoever she may be.”
But he stayed in the race until he was forced out, and stuck by Wynne’s side for much of the day.
Not long after Hoskins moved to the Wynne camp, Takhar also read the vote count on the wall, and led his delegates over to Pupatello’s side of the room. His move was a surprise to some who had heard that the MPP for Mississauga-Erindale was headed to the Kennedy camp.
“The creation of jobs is important to me,” said Takhar when asked why he chose to support Pupatello, noting her focus on the economy.
With the second ballot down to a four-horse race, delegates and reporters who predicted a quick result were left wondering how long it takes to count some 2,000-plus votes. Results from the second ballot came down three hours later, and it became clear that both Sousa and Kennedy would be on the move.
Results of the second ballot put Pupatello ahead at 817 votes, with second Wynne at 750, Kennedy third with 285 and Sousa fourth with 203. Takhar failed to drop out of the race in the allotted time after the first ballot and remained on the second, getting 18 votes.
The Wynne supporters who had spent the vote count singing, chanting and hammering noisemakers together on the convention floor immediately began calling the Kennedy and Sousa camps over to their side. Sousa remained in his box with his family while Kennedy’s delegates moved out of the arena so he could speak to them in private.
Chatter on the convention floor had the former small business owner and RBC executive Sousa making the short walk next door to the Pupatello camp. But his team began making a path through the stands for him that led to the convention floor, and Wynne supporters crushed forward to welcome them to the fold.
Once Sousa embraced Wynne it was unclear what had become of Kennedy and his delegates. But he eventually made his way to the Wynne camp to a deafening roar from her supporters.
The final scene on the floor, perhaps not surprisingly, was collegial but divided, with Wynne supporters in their trademark black-and-white scarves and placards on one side with Pupatello’s supporters in red on the other.
The candidates took the stage together, crossing the stage to wave to each other’s supporters before Liberal Party President Yasir Naqvi could deliver the final tally. When he announced Pupatello’s figures and it was clear she didn’t have enough to win, Wynne’s camp erupted and Naqvi could hardly be heard over the roar.
McGuinty then joined the women on stage, followed by the entire Liberal caucus, in an unplanned show of strength. Their combined weight threatened to break the stage and Wynne told the crowd said she had gone off script.
If the Liberals go the way of the other parties with a one-member, one-vote system, as expected, we may have seen the last of the Ontario political conventions that serve up surprises to the end.