Report from the Field: The Ontario Liberal Leadership Convention 2013

Freshta Raoufi

Kathleen Wynne’s victory has made political history as she becomes the first ever female Premier of Ontario. I had the privilege of attending the convention as a delegate, and knowing that I was involved in the process of electing Ontario’s first female Premier is empowering. The convention started off by paying tribute to Dalton McGuinty’s legacy and the contributions he has made to Ontario over the past sixteen years. McGuinty declared that it is time for party renewal and a new leader is important for party revitalization. Division and partisanship are very detrimental to capacity building and knowledge creation in Ontario; working together is critical to governing our province.

And then the games began! The second day of voting brought great anticipation and excitement to the convention floor. I was able to see the consultations that were occurring between camps. The speeches were significant because they gave the delegates from the camps that withdrew the opportunity to choose their next best option. The first speech brought forward by Harinder Takhar had little momentum. He targeted his speech to challenges faced by new Canadians. 

Gerard Kennedy’s speech on the other hand focused on policy renewal. His main focus was on the results and outcomes that governments must deliver to the people of Ontario through quality programming. He vouched for a more open and accountable government; this was a vision shared by some of the other candidates.

Sandra Pupatello had the greatest number of delegates supporting her before entering the convention. She kept reminding delegates that she was in the legislature during the opposition years. Her speech was militaristic-sounding, too focused on politics, and framed negotiation as a battleground. She didn’t come up with a sound reason for why she was seeking leadership.

Eric Hoskins’ speech was very compassionate as he chose to focus on the importance of humanitarian values and social inclusion in policy making. At one point in his speech, Hoskins addressed his unpopularity in the polls. He stated that he was using the campaign to give leverage to his message and ideas to the next leader, at which point he signaled to Wynne and the crowd went wild.

Charles Sousa wanted to leave his mark as a “jobs Premier”, signalling that economic growth and balancing the budget are major tasks ahead of the new leader.

Lastly, Kathleen Wynne started off by saying that one doesn’t need to be mean to be tough. Her statement caught the attention of everyone on the convention floor. Wynne’s vision is driven by fiscal responsibility and social justice. Her brilliant opening statement mentioned the Native land that we were standing on and the importance of forming better relationships with the First Nations people of Ontario. There hasn’t been much political attention paid to the issue of Aboriginal negotiations and the Idle No More movement at the Provincial level lately. Wynne repeatedly brought attention to the challenges that lie ahead for Ontario, and how collaboration and negotiations are critical to policy making and good governance. She presented herself as a down-to-earth and passionate candidate, which gave her a real human appeal that served her well.

Overall, the speeches at the convention were important not only for the delegates but also for the candidates themselves. After withdrawing from the race, the candidates were expected to throw their support behind a standing candidate. After Hoskins, Takhar, Sousa, and Kennedy resigned from the process, they were asked why they decided to throw their support behind their respective candidate of choice. It largely depended on which candidate they more closely aligned themselves with in terms of policy direction and choices. Relationship-building and communication across camps were also critical to how the candidates decided to move.

One of the most interesting parts of the convention was the critical moments when candidates were crossing the floor to throw their support behind another candidate following withdrawal from the race. Candidates made this part of the convention very suspenseful. As delegates were standing in the line waiting to go in and vote, everyone was busy checking news outlets and social media tools on their smartphones to see which candidate withdrew and if so, where they were headed. Harinder Takhar decided to support Sandra Pupatello after the first ballot; however, he did not withdraw on time and as a result his name appeared on the second ballot. He was the only candidate who decided to throw his support to Pupatello at the convention.

By the third round of voting, things were not looking good for Pupatello as everyone except Takhar supported Wynne. Another strategy Pupatello used as a last attempt at pulling the vote was to walk past the line up of people waiting to vote and encourage Sousa’s, Hoskins’ and Kennedy’s delegates to vote for her. She entered the race with strong numbers; however, as a result of shifting political wrangling at the convention, Pupatello was left in the dark.

We have a lot to look forward to as Wynne beings her Premiership. With her progressive policy ideas, I believe Wynne can lead the province to economic prosperity and social equality, and will find common ground with the opposition parties as the next legislative session resumes shortly.

Freshta Raoufi is a 2014 Master of Public Policy candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance.  She also holds a HBA degree in Political Science and Women and Gender Studies from the University of Toronto.  She attended the Liberal leadership convention as a delegate representing the riding of Ajax-Pickering. 

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One response to “Report from the Field: The Ontario Liberal Leadership Convention 2013

  1. Pingback: The (Hazy) Way Forward for Social Assistance Reform | Public Policy and Governance Review·

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