This weekend, thousands of Ontario Liberal Party members, MPPs, MPs, and senior party staff will gather at a convention at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto to elect a new leader of the Party and Premier of Ontario. The election of a new Premier marks a significant shift in Ontario politics. Premier McGuinty has been leader of the Ontario Liberal Party for sixteen years and Premier for nine years. He is the longest-serving Ontario Premier since Bill Davis, and the second longest-serving Liberal Premier in Ontario’s history. His departure signals change for the province, but in the short term, we are likely to see a continuation of many policies and deficit reduction measures. H+K provides an insider’s perspective on what to watch for and where Ontario goes from here.

WHAT TO EXPECT AT CONVENTION

+ The format of the convention is delegated. This means there will be several rounds of voting, or ‘ballots’. After each ballot, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is automatically dropped. This process continues until one candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the total vote. A significant majority of delegates are committed to support a specific candidate whom they were elected to represent on the first ballot, but are free to vote as they please on subsequent ballots.

+ Conventions can take on a life of their own and the important thing to remember is that anything can happen. In a delegated convention, the frontrunner is never completely safe and the underdogs are never completely out of the race. In the 1996 convention where Premier McGuinty was elected, he placed fourth going into the convention and then fell to fifth place before working his way to the top.

+ There will be constant speculation and rumours about candidates dropping out and ‘crossing the floor’ to support a rival. Each campaign will have one segment of the floor to corral delegates. Although it will appear quite chaotic both in-person and on TV, each campaign is meticulously planned and prepared, hoping to rise above the noise.

+ While precise standings and delegate counts for each candidate are difficult to determine going into the convention – each campaign will not necessarily be able to turn out every delegate it elected – it is currently believed that the order on the first ballot will be: Sandra Pupatello, Kathleen Wynne, Gerard Kennedy, Harinder Takhar, Charles Sousa, Eric Hoskins.

+ A wild card group in the race is the ex-officio delegates. They are entitled to vote for any candidate on any ballot at the convention and include current and former MPPs, party executive council members, riding association presidents and federal Liberal MPs, amongst others. Some ex-officio delegates have publicly endorsed candidates. However, a significant number have remained neutral. Since any ex-officio delegate can show up to register and vote, it is difficult to predict exactly how many will turn out. The number is expected to be between 400 and 500. These ex-officio delegates will play a large role in determining the next Premier.

+ Although Party officials would like to have the convention wrapped up by early evening on Saturday, it is likely to go later than expected. The voting process and time in-between ballots is often delayed during conventions such as these. Between the voting itself, hand-counting of ballots, and announcement of results, each ballot could take between two to four hours.

+ Pundits are positioning the convention as a battle between general election electability and overall Liberal vision. Kathleen Wynne’s campaign is focusing on her conciliatory style and her promise to bring the legislature back quickly and make it work, presenting the narrative that she is ready to govern immediately. Sandra Pupatello’s campaign is focusing on her economic record and is making the case that she has the best chance of beating the Progressive Conservatives and NDP in a general election.

WHAT’S NEXT?

+ Immediately following the convention, attention will shift to the return of the legislature. Depending on who is elected Premier, the legislature could return on its originally scheduled date – February 19 – or could potentially return later pending a byelection.

+ Prior to the return of the legislature, the new Premier is expected to name a new cabinet. Speculation is already underway regarding positions. However, selections will naturally depend on the winner’s preference.

+ An enormous challenge awaits whoever is elected Premier. With a new legislative session comes a heightened level of scrutiny and a focus on issues management. Matters including cancelled power plants and the Ornge air ambulance expenses are still unresolved in the eyes of opposition parties. Both the PCs and NDP will be seeking further answers on both fronts. All of this, combined with the task of setting out a new policy agenda and making the minority government work will test the ability of a new Premier, new Cabinet members and new staff.

+ Central to the return of the legislature will be a Speech from the Throne. This ceremonial event is required upon beginning a new legislative session, and will be the first opportunity for the Premier to lay out his or her legislative agenda. The Speech from the Throne will also present the government with its first confidence vote of the session, meaning that if the government were to lose it would be defeated and the province would head to a general election.

+ Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan is expected to step down following this weekend’s convention regardless of who wins. Duncan has been the province’s treasurer since 2007, an MPP since 1995 and has been one of the most influential cabinet ministers in the McGuinty government. Over the past few years he has been a strong advocate at the cabinet table for increased fiscal responsibility, and is seen as one of the main architects of the government’s current deficit reduction agenda. His departure will leave a gap that must be filled rather quickly by the new Premier, as a budget is traditionally tabled in March.

+ Should the government pass its Speech from the Throne, the next major hurdle would be the 2013 Budget. Minister Duncan’s staff have been developing the 2013 budget and will likely be around to brief the incoming finance minister and Premier. While budgets are often used to lay out new policy, given the timeline and circumstances, the 2013 budget may resemble more of an economic update, rather than a full-fledged policy agenda. The budget is also a confidence matter and could force an election.

 

THE CANDIDATES – GOING INTO THE CONVENTION 

Kathleen Wynne

+ Has positioned herself as the candidate able to govern immediately.

+ Secured the second most delegates and is also running second in terms of ex-officio support and caucus endorsements.  Former leadership candidate Glen Murray endorsed her campaign.

+ Ran a grassroots campaign emphasizing her conciliatory style, mediation ability.

Sandra Pupatello

+ Was endorsed by both the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star editorial boards.

+ Secured the most Liberal caucus endorsements, has the most declared ex-officio delegate support, and also won the most delegates in the January 12-13 leadership election meetings.

+ Positioning herself as candidate best positioned to beat Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak and NDP leader Andrea Horwath in an election.

Charles Sousa

+ Finished with the second fewest delegates and, with limited caucus and declared ex-officio support, he is in a difficult position.

+ Main focus has been jobs and the economy, touting his years of private sector experience.

+ Regardless of what happens at convention, he is a fixture in the party who may receive consideration for the finance minister job.

Gerard Kennedy

+ Has enough delegate support to be a power player at the convention

+ Media published a rumour suggesting Takhar would drop out to support Kennedy. Takhar’s campaign has denied.

+ Has branded himself as a fresh face who can reboot the party. Has promised to reduce government spending by $4 billion over the next five years, and wants to reshape the leadership role by decentralizing power.

Eric Hoskins

+ Has the fewest delegates going into the convention and will likely not make it past the first ballot.

+ He has not given any indication regarding which candidate he would support should he be dropped off the ballot.

+ Impressed many with strong performances during debates and – similar to Sousa – may be in line for an influential cabinet position going forward.

Harinder Takhar

+ Along with Kennedy, poised to be one of the power players at the convention.

+ Elected a surprising number of delegates during the selection meetings.

+ Small campaign staff and budget has been a microcosm of how he seeks to govern.

 

SCHEDULE

Friday January 25:

+ 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. – Registration and first ballot voting

+ 4:30 p.m. – Doors open

+ 7:00 p.m. – Opening ceremonies and tribute to Premier McGuinty

+ 9:00 p.m. – Hospitality suites

Saturday January 26:

+ 6:30 a.m. – Doors open

+ 8:30 a.m. – Welcome greetings

+ 9:00 a.m. – Candidate speeches

+ 12:10 p.m. – Call to order and instructions

+ 12:30 p.m. – First ballot results revealed, second ballot voting begins

+ 12:30 p.m. – Onwards – Balloting continues until a winner is elected