Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ontario’s Next Liberal Premier

This coming weekend the Ontario Liberal Party will select its next leader. You’d be forgiven if you had no idea that A) a leadership contest to lead the province was underway and B) who any of the candidates are. Ontarians are not particularly fascinated by their provincial politics, especially when measured against federal matters.

Unlike the NDP federal leadership contest this is a delegated convention. This means that voting will be restricted to a relatively small number of people. Each riding in the province received 16 delegates. Votes are held among the Liberal riding associations to select delegates that are pledged to a particular candidate. These delegates will meet in Toronto and over the weekend vote to determine the new Premier. This contrasts to other systems recently used. The Federal NDP and Conservatives use a one-member-one-vote system. That is where all members of the party anywhere in the country are entitled to vote on the leader and not just delegates in one place. Delegated conventions are more traditional, and have the added benefit of being very unpredictable. For example, Dalton McGuinty was in fourth place before he was selected leader. Pollsters seem to be able to model one-member-one-vote conventions much more easily. When thousands of party members are voting they generally can be tracked, or follow public opinion, i.e. Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair were both frontrunners going into their conventions which selected them as leaders.

There are six candidates running to be the next Liberal leader of Ontario: Eric Hoskins (OLP – St. Paul’s), Charles Sousa (OLP – Mississauga South), Harinder Takhar (OLP – Mississauga-Erindale), Gerard Kennedy (former MPP for Parkdale-High Park), Kathleen Wynne (OLP – Don Valley West) and Sandra Pupatello (former MPP for Windsor West). The order above represents their current place from last to first in terms of pledged delegates. This means little because more delegate results have to come in, and pledged delegates only have to vote for their candidate on the first ballot and then they are free to change. Check here for excellent analysis. 

Every candidate to replace Dalton McGuinty (OLP – Ottawa South) is a politician or former politician. All of them served for some time in McGuinty’s cabinet, and there is not a significant ideological breadth on offer. Kathleen Wynne is said to represent the more left-wing elements of the party, and Sandra Pupatello the right, but that might be mostly a fiction and a matter of perspective. According to Steve Paikin of TVO there leadership contest has been pretty bloodless so far. There are no major conflicts or disagreements. In my opinion this ultimately hurts the party, in my opinion. It appears several candidates are running for the next time, or a better cabinet slot in the next Premiership, which makes a certain amount of sense.

I think the Liberals may have squandered an opportunity for renewal though. As mentioned, all the candidates are insiders with close connections to the current government. Many are leading figures and faces from it, as a matter of fact. It will be very difficult for the next premier, regardless of who she/he is, to distance her/himself from McGuinty’s record. No candidates are from outside public life, which helps to reinvigorate a part, and none of the candidates are proposing new ideas, which means no regeneration is taking place.

Harinder Takhar, a potential Queen/Kingmaker, leaves a particularly bad smear on this affair. Martin Regg Cohn did some great reporting about this disgraced cabinet minister. In short, after some shady financial dealings Takhar was demoted to a lower post in cabinet. He has used his base among South Asian Liberals to win an impressive share of the delegates. This means a man who should embarrass the party will likely instead help decide its leader. It’s almost 19th century.

If you want more information about this race and contest check out TVO’s coverage. Here are two video chats with Steve Paikin that definitely help understand it the contest, first video, second video.

One bonus is this. Ontario has only been led by men, of British origins, most of whom were Protestants and two Roman Catholics. The two leading Liberals are both women, and Pupatello would be our first Italian-Canadian Premier and Kathleen Wynne our first openly gay Premier. So long as Gerard Kennedy doesn’t win, this will be a historic change. Regardless of party, that’s a positive I think. 

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