Is a new Ralph Klein waiting in wings of Ontario Liberal leadership race?

Nov 18th, 2012 | By | Category: In Brief

[UPDATED NOVEMBER 24]. With only a week left before the deadline for entering the Ontario Liberal leadership race (don’t forget your 250 party-member signatures and $50,000 entry fee), the slate of candidates on offer has become much clearer than it was a month ago. And so has the process involved.

As Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson reported in the Toronto Star this past Thursday: ”With six well-funded candidates already in the game, the Jan. 25-27 face-off at Maple Leaf Gardens should generate major buzz for the party that has governed Ontario since 2003 but is trailing in the polls … In all, some 2,500 Liberal delegates – paying between $299 and $599 to attend – will actually cast direct ballots for the next [Liberal leader and temporarily at least] premier” of Canada’s most populous province.

Eric Hoskins

The six well-funded candidates already in the game – in alphabetical order, Eric Hoskins, Gerrard Kennedy, Glen Murray, Sandra Pupatello, Charles Sousa, and Kathleen Wynne [and finally Harinder Takhar has rounded out the group: see UPDATE below] – are impressive enough in some ways. The latest general Ontario politics poll, taken by Forum Research this past October 30—31, put Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives at 37%, Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats at 32%, and the Liberals at a dismal 22%.  But just looking at the  weight and heft of the current six Liberal candidates as individuals, it is not exactly clear that either of their Conservative or NDP rivals could put together an equally impressive slate.

It’s when you get into the contextual ingredients of the January 25-27 face-off at Maple Leaf Gardens that you start to wonder about everything of course. And the dismal Liberal standing in the latest opinion poll just measures the part of the iceberg that’s above water.

Gerrard Kennedy

As Peter Shawn Taylor explained on the Waterloo Region Record website this past Thursday: “An absolute mountain of scandals and difficulties awaits the next [Liberal] premier of Ontario: ranging from problematic Ornge (air ambulance) financing arrangements, to outrageous bills for politically motivated power plant deals, to the massive labour headache with teachers, not to mention a crippling $13-billion deficit …  I wonder why anyone would want the job at all.”

Moreover, Mr.Taylor went on : “I can think of only one example where an obviously tired and scandal-plagued government was able to turn itself around by picking a new leader.”

Glen Murray

The example he has in mind is former Calgary mayor Ralph Klein who late in 1992 took over as premier of Alberta from Don Getty, who had found himself in a situation similar enough to the one Dalton McGuinty is in now.

If Peter Shawn Taylor is right about all this, the big question in Ontario today becomes who among Eric Hoskins, Gerrard Kennedy, Glen Murray, Sandra Pupatello, Charles Sousa, and Kathleen Wynne most resembles Ralph Klein, back in 1992?  Mr. Taylor himself seems inclined to say none of the above. But that may not exactly be quite true.  [For November 24 update  on how “Harinder Takhar has become the seventh person to join the race to replace Dalton McGuinty as Ontario premier and leader of the province’s Liberals,” click on “Read the rest of this page” and/or scroll below.]

Lady from Windsor West

On one view from the northern shores of the lower Great Lakes, Sandra Pupatello – “the perceived front-runner and the candidate party power-brokers are most likely to support” – is the current Ontario Liberal leadership candidate most like Ralph Klein as well.

Sandra Pupatello

A month ago, the estimable and always interesting Bob Hepburn at the Toronto Star was urging that “Gerard Kennedy may be Ontario Liberals’ best hope.” But a week is a long time in politics, and some four weeks later Mr.Hepburn is now explaining “Why Sandra Pupatello will win Ontario Liberal leadership.”

There seem to be two main reasons for Ms. Pupatello’s current ascendancy, among both party power-brokers and Mr. Hepburn. First, like Gerrard Kennedy, she left the McGuinty cabinet –  albeit only about a year ago –  and can claim some distance from the current scandals plaguing the government. Second, unlike Mr. Kennedy, and virtually all five other current contenders, she is not from the Toronto area.  Her old seat in the legislature was Windsor West, just across the river from Detroit. And as Mr. Hepburn has explained, after some assiduous research : “Since Confederation in 1867, Ontario has never had a Liberal premier who called Toronto home.”

Finally, before leaving this particular territory note that Luisa D’Amato at the Waterloo Region Record is also on record (no pun intended of course) with “Pupatello is Ontario Liberals’ best chance.” (Though there is nothing in this article about resemblances to Ralph Klein.)

And all the rest …

Charles Sousa

Some might say that, on grounds of sex, origins in Western Canada, and experience in Alberta itself, Gerrard Kennedy (who is not originally from the Toronto area – though not originally from Ontario either) is actually considerably more like Ralph Klein than Sandra Pupatello. Others call him”yesterday’s man.” Still others will remember that Jean Chretien was once called “yesterday’s man” too, and then went on to become one of the more successful Liberal prime ministers of Canada in the recent past.

Mr. Kennedy similarly still has his journalistic enthusiasts. See, eg, Susanna Kelley at this past Monday: “Kennedy’s In, And It’s A Whole New Ball Game.” The October 30—31 Forum Research poll also showed that Kennedy did better than any other candidate in a hypothetical election held today (or at the end of October at any rate) – though even this was not at all good enough to win even a minority government.

Kathleen Wynne

There are arguably two further Ralph Klein prospects among the six well-funded candidates already in the game. The first is “Eric Hoskins … the dark horse with a guerilla strategy” (see the Martin Regg Conn piece under this headline in the Toronto Star for details). The second is Kathleen Wynne, who this past Monday “flexed her organizational muscle by touting her support from former Liberal candidates, who will be delegates at the Maple Leaf Gardens convention.” According to Robert Benzie at the Toronto Star this past Monday :“Wynne and Pupatello are widely seen to be the frontrunners in the race to succeed McGuinty, who has led the Liberals for 16 years and been premier since 2003.”

What, you may ask, about Glen Murray and Charles Sousa? Neither of them look at all like Ralph Klein to me, but of course I could be quite wrong. (And I did see Charles Sousa’s campaign inauguration on cp24, with Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion by his side. I thought it was impressive enough in some ways.)

I have just three more absolutely final items of potential interest, for the time being :

Harinder Takhar

* It is at least not clear to me that Government Services Minister Harinder Takhar, 61, has officially indicated he will not be a seventh candidate in the race. (And I’ve just tested his name on Google News.) I think it would do the Ontario Liberals some good if he did run – and he may not be quite as far from Ralph Klein in 2012 as some might think. He has until next Friday, November 23 to make up his mind (and get his 250 signatures and $50,000 together!).

* According to Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson in the Toronto Star this past Friday, November 16: “Ontarians should have a good idea of who their next premier will be as early as Jan. 13 …That’s the date Liberal delegate selection meetings will conclude for the Jan. 25-27 leadership to choose Premier Dalton McGuinty’s successor … Party insiders say the candidate with the most delegates of the 1,712 up for grabs that weekend should have a major advantage headed into the Maple Leaf Gardens event two weeks later.” (The rest of the 2,500 delegates at Maple Leaf Gardens btw will be MPP s and Liberal Party officials.)

* For better or worse, Ontario voters are “Canadians first,” to an extent that still seems true in no other province. One result is that there is often considerable confusion between federal and provincial politics in the minds of Ontario voters. The recent strength of the NDP in provincial politics, eg, has in some degree been hanging on the coattails of the federal NDP in the May 2011 federal election and subsequent opinion polls. With this in mind consider these two headlines from this past Friday : “Recent Polls Indicate Growing Liberal Popularity” and “Liberal surge in new poll has Stephen Harper grinning.” And in this light consider too “Reports of Grits’ death exaggerated,” by Brian MacLeod at the Sudbury Star (and re-published here in the St. Catharines Standard this past Wednesday, November 14, 2012).

UPDATE NOVEMBER 24: See “Takhar enters Liberal leadership race, pledges to erase deficit early“  and “Takhar launches leadership bid.”

Some commentators are suggesting Mr.Takhar’s entry will sharpen the left-right cleavage in the race.  As noted above, I think his candidacy will do the Ontario Liberals some good, but not because it will sharpen any left-right cleavage.

At the very bottom of everything, of course, Harinder Takhar represents the demography of what some call the “New Ontario” of the early 21st century. It is more or less fair to say, I think, that neither the Conservatives nor the New Democrats are quite as up to date on this increasingly important demographic front (even if it is still most concentrated in the GTA) .

Like everyone in the race but Ms. Pupatello,  Mr.Takhar is from the GTA (Mississauga in his case, like Mr. Sousa). But no matter what finally happens to his candidacy, he will be underlining the Liberals’ claim to be the real party of “relentless progress,” in a province whose social and economic base is changing much more rapidly than its political “superstructure.”

This will be a healthy challenge to the other two main parties, regardless of who wins the general election we seem very likely to be having early enough in 2013.  (Although for a much more sceptical view of Mr. Takhar, see Martin Regg Cohn’s piece in today’s Toronto Star: “Harinder Takhar no beacon of renewal for Ontario’s Liberals.”)

Finally, on another front see as well: “Ontario Liberal leadership: Race to replace McGuinty has tripled Grit ranks,” in the Toronto Star :  “The race to succeed Premier Dalton McGuinty has tripled the number of members in the Ontario Liberal Party … If membership sales are a barometer for the contest, MPP Kathleen Wynne (Don Valley West) has emerged as the front-runner … While not all camps would divulge their tallies Saturday, Wynne sold by far the most: more than 8,000 new memberships at $10 apiece … She and former Windsor West MPP Sandra Pupatello …  have been widely seen as the candidates to beat …  But former Parkdale-High Park MPP Gerard Kennedy – cashing in on the fact he left Queen’s Park in 2006 and isn’t linked to many of the governing party’s current woes – sold 5,000 memberships … Pupatello would not disclose her sales, but party insiders say she sold around 4,000.

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