TORONTO - The race for the Ontario Liberal leadership was shaken up Thursday when Glenn Murray pulled out and threw his support behind former education minister Kathleen Wynne.
"I think the best chance for the renewal I want to see in Ontario and in the party, and the person who is better able to get us there than I am, is my friend Kathleen Wynne," Murray told cheering Wynne supporters.
"And because I believe that renewal is more important than anything else, and because I simply believe she is the best person to be premier of Ontario, she has my full and unqualified support."
Murray's decision, which came just two days before Liberal delegates are selected for the leadership convention, leaves six candidates in the race to replace Dalton McGuinty.
The former colleges minister said he felt strongly that he had raised important ideas during the past few months since McGuinty's surprise announcement in mid-October that he would resign in January.
"I started down this path because I wanted to bring a sense of renewal, new energy, new ideas and new people, but I’ve always said you have to pause in life sometimes to never put your own political career ahead of ideas and public service," he said.
"While I’m proud of my team and the efforts we’ve made, it’s very clear to me that Kathleen Wynne embodies much of the ideas, compatible values and incredible capacity to bring people together and to lead, a woman who’s not afraid to make tough decisions.
Wynne called Murray "a class act," and said he would play a "senior role" in her cabinet if she becomes premier.
"I know this is a very hard moment for you, because you’ve put your heart and soul into this, and I’m very grateful that you’re coming and we’re going to be able to work together," said Wynne.
"I need his ideas and Glen brings fantastic imagination and experience that I need on my team."
Wynne said the major impact Murray's decision would have on the campaign was showing people how she likes to work as a political leader.
"I’m going to reach out to people, going to work with them, and as we come to agreement we’re going to move forward together," she said.
"That is how I have worked as a politician, and that’s what’s happening here."
Murray, the former mayor of Winnipeg, joked about his inability to drum up financial and delegate support during Wednesday night's final debate among the leadership candidates.
He admitted that he didn't have a lot of money _ had "tapped out every friend" _ and could barely afford another campaign pamphlet, but insisted Thursday his decision to withdraw was not motivated by a lack of cash but by his close relationship with Wynne.
"Our fundraising has been going well, so no that wasn’t the basis of it," he said.
"Quite frankly, we ended up talking about policies and ideas and how do we deal with budget deficits and all kinds of really exciting things that just make our families cringe."
Workers for leadership hopeful Charles Sousa say he quickly sent out voice mail messages Thursday morning to Murray's potential supporters, urging them to back the former labour minister's campaign to replace McGuinty as Ontario premier.
Murray, 55, who was fist elected in a 2010 byelection in Toronto-Centre, had virtually no support among his fellow Liberal caucus members and little among would-be delegates to the leadership convention in Toronto Jan. 25-26.
Wynne was believed to have the most potential delegates heading into selection meetings across the province this weekend, but many observers predict Sandra Pupatello _ who has more caucus support than Wynne _ will take the most votes on the first ballot at the convention.
Former cabinet minister John Wilkinson, who was defeated in the 2011 election, was named as Wynne's campaign co-chair Thursday, joining Health Minister Deb Matthews.
"That kind of support is extremely important to me and I appreciate both Deb and John being there," said Wynne. "They’ve got my back. I can just feel it."
Also on HuffPost:
Dalton McGuinty's Scandals
When you lead Canada's biggest province for nine years you're bound to have some missteps. Ontario's Premier Dalton McGuinty has had his share of scandals and mistakes. <p>We highlight a few that caused him more headaches than usual. <p>Photo: Ontario Liberal Party
Back in 2004, a relatively new Liberal government under Premier Dalton McGuinty was forced to go back on a campaign promise not to raise taxes and instituted a health premium of between $300-$900. Photo: Alamy
In 2006, the Liberals tried to announce a new $46-billion energy plan that would see renovations of many of Ontario’s power plants. But the plan became a problem for the Liberals when <em>the Globe and Mail </em>revealed that the government tried to exempt their plans from environmental assessments. Photo: Shutterstock
The government’s plans to modernize medical records in the province ran into massive scandal when reports of overspending, waste and possible conflict of interest were revealed at <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EHealth_Ontario">eHealth</a>, the agency responsible for building a new electronic records system. The scandal forced the resignation of Health Minister David Caplan. <P>Photo: Shutterstock
G20 Police Laws
Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals were criticized for laws giving police greater powers to ensure security during the <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2010/12/08/mcguinty-g20-ombudsman-report652.html">G20 in 2010</a>. The laws were seen by civil rights groups as draconian. Andre Marin, Ontario’s ombudsman also <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/torontog20summit/article/902817--ombudsman-charges-g20-secret-law-was-illegal">criticized the government</a> calling the laws and police action a massive violation of civil rights. <p>Photo: AP Files/Carolyn Kaster
Ontario’s air ambulance service, Ornge, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/tag/ornge-scandal">caused another headache for McGuinty’s Liberals</a> after reports of financial irregularities, cost overruns, huge salaries for managers being kept secret and reports of kickbacks began to emerge in the media. <P>Photo: CP/Globe and Mail
Canceled Power Plants
Hobbled by scandal and facing a resurgent Conservatives in the 2011 provincial election, the <a href="http://www.globaltoronto.com/timeline/6442734189/story.html">Liberals cancelled two power plants</a> in the GTA despite the fact it would cost taxpayers several hundred million dollars. Ontario's auditor general estimates those costs could climb to $1.1 billion. <P>Photo: Michelle Siu/CP