A war story and a poll seem instructive to the Ontario Liberal leadership race, which looks to be coming down to a fight between the two female contenders.
First, the story: It was the night of the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election. The Liberal candidate had just been dealt a devastating defeat.
Two months prior, there were high hopes the seat would switch hands, electing a moderate Liberal lawyer in place of the retiring moderate Tory. The seat had the added importance of deciding whether the McGuinty government could sneak back into a majority Legislature.
But the Ontario NDP had other ideas. And having crossed the Rubicon, the Liberal Party could only watch as a popular local Dipper candidate -- and a popular leader in Andrea Horwath -- flummoxed the best laid plans of strategists and staffers.
Driving back to Toronto from a day pulling the vote, the conversation was nervous. The Liberal candidate had finished in third place, trounced by the NDP. If the NDP could win in a semi-urban, southwestern Ontario, small-C conservative riding, what harm could they do in Toronto Centre or Don Valley East; what Liberal members were suddenly facing a threat on their left flank?
The Conservative vote isn't going anywhere and hasn't since the last election. Eric Gérnier cites the polls: the Tories are unchanged since October 2011 at 35 per cent, whereas the Liberals are down 10 per cent to 28 per cent, with at least 8 per cent going to a surging NDP, which stands at 31 per cent. The message is stark: pick the wrong leader, and the Liberals could fall to third place for the first time since I was in diapers.
So what's a Liberal, tasked with picking a new leader at the end of the month, to do? We need to pick a proven winner. (I've stated my preference to be someone with solid progressive credentials who can block Horwath's ascent elsewhere.)
The Party is split on who is best positioned to do just that -- but we seem to agree on one thing: it's gonna be a girl.
This isn't some instance of affirmative action. From every conversation I've heard, Liberal partisans want the most qualified person to be Premier. It's just that most Liberals believe the best person is either Sandra Pupatello, the front runner, or Kathleen Wynne, her clearest rival.
Pupatello's supporters say she's a terrific communicator: she's feisty and blunt. Along with her centre/centre-right policy leanings, she boasts of her time as Economic Development Minister and her brief interlude on Bay Street this past year.
Kathleen Wynne stresses economics too, but she emphasizes the "why" of a strong economy, notably continuing to rebuild healthcare and improve our education system. Wynne, the former Education Minister, is also a sharp communicator, equally direct as Pupatello but she's more conciliatory than combative, drawing on her experience as a mediator, school trustee and activist.
Hampered by a deficit and global economic uncertainty, this isn't a fight between the right and the left of the Party, as some commentators tried to suggest early in the race: instead, we're all centrists now.
But the race is coming down to two competing narratives. There's a sense, right or wrong, that Wynne is the best choice to govern, but Pupatello is the best choice to fight an election campaign or, if need be, serve in Opposition. It's as if the Party is confronted with a strange division: do we pick a Premier or a Party leader, when the reality is the winner must be both?
To counter this perception, Pupatello has recently claimed she doesn't want a snap election and would instead focus on creating jobs across party lines -- once she's elected back into the Legislature in an as-yet-uncalled byelection.
Likewise, Wynne emphasizes her exceptional electoral record, including defeating a cabinet Minister and a Party leader when John Tory ran in her swing suburban riding, a feat Michael Bryant calls "an unmatched political triumph."
Despite her past successes in a multi-ethnic riding that went Conservative federally, Bob Hepburn suggested there's trepidation about the electability of Wynne's sexuality.
Yet, such a piece is written about every candidate who qualifies as "the other"; someone could just as easily write a piece asking if Ontario is ready for an Italian Premier as a lesbian Premier. Prejudice is what prejudice does. In the end, whenever these questions are raised, the voters choose to make history (except when you're a Mormon named Mitt Romney).
So it seems nearly a foregone conclusion that Ontario's next Premier will be a woman.
But, ironically, in a delegated convention, it's the other five candidates, all men, who will decide whether it's Pupatello, the scrappy warrior, or Wynne, the steady mediator, who moves into the Premier's Office.
Here are the 6 things you need to know about the Liberal leadership race for 2013.
The Liberal Party of Canada will hold an all-candidate showcase on April 6, 2013 in Toronto to kick off a week of voting before announcing the new leader on April 14 in Ottawa. Whoever wins will the seventh leader for the party 10 years.
There are at least eight people challenging Justin Trudeau for the title. They are: defeated Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay, lawyer and former professor Deborah Coyne (also the mother of Trudeau’s half sister), lawyer and failed Ottawa-area Liberal candidate David Bertschi, prosecutor and Vancouver Kingsway Liberal riding association president Alex Burton, the former head of the federal Liberals in B.C. David Merner and retired air force pilot and unsuccessful Ottawa-area candidate Karen McCrimmon. B.C. Liberal MP Joyce Murray and Montreal Liberal MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau are expected to announce their bids next week, sources tell HuffPost. Ontario Ministry of Finance economist Jonathan Mousley has also sent emails telling reporters he is considering a run, but has not officially declared his candidacy. So far, the party hasn’t officially registered anyone’s name. Some candidates, such as Bertschi, are still collecting the 300 signatures needed in three provinces and/or territories in order to enter the race.
The party expects for candidates to drop out before debates begin in late January and had made it easy for them to do so. Liberal Party President Mike Crawley told The Huffington Post Canada the party designed a three- stage payment structure for the non-refundable $75,000 entrance fee in order to make it “really easy” for weak candidates to drop out. “The whole idea was to allow more candidates to come forward and test the waters and then as the second and third payments come up, I think candidates will see how much money they raised and whether they have the support, and they may or may not decide to continue,” Crawley said. “It is very deliberate to encourage a lot of interest at the beginning but to narrow it down to those who are serious as we begin the debates.” Candidates must hand over $25,000 the day they officially register. Those who have registered must pay another $25,000 on Dec. 15, 2012 and a third and final instalment of $25,000 on January 13, 2013. That is also the last day for any candidate to join the race. As for the debates, the first will be held in Vancouver on Jan. 20. Other dates include: Feb. 2 in Winnipeg, Feb. 16 in the Greater Toronto Area, March 3 in Halifax and March 23 in Montreal. The party executive has yet to decide on the debate format.
The Liberal Party might charge you to attend a debate, their showcase in Toronto on April 6 or the announcement in Ottawa on April 14. Charging admission — especially for debates — is another controversial point the party’s executive still hasn’t decided on. Liberal insiders say this is nothing new, the party charged delegates $995 to participate in the 2006 leadership selection in Montreal and charged $25 for the public to attend candidates debates. Former Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, an organizer with Trudeau’s campaign, told HuffPost he hopes the party won’t charge people even a nominal fee to attend the debates. “I understand the desire of charging a fee for a service, but we are in the business of proposing to lead a country and generating excitement about our ideas and proposals and we need to make it as accessible as possible.” While, Crawley stressed no decision has been made, he said the party is looking at cost recovery options to fund the showcase, the announcement and all the debates. Since this is also the first non-delegate convention, the party is grappling with need to keep costs low. The party fears the candidates’ registration fee and the 10 per cent levy on all the money raised during the campaign may not be enough to keep the party in the black during this five-month race.
For the first time, Liberals are inviting non-members to vote for leader. But some in the party believe these supporters should still have to pay to cast a ballot. The party created a “supporter” category at their last convention in January 2012 that allows anyone who is interested in the Liberals to pledge their support online and vote for the national leader in April. So far, 30,000 people have signed up to be supporters. The supporter category is controversial. Some party members suggest only serious devoted Liberals should be allowed to cast a ballot and members and supporters should have to pay to vote in the race. Although the rules say a fee could be applied, Liberal Party President Mike Crawley told The Huffington Post Canada he is staunchly opposed to the idea. “This is not something that I support,” he said flatly Tuesday. “I would be surprised if we end up putting a fee on voting.” But some candidates, such as B.C.’s Joyce Murray, see value in having a nominal fee attached to a vote as a way of ensuring only genuine supporters cast a ballot. She also doesn’t think $5 will discourage anyone who wants to vote from doing so. “I think the principle of ensuring that supporters are real genuine supporters it is an important one and I leave it to the board to qualify supporters to ensure that our intention, which is that those are people who are genuinely in support of the Liberal Party, is what we are getting,” she told HuffPost Wednesday. Murray said that when the party opened up its leadership race, people understood there was a risk that some people from “for example the Conservative Party” would sign up as supporters in order to try to influence the outcome. The Tories, who are currently defending themselves from allegations that they purposefully misdirected voters to non-existent polling stations, are not above such tricks, she said. “It wouldn’t be surprising if they would have a concerted, strategic, co-ordinated attempt to change the outcome of this race. So we have to be practical and we have to have measures that as best as possible ensure that won’t happen,” she said.
Even if you sign up to be a supporter, you could still be denied the ability to vote. The Liberals are looking at ways of verifying that supporters are who they say they are. The aim is to ensure supporters live where they say they do (the votes are weighted by electoral district) and that they are not a member of another political party. Crawley said the party is not sure yet how they are going to verify everyone’s identify and their party affiliation. He said the party will ask supporters to register and to supply additional information but declined to elaborate. The party’s executive has until March 17 to decide on registration procedures.
Here are the remaining candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Age: 40 Occupation: MP for Montreal-area riding of Papineau Website
Age: 58 Occupation: Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra, former B.C. Liberal environment minister Website
Age: 53 Occupation: Former Liberal MP for Willowdale and 2006 leadership candidate Website
Age: 50 Occupation: Lawyer, former Montreal Liberal MP Website
Age: 57 Occupation: Lawyer, professor Website
Occupation: A retired Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian forces and mediator. Website
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