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Ontario Liberal Leadership: Aren't Races Supposed to Be Exciting?

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The race for a new Liberal leader in Ontario should be a time for renewal for a worn out government plagued with scandals and failure in recent years. Unfortunately, the race has been incredibly dull in terms of candidates and substance, and the party is unlikely to see any spike in the polls once a new leader is in place.

No single candidate has particularly stood out and there seems to be minor differences on policy. The only exciting twist came last week after the final debate when Glen Murray dropped out of the race to throw his support behind one of the perceived front runners, Kathleen Wynne.

The six candidates who remain in the race can be split into two front runners and four long shots as was confirmed by the delegate selection process this past weekend.

The two candidates most likely to win are both female candidates, Wynne and Sandra Pupatello. There's a deliberate effort and awareness among Liberals that the time has come for a female Liberal leader and next premier for Ontario -- even if that is tenure is short lived.

Pupatello is seen as the more conservative and pro-business while Wynne is more left leaning within the party. All candidates have cabinet experience with the McGuinty government, but Pupatello left the party in 2011 for a job with the private sector and came back for the leadership race. She has been criticized for leaving, even though it's been helpful according to the delegate numbers with Pupatello leading the way.

Wynne is closely associated with the government, but is also very well liked, a rare principled politician and came a close second. Unfortunately, the Liberals and even the media are afraid of having an honest conversation about her sexuality and its realistic implications. Wynne is openly gay and while some voters -- myself included -- may not have an issue with that, the truth of the matter is that others will and that begs the question: are Ontarians ready for a gay premier? It is a question of electability that Liberal delegates should take into consideration. Wynne supporters have pointed out the positive results of her campaign in the rural parts of the province over the weekend, but these aren't average voters, they're card carrying Liberals.

Although long shots, remaining candidates like Harinder Takhir who surprised many by pulling 244 delegates or 13.28 per cent of those selected over the weekend will play key roles on the convention floor in two weeks where the elected delegates, plus 419 ex-officios such as MPPs and party insiders will select the new leader.

Once the leadership race is over, the house will resume with a new throne speech from the new Liberal leader and premier. Shortly after, Ontarians are expected to head back to the polls.

While political campaigns are unpredictable, one would expect the growing tensions between the teachers and the government to dominant the campaign. The good news for the Liberals -- should they communicate the message successfully -- is that they are best suited to resolve this conflict with the teachers.

The party should remind voters of the alternatives that will be adopted by the opposition should they get elected into office.

What are those alternatives? Starting at the left end of the spectrum, Andrea Horwath and the NDP will give the teachers everything they want and further increase the province's deficit. On the other extreme, Tim Hudak and the PCs would adopt a harsh approach with the teachers, which would lead to increased tensions between them and unions.

Neither an extreme left wing or right wing approach will advance the ongoing disputes. Most Ontarians have lost sympathy for the teachers as the government allowed for 10 months of negotiations that led to nowhere.

It's time for all parties involved in this dispute to realize that the Liberals hold the best solution and that's a middle-of-the-road one. For the Liberals, a successful rebirth can only happen if they distance themselves from themselves.

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