Ontario’s next Premier and leader of the provincial Liberal Party needs to accomplish three primary political objectives: stave off an election and make the legislature work, clean up the mess that Dalton McGuinty and Laurel Broten have made of the education system (yeah, no small feat), and tamper down the upward trajectory of the opposition parties.
There is no better candidate to accomplish all of those three things simultaneously than Kathleen Wynne.
In a brokered convention situation, anything is possible (see Stephane Dion), but barring exceptional and unforeseen circumstances, either Wynne or Sandra Pupatello will be taking up the mantle of Ontario’s first female Premier. (And hey, side note, Canada will get to celebrate gender parity among the premiers for the first time in our history … that would be quite the milestone!)
1. Make the legislature work
Consider the different future that awaits the Liberals in the weeks following the convention with each of these women. With Wynne, she can put a new Cabinet together (and send Broten to the obscurest of obscure cabinet positions), call back the legislature, and roll up her sleeves. With Pupatello, an effectively leaderless party can keep the doors of the legislature shut while Sandra goes and fights for the seat Dwight Duncan so graciously abdicated for her, wait while she fights another bruising by-election (have party faithful forgotten what happened in Kitchener-Waterloo?), and then likely head right back into election mode when she does finally come back to the legislature.
Haroon Siddiqui called this the nightmare scenario and it is quite an accurate description. Consider the scenario where Pupatello loses the by-election. Either she continues to fight for another seat – and have the party grow weaker by the minute – or she resigns the leadership and plunges the party into yet another leadership fight. If the party thinks this to be an improbable scenario, consider the previously cited Kitchener-Waterloo example where Liberals thought a coveted majority was within reach, John Tory’s loss to Kathleen Wynne in 2007 (lesson: leaders are not shoe-ins), the fact that the Liberal party currently sits at 28% in the polls, and the inevitable windfall of cash and resource support that the teachers unions will infuse into a by-election to defeat the Liberals by any and all means necessary.
Wynne is a less combative politician than Pupatello with a proven background of making tense and difficult situations work in her favour. Perhaps Pupatello is the candidate for a majority government but Wynne is the candidate for a minority situation – a leader who can enter the legislature on strong footing and capitalize on the momentum from the leadership race. No by-election to slow Wynne down, she can get down to the business of governing.
2. Allay teachers’ concerns & bring home disaffected Liberals
I was a strong Liberal party supporter for much of Dalton McGuinty’s tenure. The gains made in education and healthcare were important advances for this province; policies that I believed in and supported wholeheartedly. The unnecessary mess that was created by Bill 115 and the circumventing of collective bargaining rights was a cynical, political ploy straight out of a Conservative playbook that pitted parents and students against teachers. The fiscal realities are indeed something to be considered; a necessary situation for any government in this type of economic situation. The class-A bungling of relations with teachers with dramatic long-term ramifications for months and years down the road … that was completely unnecessary and erased completely McGuinty’s legacy as the Education Premier. It was the sole reason that drove me to campaign and vote for the NDP in Kitchener-Waterloo’s by-election.
The next Liberal leader needs to allay teachers’ concerns and bring home disaffected Liberals. Those are two monumental tasks. Neither Pupatello or Wynne has made the complete and strong disavowals of Bill115 that are necessary but Wynne’s leadership as Education Minister from 2006 to 2010 is admirable, and she exhibited much stronger relations and negotiating skills with the unions than Laurel Broten. Coming from the centre-left of the party, my money would be on Wynne to turn the situation around. If Wynne can repair relations with the teachers’ unions, she will prompt progressive, left-wing, disaffected Liberals to take another look at the Liberals. Choose Pupatello and those Liberals will likely become entrenched NDP supporters.
3. Target NDP votes
The next Premier will be faced with an inevitable election scenario shortly after taking office. Where do the deteriorating Liberals go for votes? According to Eric Grenier of ThreeHundredEight.com, the PC vote is much more locked-in than the NDP vote. Only 28% of PCs were happy with one of the Liberal leadership candidates compared to 49% of New Democrats. There is more room for growth among the left flank of the party and Wynne can better capitalize on those voters. It’s hard to imagine NDP supporters supporting a Pupatello-led Liberal party in large enough numbers to keep them in power. Maintaining government status will be a tremendous task for the Liberals, regardless of who takes over, but Wynne at least has a fighting chance. While Pupatello was out of politics, Wynne was in government and Cabinet during the Liberals’ most difficult time. That experience will be absolutely invaluable for someone who needs to completely and wholeheartedly understand the challenges of a minority government.
In the end, it may not matter who ascends to the Premier’s chair after this weekend’s convention. We may be looking at Premier Hudak or Horwath very shortly, and this entire leadership campaign may have been waged for Opposition Leader, or worse still, leader of the third party. Regardless, whether it be for the short or long haul, Wynne is the Liberals’ best bet.