Updated: Liberal leadership frontrunners receive key endorsements

TORONTO – Ontario Liberal leadership hopeful Sandra Pupatello has received a major boost after edging her chief rival by just two votes in first ballot voting to choose the party’s new leader and the province’s premier.

Former government services minister Harinder Takhar endorsed her candidacy ahead of a second round of voting, although his move came after the deadline to remove his name from the ballot.

The move came just moments after another former cabinet minister, Eric Hoskins, threw his support behind Kathleen Wynne, Pupatello’s closest rival for the leadership.

But Takhar says that was not the reason for his move to Pupatello.

“I think what’s really important for us right now is to move the province forward, work together and eliminate the deficit,” he said.

Pupatello, a former MPP who did not run in the last provincial election, was just two votes ahead of Wynne after the first ballot, receiving 599 votes to Wynne’s 597.

Takhar got 235 votes while Hoskins came in last with 150 and was automatically knocked out of the running.

Wynne said Hoskins’ decision to support her was a “terrific testament” to her team.

“We’ve got great momentum and we are very optimistic, you know anything can happen but this is a terrific signal and I’m thrilled,” she said.

“She’s the best leader for this party at this time and the best premier for this province at this time too,” Hoskins said.

A spokesman for Wynne’s campaign said her support “far exceeded expectations” and continues to grow.

Gerrard Kennedy, who lost the 1996 leadership race to McGuinty and also lost a 2006 bid for the federal Liberal leadership, was third after the first ballot with 281 votes.

Another former cabinet minister, Charles Sousa, was fifth with 222 votes.

A total of 2,126 delegates can vote in the leadership contest, which will continue until one candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the vote.

The last-place candidate is forced off each ballot, which political observers predict could go to three or four or even five ballots.

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