Ontario to make history with first female premier

TORONTO – Ontario will make history with its first female premier.

Former cabinet ministers Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne are the only two candidates left in the race to choose Ontario’s next Liberal leader and premier.

Wynne came in second on the second ballot at the leadership convention in Toronto with 750 votes, but has since gained the support of third-place finisher Gerard Kennedy and Charles Sousa, who was fourth, after both dropped out of the race.

While Sousa and Kennedy have both endorsed Wynne, Kennedy has freed his supporters to vote as they wish on the third ballot.

“Kathleen has earned everyone’s respect, not just today but over a period of time, and to me she’s closest to what my campaign represented, which is real hard questions for the party and hopefully some really good answers,” said Kennedy, who finished second in the 1996 leadership race.

“We can’t suffer any illusions, we need a leader that’s prepared to deal with the tough stuff as well as the good stuff. So I feel very comfortable with the decision and I’m happy for my folks that they feel good about it as well.”

If Wynne gets Kennedy’s and Sousa’s delegates in the third ballot, it will put her over the top with more than 50 per cent of the vote.

Pupatello, who did not run in the 2011 election and would need to win a byelection to get a seat in the legislature, came in first after the second ballot, receiving 817 votes.

But insiders at her camp admit it’s over and she’ll lose the race.

However, some are surprised with Sousa’s decision to support Wynne. He had been expected to go to Pupatello.

“What’s important is that we ensure that we renew our economy so we can afford social programs, health care, education and that we ensure that we balance our fiscal matters for the long term and I believe Kathleen has what it takes,” Sousa said.

Attorney General John Gerretsen, who lost a bid for the leadership in 1996, said Wynne is the best candidate to deal with issues crucial to Liberals, such as helping people living in poverty and climate change.

“I think Kathleen is the kind of person and comes at issues from the kind of perspective that will deal with those two issues as well as well as many of the social issues that we face,” said Gerretsen.

“Most of the delegates figure that Kathleen is the best person to take us forward. I’m absolutely convinced of it.”

Some speculated that Pupatello’s lack of a seat in the legislature may have swayed delegates in Wynne’s favour.

The two had been only two votes apart after the first round of voting, setting off some dramatic developments on the convention floor.

Eric Hoskins threw his support to Wynne after he came last and was automatically out of the race, then former government services minister Harinder Takhar dropped out and walked over to Pupatello’s camp.

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 leadership convention was called after Premier Dalton McGuinty’s surprise resignation announcement in October, when he also prorogued the legislature and said he wanted a new leader in place by the end of January.

Dozens of protesters, mainly teachers angry over having contracts imposed on them by the government, greeted the delegates as they arrived Saturday morning, but thousands more demonstrators marched to the convention site in the afternoon.