The Ontario Liberal Party made history by selecting the first woman, and openly lesbian premier in provincial history.
Don Valley West MPP Kathleen Wynne scored a come-from-behind win to topple former Windsor MPP Sandra Pupatello on the third ballot Jan. 26 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre at Maple Leaf Gardens.
“I want to be the premier for the whole province,” said an elated Wynne, 59 who won 1,115 votes to Pupatello’s 866 votes in the decisive ballot.
But Wynne remained realistic about her future, cautioning the 2,000 Liberal delegates at about 8:30 p.m. that they should be prepared for a possible election.
“This was the easy part,” said Wynne, as she invited Liberal MPPs to share the stage with her. “We have a very deep bench, and are ready at any time.”
Pupatello, 50, was gracious in her defeat, saying Liberals made history by having two women on the final ballot.
“We had the guys on the run,” she said.
Former Hamilton mayor and federal Liberal candidate Larry Di Ianni agreed winning the leadership contest to replace out-going premier Dalton McGuinty was relatively easy compared to what could be in store for the Liberals as they face an angry electorate, and two strong opposition parties.
“I don’t know if they can do it,” said DiIanni, who backed Pupatello.
Nithy Ananth, president of the Hamilton East-Stoney Creek provincial Liberal riding association, said Wynne will do well as leader.
“The important thing is she will return the Legislature on Feb. 19,” he said. “That is a good move.”
The riding association picked Mississauga MPP Harinder Takhar as its preferred candidate in the delegation selection process two weeks earlier.
Wynne said during her speech that there were rumblings from people wondering whether Ontario is ready for a gay premier.
“You’ve heard that questions,” said Wynne, as her partner, Jane Rounthwaite, looked on. “Let’s say what that actually means. Can a gay woman win?”
She responded with an emphatic yes, pointing out she defeated former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory to retain her seat in the 2007 provincial election.
During her acceptance speech, she thanked her partner and son for her success.
“This is a remarkable night,” she said.
The Liberal leadership contest came down to two women, one who was ready for a fight, while the other was ready to extend the party’s time in office.
After the second ballot results, former Pupatello lead the race with 817 delegates, followed by Wynne with 750. But in a dramatic show of support, former High Park MPP Gerard Kennedy walked over to the Wynne camp to offer his backing. He brought along the 285 delegates with him, after huddling with them in the arena’s alumni room away from the prying eyes of the media. As they trailed out, they were in a less than jubilant mood, but ready to back Wynne.
“It’s good news,” said Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale MPP Ted McMeekin who supported Wynne. “They both have the same philosophies.”
Also coming over to the Wynne camp was MPP Charles Sousa, along with his 203 delegates.
After the first ballot, MPP Eric Hoskins, a former Dundas resident, and a dark horse candidate in the race, ended up last in the six-person race, and quickly crossed the Maple Leaf Gardens’ arena with his 125 delegates to boost the Wynne campaign.
Takhar, huddled with his people, and just as the second ballot voting began, threw his 235-delegate support behind Pupatello.
The convention was not without controversy. A rally organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour attracted more than 15,000 people, representing teachers, poverty activists, and public service employees from across the province, including Hamilton, who chanted “Down with Liberals” as they passed by police barricades in front of the arena along Carlton Street.
Soon after Wynne was elected premier, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario issued a statement saying it hopes that “respectful discussions can begin to help end the chaos in schools created by Bill 115.”
Bill 115 was killed last week in the lead-up to the leadership convention.
Wynne said in her convention speech she will re-open the Ontario Legislature Feb. 19. She will also reach out to Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, and NDP leader Andrea Horwath to seek common ground on how to avoid another provincial that the public doesn’t want.
“We have learned from our mistakes,” said Wynne. “They will not happen again.”
Pupatello said the party needs a leader to govern immediately.
Wynne is scheduled to hold her first caucus meeting Jan. 29.