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final report card: why wynne won

After a drama-filled Convention, the Ontario Liberal Party chose Kathleen Wynne as its new Leader and next Premier of Ontario.

Kathleen Wynne next Premier of Ontario

February 5, 2013 – SayItCanada readers will know that two report cards on the seven candidates for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party suggested a two-dimensional way to measure the candidates. The extent to which they presented a change in message or in marketing, and the extent to which they presented themselves as an Insider versus an Outsider.

At the end of the second report card, it was concluded that:

  • Ms Wynne was very much the choice for those looking to maintain the current Government’s approach;
  • Mr Murray was very clearly the voice for meaningful change from the status quo;
  • Ms Pupatello and Mr Kennedy were best suited to be Leader of the Opposition; and,
  • Dr Hoskins, Mr Takhar and Mr Sousa seemed to be auditioning for the roles of Ministers of Health and Finance.

After a drama-filled Convention, the Ontario Liberal Party chose Ms Wynne as its new Leader and next Premier of Ontario. So what happened? In short, why did Kathleen Wynne win?

The first major development in the race happened before a single delegate was selected – when Glen Murray withdrew and became an active supporter of Ms Wynne. Travelling the Province together and stumping for her, Mr Murray’s early exit and full endorsement of Ms Wynne served to send an important message of change. Readers will know that Mr Murray’s campaign was, by my own measure, the most boldly different while Ms Wynne's was cautiously more associated with the status quo.

This changed with the Murray endorsement. Overnight, her campaign signalled to delegates and other candidates and their supporters that Ms Wynne would be receptive to new ideas in addition to those that she and her campaign had advanced. Subtle at first, this message of openness was very important.

The next development was the actual selection of delegates. Not surprisingly, the top four finishers were also the four with the longest personal history in the Liberal party. In a short race this is not surprising as organization and pre-exisiting relationships within the 'family' are more important than anything else.

At the Convention itself, the biggest surprise was with the first ballot when Wynne and Pupatello were separated by only two votes. The closeness of this result shocked most observers. How was it that Pupatello – who had an established lead in delegates going into the Convention – was not further ahead?

The answer to that has two parts:

  • Murray delegates who had come as Independents voted massively for Wynne causing the lead in elected delegates held by Pupatello to disappear; and,
  • more importantly, enough party officials, so called ex-officio delegates, voted for Wynne as well.

A front runner has to look very strong, that victory is inevitable. Well, a front runner has to look like the undisputed winner. Pupatello's two-vote lead was just not enough.

As the second ballot approached, there was one question asked by delegates and observers alike: who can win?

The answer was simple. Liberals concluded that victory in a future Provintial Election would mean they need to govern longer so as to prove – with results – that they are indeed renewed and can provide something different.

  • At the end of the day, a Pupatello win meant delaying returning to Government as she had announced she would delay calling back the Legislature until after she won a seat in the Assembly. Winning a seat was itself not a certainty. Doubt was planted.
  • In her speech to delegates Wynne announced that she “...had a seat, a path, and a plan...” At the end of the day it was the first of these that was most important. A seat in the Assembly meant returning to governing as soon as possible without the uncertainty of a by-election or the risk that one could be lost.

So why did Wynne win?

She made herself the safest choice for Liberal delegates. Enough of an Insider – as shown by our first and second report cards – but also open to Outsiders as shown by her embrace of Murray. Having managed to be both the candidate of continuity and also the one open to change, she then closed the deal with the simple offering to her party:

"I am ready and I can govern now."

At the Convention, the walls were covered with WYNNE NOW posters.

It was a challenge to Liberal delegates...

And they heard it loud and clear.

Leonard Spencer
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