Sandra Pupatello emerged with a slight lead after weekend voting that saw the election of delegates who will vote at the party’s leadership convention Jan. 25-27 in Toronto.
Pupatello has slightly more than 27 per cent of delegates, followed by Kathleen Wynne at 25 per cent and Gerard Kennedy at just more than 13 per cent.
Pupatello has the backing of Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci, while Wynne made a weather-delayed swing through the city Jan. 12.
Wynne held a number of cabinet posts in McGuinty’s government, including education, transportation, Aboriginal affairs and municipal affairs and housing.
She may be able to catch Pupatello if she can pick up enough support from delegates who had thrown their weight behind Glen Murray. Murray dropped out of the race last week and is supporting Wynne.
Speaking on her cellphone as she tried to make her way to town Jan. 11 despite freezing rain, Wynne said she has a daughter who lived in Timmins for two years, where she met her fiancé.
And, Wynne said she has travelled in Northern Ontario extensively during her time as minister in different portfolios
“So I’ve been around the northeast and the northwest quite a bit,” she said.
Should Wynne become premier, she said Northerners can expect a better deal when it comes to municipal infrastructure funding.
“You should expect partnership,” she said. “I’m convinced a dedicated fund for roads and infrastructure and bridges is something we need to have in place.
“You can’t take long pauses in rebuilding infrastructure. You have to do it incrementally. I heard that loud and clear during my time as Transportation Minister, and during my time at Municipal Affairs.”
She’s less clear on where the money for that fund would come from, but allows that the federal government must provide money for infrastructure.
“We have fiscal constraints on us because of the deficit, but there are real imperatives around infrastructure that we need to meet,” she said. “We’re going to need the federal government to partner with us. There’s no doubt about that.”
To make the Cliffs ferrochrome smelter project successful, she said First Nations around the Ring of Fire project must be brought on board, an issue she says eclipses concerns over subsidizing energy costs.
“Relationships with First Nations is really the primary issue. If we don’t find a way to work in partnership with First Nations, to work in partnership to deal with the concerns they have around environmental issues, to make sure we have fair revenue-sharing agreements with individual communities, then we’re not going to be able to move ahead with the Ring of Fire.”
However, energy costs will eventually come up for discussion, and she said the outcome will be determined by those talks.
“I’m not going to pre-empt that discussion,” she said.
She wouldn’t commit to holding the line on taxes should she become premier, saying the priority will be on ensuring there’s enough money to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.
“It’s not about a slogan about raising taxes or lowering taxes, it’s about how we’re going to do the things we want to do, whether it’s with infrastructure building, or whether it’s poverty reduction,” Wynne said.
“We need a strong, educated workforce. Without a strong, educated workforce, we can’t develop the economy the way we need to – whether it’s in Sudbury, in Kenora or in Waterloo.”
However, she said the province can’t continue to run a deficit, and a Wynne government would ensure the government can accomplish its goals and balance the books.
“Certainly it’s my belief system that fiscal responsibility and social responsibility go together,” she said.
She’ll look to repair the relationship with teachers damaged when the Liberals imposed contracts on them this fall and winter. She’ll call a meeting with union leaders if she’s elected, but adds there’s no hidden or surprise money that will become available if she wins the leadership.
“There is no more money. I’m not suggesting that as soon as Jan. 27 is over, there will suddenly be more money for the next 18 months or two years. But we have to repair the relationship and I’m open to doing that.”
Should she win, Wynne said she will recall the Legislature on Feb. 19 and try to operate with a minority government.
Should Wynne become premier, she would not only be Ontario’s first female premier, she would be the first openly gay person to hold the job. It would be historic, she admits, but adds it’s only part of who she is.
“It will be a note in the history books, but if I do a great job, that will be a footnote,” Wynne said. “I want to be chosen on my merits. That’s how I’ve always operated. Yes, I’m a woman. Yes, I’m a lesbian. But I want to be chosen for premier because I’m the best person to do the job.”
Last weekend, Liberals elected 16 delegates from each of 107 ridings, 144 from 18 campus clubs and eight from party women’s groups.
Those delegates, plus MPPs and party executives, will choose the next premier at a Maple Leaf Gardens convention Jan. 25-27.