While his candidate didn’t win, Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci says Ontario Liberals are emerging united and energized following the weekend leadership convention.
The convention was historic for two things: for the first time, a woman is premier of Ontario. And Kathleen Wynne is also the first openly gay person to hold the top job.
Wynne defeated Bartolucci’s candidate, Sandra Pupatello on the third ballot after both Charles Sousa and Gerard Kennedy threw their support to her after the second ballot. Pupatello had a slight lead over Wynne after the second ballot, but she was unable to pick up enough support to overcome Wynne’s advantage.
Bartolucci has some experience with conventions, having supported Dwight Duncan in his unsuccessful bid to become leader in 1996. He and Pupatello were co-chairs of Duncan’s campaign. The party was far more divided in 1996 after Dalton McGuinty was elected, Bartolucci said.
However, the Sudbury MPP became a key cabinet minister in McGuinty’s government, despite having backed Duncan. The divisions are far less serious this time around, Bartolucci said in an interview Jan. 27.
“It was really, really exciting to be there,” he said of the convention. “I went to bed last night chuckling to myself about how much fun politics really is.”
He was impressed by the sense of unity that swept Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, where the convention was held. As soon as it became clear a Wynne victory was imminent, people started coming together almost immediately, he said.
“I came away impressed by that sense of unity,” he said. “There isn’t the anger that past conventions have had. That may be because it was such a historic event for the people of Ontario.”
Bartolucci said Wynne has called a caucus meeting in Toronto on Tuesday, and he’ll be in attendance. While he has spoken to Wynne, there have been no discussions on whether she will keep him on as minister of Northern Development and Mines, or whether he’ll stay in cabinet at all.
“No, there was no talk of any of that,” he said. “It’s far too early.”
He also said the results would have no impact on whether he’ll run in the next provincial election. There have been persistent rumours that Bartolucci, who turns 70 this year, won’t run again. In office since 1995, he narrowly won in 2011, beating NDP candidate Paul Loewenberg by a few hundred votes. But he says he has no immediate plans to retire.
“I don’t know why I keep getting asked this question – I still feel very young,” he said.
In fact, he said he’s looking forward to getting back to work. The Ontario Legislature has been prorogued since last fall went McGuinty announced he was stepping down. Wynne has said she plans to reach out to the Tories and the NDP to avoid another election. The Liberals have a minority government and will need support from the Opposition to stay in power.
Bartolucci said he’s confident Wynne will be able to find a way to avoid “an election nobody wants.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horvath and PC Leader Tim Hudak both congratulated Wynne on her victory.
“On behalf of Ontario New Democrats, I would like to congratulate Kathleen Wynne on winning the Liberal leadership race and thank all of the candidates for their time and effort,” Horvath said in a press release. “Now, more than ever it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work on the challenges facing Ontario families. I urge the incoming premier to recall the Legislature without delay so that MPPs of all stripes can do the job Ontarians elected us to do.”
Hudak was more critical, congratulating Wynne, but lamenting inaction by the government while the Liberals were choosing a new leader.
“The Legislature was shuttered by prorogation, and government ground to a halt as successors to the outgoing premier focused exclusively on internal Liberal Party politics,” Hudak said in a release. “The deep fiscal hole they have dug has grown deeper still, and the business of the people remains neglected.
“During this time our debt has continued to mount as government spending climbed ever higher, to now-unsustainable levels that have only worsened a climate for creating jobs. In short, we have reached a tipping point, and people now fear that the province they live in can no longer provide the future they hoped for.”
There was no honeymoon period for Wynne from Nipissing MP Vic Fedeli, who immediately tried to cast her as a McGuinty clone.
“At a time when the province is in desperate need of a change in direction, Kathleen Wynne hopes taxpayers won’t notice that she’s taking Ontario down the same path as Dalton McGuinty – one that leads to few jobs, more spending, and lots more debt,” Fedeli said in his release. “Ontarians cannot afford this Liberal government, and we certainly can’t afford Kathleen Wynne.”
For her part, Wynne said she’s anxious to get on with the job of governing. She plans to recall the Legislature on Feb. 19.
“The best way to build on our tremendous success is to keep governing, because Ontarians don’t want an election,” Wynne said in her press release. “They expect us to lead.”