Saturday's Liberal leadership convention had the flair and suspense of a television drama – a tight race between the two frontrunners, last-minute support from unlikely corners, and ultimately the historical election of the province's first woman and first openly gay premier.
But today it's about getting back to work and regaining some of the lost support for the Liberal Party of Ontario, said local delegates who were at the convention.
Kathleen Wynne “understands there have been many challenges and disappointments in the last little while,” said Ruth Lovell Stanners, an Owen Sound independent delegate who supported Eric Hoskins on the first ballot, then Wynne. “And I think she's going to be the person to set about to try and heal a lot of the rifts.”
“She is a negotiator, plain and simple,” said Kimberley Black of Wynne. Black is the president of the Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound Liberal association who also initially supported Hoskins, then Wynne. “She's not going to back down, but she's definitely a negotiator. She's already saying that she's going to be meeting the opposition and the conservatives on Monday and there's caucus on Tuesday. She's ready to get to work.”
If Wynne fulfills her promise of working with the other parties and getting the legislature back to work within the next three weeks, it may mean there won't be another election in the near future, said Judy Gates, acting association president for the Liberals in Huron-Bruce.
“Nobody really has the stomach for an election anytime soon,” she said Sunday. “We want to get some work done.”
Black agreed, saying Ontarians are election fatigued. With the economy in poor shape, she said voters feel an election would be a waste of money. “I've heard that loud and clear.”
Gates said she brought rural concerns to the leadership candidates at the convention. She said she told them rural Ontario was not happy with the Liberals, based on the last election results. She added that she was heartened by Wynne's acceptance speech in which she said she would work for all of Ontario.
“I'm taking her at her word for it, I really believe that's the way she is, that she's inclusive,” said Gates. “I felt it was important that we from rural Ontario kept reminding all the candidates that they don't forget us. We have unique needs and feelings as well.”
The same concerns were on the mind of Hanover Mayor Kathi Maskell, who attended the convention as a Sandra Pupatello delegate. Pupatello finished second to Wynne on the third ballot.
“I feel reassured that Kathleen Wynne has said that she will be doing her best for the whole province, and that was my concern,” said Maskell. “I'm very concerned about the fact that rural Ontario seems to be doing not as well as we should be, and we need that extra help coming from Queen's Park, and Kathleen has made that promise that she'll be working very hard to help the rural parts of the province.”
Maskell said she was behind Pupatello because of Pupatello's past role as minister of economic development.
Pupatello took the first ballot Saturday, but only by a whisker. She gained on the second ballet, but that's when the drama began. Rivals Gerard Kennedy and Charles Sousa shocked Pupatello by both officially pulling out of the race at the same time to pledge their delegate support to Wynne. On the third ballot, the final count was 1,150 votes for Wynne and 866 for Pupatello.
Maskell said her disappointment was short-lived. “After a leadership convention, there's always a little bit of grieving for the people who have worked really hard for one candidate, but very quickly people move past that.”
She said Pupatello's concession speech helped ensure party unification. “I think she went a long way in making others feel that hey, c'mon, it's over, we're together, we're one party, we have the first woman premier, and we can do this.”
Local Wynne delegate Mary Anne Alton said she found the convention much more stressful than she expected. She said she was on pins and needles even for the third ballot.
“Sandra Pupatello was definitely a formidable candidate, and you don't know what's going to happen in the ballot box, but it sure was exciting,” she said. “It surpassed any of my expectations about how engaging it would be to be at a leadership convention.”
Alton said she left the convention feeling the party's prospects look good for the future.
“I'm really delighted about the atmosphere within the Ontario Liberal party and the kind of energy that I saw at that convention. I loved the huge representation of youth, particularly related to Kathleen Wynne's campaign. It leaves me feeling really optimistic about the future of the provincial Liberal party under her leadership.”
The Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound delegates attended the convention with heavy hearts. Linda Murray, who was in charge of memberships for the riding, died of cancer Friday, Black said. When asked how Murray might have felt about the province's first woman premier emerging from the convention, Black said, “She would have been dancing in heaven.”