With the Liberal leadership convention only weeks away, party supporters in Hamilton are divided over which candidate is best suited to replace Dalton McGuinty as the premier of Ontario.
Steeltown Grits started making their endorsements in the fall, when prominent Liberals began announcing their intentions to run. In total, seven contenders — all former cabinet ministers under McGuinty — have entered the race.
Ted McMeekin, MPP for Ancaster-Flamborough-Dundas-Westdale, came out in November to publicly express his support for former education minister Kathleen Wynne, who is considered a frontrunner in the contest.
“She's wonderful with people and she is exceptionally bright and intuitive,” McMeekin told CBC Hamilton.
“She's ready to win and I think she's ready to govern.”
Former federal cabinet minister Sheila Copps also chorused her support for Wynne in late December.
Hamilton Liberals, however, are far from unanimous in the leadership picks.Former Hamilton mayor Larry Di Ianni has endorsed Sandra Pupatello for the Ontario Liberal leadership. (Supplied)
Several, including former mayor Larry Di Ianni and Niagara West-Glanbrook Liberal riding president Andrew Goodridge, have lined up behind former Windsor MPP Sandra Pupatello, who is also widely regarded as a top contender.
“She's articulate, she presents well and she helped Hamilton when she was minister of community and social services,” Di Ianni said.
“She was very supportive. She was one of our champions, so I think she deserves some of that support back.”
And Alex Sévigny, a McMaster communications prof and active Liberal party member, has publicly endorsed Gerard Kennedy, the former Ontario education minister who later served as a federal MP.
“I support him because he wants to renew to make it the most responsive and one of the modern political parties in North America,” said Sévigny, who worked on Kennedy's 2008 federal election campaign.
The Mac prof said the former Parkdale-High Park MP has an “unusual mix of qualities” that render him a great candidate for the premiership.
“On one hand, he's a champion of the underprivileged and the excluded. On the other hand, he wants business to thrive and the economy to grow.”
Despite their disagreements over who should win, many Hamilton Liberals have characterized the leadership debate, both among the candidates and among party faithful, as a civil one.
“There's a lot of harmony this time with different people and different leadership camps,” said Nithy Ananth, president of the Liberal riding association Hamilton East-Stoney Creek.
“It's been very constructive and it's been very cordial,” Sévigny said of the process. “I think everyone recognizes the candidates bring unique strengths. I think it's been very positive for the party.”
Regardless of which contender party gets anointed, Hamilton Grits will still have to grapple with their party's declining fortunes.
After the 2011 election, Hamilton was reduced to only one red-striped seat — Ted McMeekin's. In that contest, then-Hamilton Mountain MPP Sophia Aggelonitis lost her job to NDP challenger Monique Taylor.
“Hamiltonians sometimes elect people who shake their fists in the air and yell loudly as opposed to people who help the city,” said Di Ianni. “And hopefully that will change.”
McMeekin took a more conciliatory take on Hamilton's slate of orange MPs, adding his preferred choice would be eager to collaborate with them.
“[Wynne's] worried less about eating New Democrats for breakfast than having breakfast with them to see how we can work together.”