2013 in review: Wynne's big win

She wasn't the favourite but Kathleen Wynne became Canada's first openly gay premier after winning a drama-filled Liberal leadership convention in January.

Edges out Sandra Pupatello to become Canada's first openly gay premier

Sandra Pupatello, right, entered the Ontario Liberal leadership convention as the candidate to beat but Kathleen Wynne secured key endorsements on the convention floor, propelling her to the premier's chair. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

It was a leadership race Kathleen Wynne was not supposed to win.

Held in late January, the convention to pick a new Ontario Liberal leader and premier was billed as a two-candidate race with most pundits tipping Wynne to finish second behind firebrand Sandra Pupatello.

Wynne entered the race with solid credentials as a Toronto MPP, cabinet minister and former school board trustee. But Pupatello, a former MPP from Windsor, was seen as the more electable candidate, the one who gave the Liberals the best chance to regain their majority lost in 2011. Pupatello was seen as more centrist, more combat-ready. Also, Pupatello did not represent Toronto, something many saw as an asset for a party keen to reach out to voters beyond their urban base.

An issue that went largely unspoken was the fact that Wynne is gay, leaving some Liberals to wonder how that would play with voters in rural Ontario.

For anyone inclined to think tat politics is boring, this convention, held in the former Maple Leaf Gardens, had all the drama of a Stanley Cup playoff game.

Both Pupatello and Wynne delivered cracking speeches. Pupatello touted her economic record and said she would lead a party able to bring the opposition "to its knees" in an election.

Wynne took a more conciliatory tone and addressed the gay question head-on.

Replay: the convention speeches

Both Kathleen Wynne and Sandra Pupatello delivered strong speeches at January's Ontario Liberal leadership convention. Both are worth watching again. We've reposted Wynne's speech here and Pupatello's here.

"I do not believe that the people of Ontario judge their leaders on race, sexual orientation, colour or religion. I don't believe they hold that prejudice in their hearts. They judge us on our merits … our ideas."

On the convention floor, Wynne got key endorsements from Mississauga South MPP Charles Sousa and former Toronto MP and MPP Gerard Kennedy after the second ballot, delivering an upset victory for Canada's first openly gay premier.

In her victory speech, Wynne acknowledged that winning the leadership was only the beginning. In front of her lay a political obstacle course that included the simmering gas plant cancellation dispute and a large provincial deficit.  

"Realize it or not, this was the easy part," Wynne told delegates.

And though she's managed to stave off an election while her party clings to minority status, Wynne's true test will come on the campaign trail in a general election that could arrive as early as this spring.


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