Even Sandra Pupatello’s opponents would admit she’s brought a boost of energy into what has so far been a lackluster Liberal leadership race.

While other candidates have played polite in the early going, Pupatello, who one politician calls the "princess warrior," came out of the gate swinging, trying to push the economy to the forefront of the leadership debate.

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"I know I'm the best [leadership candidate] that can sell Ontario to the world for investment and to get our economy moving," she said.

First elected in 1995, Pupatello served 16 years as MPP in her native Windsor before opting not to run ahead of the 2011 general election to take a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Pupatello was born to Italian parents who she says instilled in her a strong work ethic and a straightforward approach to politics.

"I grew up in a modest family, careful with our money. That stays with you," she told CBC provincial affairs reporter Mike Crawley. "What you see is what you get. I try to be upfront with people, even when you have to make tough decisions."

A firebrand in question period

She had several tough decisions to make while holding high-profile cabinet posts (education, social services, investment and trade) as a member of Dalton McGuinty’s government. But Pupatello first drew attention as a thorn in the government’s side during the Liberals' time in opposition from 1995 to 2003.

Her sharply worded question period tirades often upstaged the premier, sent government ministers scrambling and earned her a reputation for scrappiness.

Pupatello insists she isn’t all pit bull, pointing to her record in cabinet and experience at Queen’s Park. 

She says an election in early 2013 isn't in the best interests of the province, but she'll be ready if it comes.

"I actually think that if we change the conversation, to be talking about jobs and the economy, I can't even imagine how the opposition parties will not want to work with me," she said.

"And if they don't want to work with me, and we have to go to the polls in an election, I'm going to make sure the public knows [the other parties'] agenda is not about jobs and the economy."

With files from The Canadian Press