First Ontario Liberal leadership debate Saturday

The first debate between the men and women vying to be Ontario's premier and leader of the Liberal party begins Saturday.

The first debate for between the men and women vying to be Ontario’s premier and leader of the Liberal party is Saturday.

The candidates will face each other in Ingersoll, Ont. in the first of five scheduled debates before the Liberal leadership convention Jan 25-26 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Kathleen Wynne is thought to be a frontrunner.

"Party members don't want to see us ripping each other apart," said Wynne, whose campaign sold 8,000 new memberships.

"They want to see us sharing ideas, being constructive and finding solutions together. What's fundamental and very critical to this leadership race, I think, is that we do it in a way that preserves the party as a whole."

Harinder Takhar, former government services minister and the last entrant into the race, is marking his spot on the right side of the party.

Sandra Pupatello of Windsor, Ont., is the only candidate not from the Greater Toronto Area. 

Pupatello left Queen’s Park in 2011 for a Bay Street job and says she wants to reach out to the business sector as well as the opposition in order to find the best way to create more jobs and help the economy.

Gerard Kennedy, who finished second to McGuinty in the 1996 Liberal leadership race, is reminding party members he has had no connection to scandals, such as eHealth, Ornge air ambulance service or the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to cancel two gas plants. In 2006, Kennedy left provincial politics for Ottawa, but lost his MP job in the 2011 federal election.

"I hope the fact that I'm not associated with any of the issues that have been flash points will allow us to deal with those issues," he said.

Winnipeg’s former mayor, Glen Murray, is also in the running. He has focused on giving northern Ontario more power and autonomy and promises a new tax and incentive structure for small business in the hopes of attracting  $2 billion a year in venture capital, as well as a no-money-down plan for college and university tuitions.

Former Royal Bank executive Charles Sousa said he believes his background as a banker will help him to be a "jobs" premier and run a fiscally responsible government.

Eric Hoskins, a medical doctor and co-founder of the charity War Child Canada, who has only been a member of the legislature for a few years.

However, he says that his experience outside of government will be valuable. He vows to bring a new approach to new energy projects.

With files from the Canadian Press