Kennedy knows front-runner status does not ensure victory

While two women appear to be leading and closely matched in the contest to succeed Premier Dalton McGuinty as leader of the Ontario Liberals, a former and current leadership contender says that having a front-runner status does not guarantee a victory.
Ontario Liberals pick a new leader 1:58

Ontario Liberals will soon anoint a new premier, likely to be one of two women who have drawn the most support from delegates ahead of a weekend convention.

Ontario Liberal leadership coverage

In addition to radio and television programming, will have live coverage of the Ontario Liberal leadership convention Friday and Saturday. Follow our live blog, join in live chats and watch streaming video from the convention floor at

More than half of elected delegates have vowed to vote for either Sandra Pupatello or Kathleen Wynne during the first round of voting that will take place Friday.

But having a lead on the first ballot does not ensure that either candidate will be the victor in the end.

Back in 1996, when Dalton McGuinty made a successful run for the Ontario Liberal leadership, it didn't appear to anyone that he would be the likely victor.

McGuinty went into the 1996 convention with just over six years under his belt as an MPP.

After the first ballot of that convention, he was in fourth place. But McGuinty eventually took down the front-runner, Gerard Kennedy, who went on to serve in his government and who is seeking the leadership again.

Front-runner status no guarantee

In 2013, Kennedy heads into this Ontario Liberal leadership convention in third place.

But he believes that his past experience can help him in his second bid to lead the provincial Liberals.

"I have an excellent chance at winning in terms of the outcome of this weekend and it is partly informed by what I have gone through before," he told CBC News in a recent interview.

However, some political observers think that Kennedy faces long odds, given the apparent advantage that Pupatello and Wynne have going into the convention.

"I think it's now a two-person race, it's between Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne," said CBC News anchor and political commentator Robert Fisher, who remembers covering the 1996 convention when Kennedy lost and McGuinty won.

Political analyst Rob Silver has studied delegated conventions in Canada.

He finds that candidates who came either first or second on the first ballot won the leadership more than 90 per cent of the time.

Delegates can bring surprises

However, other political experts say that delegates do have the ability to make unexpected decisions.

"The thing about a delegated convention which makes it it can take on a dynamic that right now nobody can predict," said Bryan Evans, an associate professor of politics at Ryerson University, in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

While the elected delegates voting in this weekend's convention are required to stick to supporting the candidates they have declared support for on the first ballot, they have no such requirement to continue to do so on subsequent ballots.

"An awful lot of people will make their move (after the first ballot) because they're going to want to be in the best position possible to be effective on the floor," Evans said.

"There will be an element of old fashioned suspense around what will be the manoeuvring on the floor, who will go to whom, and in this convention I think that will be vitally important."

McMaster University professor Henry Jacek said that delegates will taking a close look at where the momentum shifts after the first round of ballots.

Even for the front-runners, this will be an important factor.

"People have expectations of how much Pupatello should get and how far ahead of Wynne she should be, and if people don't see that on the first ballot that could be a real problem for her," Jacek said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Long road to government

When McGuinty won the leadership in 1996, he immediately became the leader of an opposition party. It wasn’t until 2003, that the Liberals won their first of back-to-back majority governments.

In that first majority government, the Liberals won 72 seats. Four years later, the party won 71 seats. In the October 2011 general election, the party fell just a seat short of a third majority. And despite efforts to win a pair of recent byelections, the governing Liberals have been unable to regain their majority status.

Sandra Pupatello (left) and Kathleen Wynne (right) are perceived to be the two front-runners in the Ontario Liberal leadership contest. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

With McGuinty’s pending departure from the Liberal leadership, there are now six people who could step into his shoes and become the next premier. In alphabetical order, they are: Eric Hoskins, Gerard Kennedy, Sandra Pupatello, Charles Sousa, Harinder Takhar and Kathleen Wynne. (Glen Murray had also sought the leadership, but called off his campaign earlier this month and threw his support behind Wynne.)

The outgoing premier's successor will inherit a party that forms the government, but which also relies upon opposition support for its continued survival and success.

The next premier will also be tasked with recalling the legislature, which McGuinty prorogued when last October when he announced that he was stepping down as leader.

With a report from the CBC's Mike Crawley and files from The Canadian Press