By Greg Crone, who has forgotten more about the Ontario Liberal Party than I’ll ever know. The definitive take on the OLP leadership race so far. I’ve added bolding on the stuff I think is important.
The results of the local delegate selection meetings are now known. What are the main takeaways? Here are seven:
First, Sandra Pupatello elected more delegates than any other candidate, and is therefore the frontrunner. Prior to last weekend, pundits were talking about Kathleen Wynne coming out of the delegate selection meetings as the frontrunner, and the main question to be settled was by how much. That equation is now flipped. Pupatello is ahead of Wynne, 504 to 463. News reports Monday referred to Pupatello and the “two frontrunners.” But the fact is it is now Wynne who is chasing Pupatello and playing catch-up. Lesson learned: There is only one frontrunner and we know who that is.
Second, Wynne has to be surprised she came in second. The Wynne campaign went to some lengths to persuade the news media that it was the most organized. If that is still true, how does it account for the second-place showing? Now the Pupatello campaign must be seen to be equally as well-organized. Lesson learned: Don’t talk about how well you are doing. Just keep your head down and keep working.
Third, Wynne might have made a mistake doing a press conference with Glen Murray last Thursday as he exited the leadership race. The purpose was to telegraph momentum for the Wynne campaign, but the results of the weekend delegate selection vote do not indicate that any delegates went to her as a result of Murray’s endorsement. He simply had few to give, otherwise he would not have pulled out of the race. The endorsement might have had the opposite effect, spurring both Pupatello and her campaign to work even harder. Lesson learned: Momentum is great, but it has to be real. People will know it when they see it.
Fourth, commentary in the news media that many of the 67 independent delegates who were elected would have been Murray supporters who can be added to the Wynne column is simply not credible. Those independents were elected for a host of individual, very local reasons that are as varied as the number of the delegates. For example, Steve Del Duca ran a slate of independent delegates in his Vaughan riding and eight were elected. Why? Because Del Duca is co-chair of the convention, he is officially neutral, and wanted independent delegates coming from his riding. Yet some media commentators have seemingly labelled them as Murray delegates who now belong to Wynne. That’s simply not happening. Lesson learned: They call them “independents” for a reason. No one owns them, and their support has to be earned.
Fifth, Gerard Kennedy came in third, but he elected about half as many delegates – 257 – as frontrunning Pupatello (504). He is therefore a weak third. Is there a path to victory for him? Maybe, but it is hard to imagine what it is. Why wouldHarinder Takhar or Charles Sousa roll the dice and go to Kennedy rather than go to either Pupatello or Wynne to crown the winner? Lesson learned: In order to come from behind, your starting point can’t be too far back.
Sixth, Takhar must be elated that he came in fourth and Sousa disappointed that he came in fifth. The reason for Takhar’s strong result is that his campaign simply made a coolly rational calculation as to what it could and could not do, and concentrated its efforts in a well-organized and effective way. For example, Takhar was competing in only a little more than 50 ridings compared to the more than 90 ridings in which Sousa compete. As a result, Takhar won dozens of delegates far afield from his Mississauga base, in places like Guelph and Windsor, while Sousa came up short. If Takhar is in this to win respect, after this weekend he has more than earned it. He has put together an organization that delivers. Lesson learned: The ground game is everything.
Seventh, Eric Hoskins must also be very disappointed, coming in sixth and last place with 104 delegates. It is difficult to see how he cannot be the first candidate to drop off the ballot. Hoskins is in many ways an attractive candidate, with a picture-perfect family, and he spoke thoughtfully about policies. But he ran an outsider campaign, labelling himself a “dark horse” and underlining his gold-plated resumé and international humanitarian work – which are impressive, but have little to do with provincial politics. Lesson learned: It is hard to be successful in politics if you position yourself as being above politics. You can win in politics only by doing politics better than anyone else.
So what’s next? Three main things.
First, you have to believe that there is a lot of effort being made to reach out and talk to the 67 independent delegates and the 420 or so ex officio delegates. Who are they? What are they thinking? Which way are they leaning? Can their support be won? Each campaign will be finding out.
Second, the campaigns and the candidates themselves are talking to one another about second-ballot support. It is a delicate business, and must be done in a respectful way. If you are Pupatello or Wynne or their campaigns, you don’t want to presume anything or take anything for granted. You don’t want to insult lower-tier candidates by assuming they can’t win, because they and their supporters are likely going to go into the convention keeping the flame of hope alive. Yet the conversations have to happen. Wynne likely did not help herself with comments over the weekend that Ontario might soon have its first female premier. Maybe so, but the other candidates, all men, are perhaps not yet ready to concede they cannot win the leadership. Why alienate those whose support you will soon need?
Third, it doesn’t matter how many delegates you elect if they don’t actually attend the convention to vote. People get sick, get into accidents, and sometimes just don’t show up. A huge effort is being made to talk to these delegates, make sure they pay their delegate fee, make their hotel and travel arrangements, and do everything else necessary to ensure they present themselves at the convention to vote. This is all the more important for delegates coming from outside Toronto. It is all about numbers, and the ability to count. It only takes one vote to win.