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Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan speaking to the media after arriving for a Liberal Cabinet meeting at Queen's Park in Toronto on Jan. 23, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan speaking to the media after arriving for a Liberal Cabinet meeting at Queen's Park in Toronto on Jan. 23, 2013. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

politics

Ontario Liberals face mini-exodus as Duncan prepares to exit Add to ...

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is on the verge of leaving provincial politics for a Bay Street job that he lined up in expectation of a different outcome at this past weekend’s Liberal leadership convention.

Mr. Duncan had committed to giving up his Windsor seat for Sandra Pupatello if she emerged as the province’s next premier.

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And sources say that even though Ms. Pupatello was defeated by Kathleen Wynne, he now intends to follow through with vacating the seat as quickly as possible, rather than waiting until the next election to move to the private sector.

His exit could prove the start of a mini-exodus of long-serving Liberals that triggers a rash of by-elections.

And although that could bring renewal to a party that has been in power since 2003, and give Ms. Wynne a chance to put her own stamp on it, it also threatens to weaken the government’s already tenuous position in a minority legislature.

Mr. Duncan’s seat, which is held by the NDP federally, could be particularly difficult for the Liberals to keep in the absence of a star candidate. While some Liberals were hoping that Ms. Pupatello might still be willing to stand as a candidate there, she indicated on Monday that she has no intention of doing so.

Meanwhile, Energy Minister Chris Bentley – who, like Mr. Duncan, has already announced he won’t seek re-election – has recently been sending signals that he too wants out as quickly as possible.

His own leadership aspirations dashed by his role in the costly cancellations of power-plants, Mr. Bentley seems to feel that he owes little to a party widely perceived to have thrown him under the bus.

And if legislative committees press forward with investigations into the power-plant controversy, he may see some advantage in appearing before them as a private citizen.

Rumours are also swirling around veteran minister Rick Bartolucci, who had to be persuaded to run in the last election. If he is left out of Ms. Wynne’s cabinet to make way for younger colleagues, he could decide not to bother sitting on the government benches until the next campaign.

Then there is the man Ms. Wynne is replacing as premier. While he has indicated that he will skip Tuesday’s Liberal caucus meeting to give his successor some breathing room, Dalton McGuinty is apparently willing to remain an MPP through spring.

If it appears the government will survive much past that, it’s difficult to imagine him wanting to spend a protracted period as a backbencher.

Since Ms. Wynne has a six-month window after any MPP’s retirement, that could make for a rash of by-elections next summer.

For a party that has seen its electoral map shrink outside the Greater Toronto Area, campaigns in Mr. Bentley’s riding of London West, Mr. Bartolucci’s Sudbury constituency and even the Ottawa South seat that the McGuinty family has held since the 1980s could be challenging to hold onto.

And if Ms. Wynne is not able to improve the government’s relationship with organized labour significantly, a riding such as Mr. Duncan’s could well be flooded by union members working to defeat the Liberal candidate.

In the meanwhile, the Liberals could find themselves further away from the majority government that they missed by just one seat in the 2011 election. And at least a temporary shrinking of her caucus could add to Ms. Wynne’s challenges in keeping momentum after her leadership victory.

Follow on Twitter: @aradwanski

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