Dalton McGuinty is basking in the spotlight a little too long for the taste of the people vying to replace him.
Officials and volunteers in several of the Ontario Liberal leadership camps are complaining that the outgoing Premier will compete with their candidates for much-needed attention on the opening night of their convention this weekend.
A tribute to Mr. McGuinty will chew up most of the convention program on Friday evening, relegating the six candidates’ speeches to Saturday morning, once most first-ballot votes have already been cast. But the main source of friction is that Liberals are also being invited to a party in Mr. McGuinty’s honour after the tribute, just as the candidates are hoping to draw delegates to their own hospitality suites.
While all of the candidates’ events will be held in hotels or bars in close proximity to the convention’s venue, the revamped Maple Leaf Gardens, the rival party will be some distance away in Toronto’s entertainment district – leaving campaign organizers worried that out-of-town delegates in particular could be lost for the night.
As a result, some of the campaigns are planning to discourage their backers from attending Mr. McGuinty’s event. While others say they’ll send some delegates, to ensure the Premier isn’t embarrassed, none of them seem happy about it.
Hospitality suites are considered important opportunities for campaigns to reach out to one another’s supporters and energize their own. And they may have extra value in this case, because a truncated race after Mr. McGuinty’s surprise resignation announcement has limited candidates’ opportunities to interact with fellow Liberals.
Although it hardly ranks in the annals of intraparty feuds, the social-planning contretemps is indicative of tensions that have bubbled to the surface since Mr. McGuinty signalled his departure in October. An official for one of the leadership candidates described it as “typical” of the tendency of the people around the Premier to give his interests too much priority relative to those of his party.
A spokesperson for a second candidate suggested, more mildly that the unrest “underscores how important the candidates feel talking directly with delegates and party members is,” while a representative of a third merely said that it “could have been handled better.”