Gerard Kennedy will carry more delegates across the floor. But it was Charles Sousa’s support that probably sealed the deal for Kathleen Wynne to become Ontario’s next premier.
Coming into this weekend’s Ontario Liberal leadership convention, it appeared likeliest that Mr. Kennedy and Eric Hoskins – the relatively left-leaning third and sixth-place candidates, respectively – would go to Ms. Wynne. Harinder Takhar and Charles Sousa, the more right-of-centre fourth- and fifth-place candidates, were more obvious fits with Sandra Pupatello. That would have made for a very close final ballot. But if even one of them played against type, it could tip the balance one way or the other.
Mr. Sousa proved to be that candidate. Even though Ms. Wynne trailed Ms. Pupatello 39 per cent to 36 per cent on the second ballot, the combined support of Mr. Kennedy (14 per cent) and Mr. Sousa (10 per cent) should make her unbeatable on the third and final one.
There are all sorts of explanations floating around for why Mr. Sousa made his decision. Most likely, it was some combination of the following:
1. THE NUMBERS GAME
Of all the candidates, Mr. Sousa arguably stood to benefit the most from playing queenmaker. A business liberal, he could well wind up as the province’s next finance minister, and there are rumours that both Ms. Wynne and Ms. Pupatello were dangling that possibility. So it was in his interest to make sure whoever he went to won.
That was no sure thing with Ms. Pupatello; because his own supporters were divided about the choice, enough might have gone to Ms. Wynne anyway for her to eke out a win. There was much less chance of winding up on the wrong side of the equation with Ms. Wynne.
2. PARTY UNITY
This is the more generous explanation being offered for Mr. Sousa’s consideration around the math. The provincial Liberals know well, from their last leadership convention in 1996, that rifts can last for years after the fact. Had Mr. Sousa and Mr. Kennedy gone in different directions, the final ballot would have divided the convention into two competing camps, with an extremely close result that would have left almost half the room bitterly disappointed.
There may still be some hard feelings. But with the exception of Mr. Takhar, all the other candidates – including Glen Murray, who dropped out of the race earlier in January – will have joined Ms. Wynne’s camp before the final vote.
3. THE POST-CONVENTION SCENARIO
This week, it became clear that Ms. Pupatello’s biggest liability was the uncertainty around a new premier lacking a seat in the minority legislature, and having no guarantee of winning a by-election that would be flooded by union activists angry about recent labour legislation. Many Liberals have speculated that the by-election would in fact never happen, with Ms. Pupatello – who has appeared hungry to campaign against the province’s opposition leaders – calling a general election instead.
That caused considerable anxiety in a party currently trailing in the polls. And according to multiple sources, Mr. Sousa was particularly nervous about it because his suburban riding is far from safe. No wonder Ms. Wynne went out of her way in recent days to highlight that she would prefer to govern than campaign.
4. MISSISSAUGA POLITICS
It probably should have received more notice earlier in the day when Hazel McCallion turned up alongside Ms. Wynne. If you’re a Mississauga politician, not least one who may have his eye on the 91-year-old Mayor’s job when she vacates it, that counts for a lot.
Some other truly confusing local politics, related to that eventual mayoral race, were also at play through this campaign, with different crowds lining up behind Mr. Takhar – who also hails from Mississauga – and Mr. Sousa. So although it was probably a relatively minor factor, insofar as they both want to be local power brokers, there may have been some advantage in going to different places.
5. THE CANDIDATE HERSELF
For all the other considerations, Ms. Wynne made herself a pretty easy person to support. Her convention speech on Saturday morning was a warm and well-delivered case for shared values that one strategist called a “welcome mat” to the other candidates. That helped to create a sense of momentum through the day, and perhaps a sense of excitement rather than trepidation about electing an openly gay leader – an issue Ms. Wynne confronted head-on during he remarks.
Ms. Wynne’s camp was also considered more respectful of the other candidates during the entire campaign than was Ms. Pupatello’s. That can count for a lot as candidates disappointed with their results look to make the best of the situation.