“There were people that came up to him and said, ‘I didn’t vote for you,’ and, ‘I supported Tim Peterson,’ and, ‘I never thought you would win.’ Charles just smiled and said, ‘Well, thanks for voting anyway,’ ” he laughs.
His stock rose steadily. He was promoted to labour minister in 2010 and moved to citizenship and immigration the next year.
“People saw him as someone they want to work with,” says Helen Burstyn, a long-time Liberal insider and adviser to the Ministry of Economic Development. “He makes you feel when he’s there like [your] group is the most important thing and the only thing he cares about.”
He fostered personal loyalty in volunteers and staff by regularly attending riding association meetings and socializing over beer and wings after.
“He would just talk to us, not like a politician at all, which was very refreshing. Just sit down, roll up his sleeves and he really was able to take off that political hat and just be a regular guy,” says Darwin Harasym, who volunteered in Mr. Sousa’s riding.
He opposed the construction of power plants in Mississauga and helped negotiate a deal between the province and the city to turn the site of the former Lakeview Generating Station into a mixed-use neighbourhood.
He placed fifth in the race to succeed Dalton McGuinty, throwing his support to Kathleen Wynne after the second ballot at the convention.
Ms. Wynne comes from a different wing of the party than Mr. Sousa – she was a social activist before getting into politics – and is generally regarded as a policy wonk, while Mr. Sousa is more managerial. But multiple sources in government say the two have similar styles. Both are good at listening and taking advice, and try to build consensus before acting.
Even in private, those who have worked with Mr. Sousa say, he never loses his cool, in contrast with most tightly wound politicians. He also takes pains to ensure he or his staff respond to queries and listen to people who want his attention. The habit eats up his time, but has paid off politically: he has a large network of loyal friends and acquaintances.
Some aspects of politics he is still getting used to: he still gets slightly nervous before important speeches.
The qualified yes
In downtime, Mr. Sousa likes to play piano or hang out with his wife, Zenaida, and their three children. He’s close with his father and older brother Julio, a school principal. He also likes to unwind over drinks or a meal, particularly at Portuguese restaurants.
And despite his increasing workload, he keeps in touch with everyone from friends to former volunteers.
“As much as he’s focused on what he’s doing when he’s at work, Charles likes to undo the tie and kick back a little bit and just be one of the guys,” says long-time friend Joe Eustaquio. “He’s a cool guy to be around.”
When Ms. Guy was in hospital after her children were born, she recalls, he dropped by unannounced outside visiting hours: “He had on this huge smile and this even bigger bouquet of flowers. I could tell just by looking at him that he had charmed all the nurses.”
Mr. Sousa insists his easygoing friendliness will help him deliver in these tough fiscal times.
When fellow cabinet ministers ask for money, he doesn’t reject the requests outright, but shows them the province’s financial state and asks for suggestions on finding it in the existing budget.
“Instead of saying no, I’m saying … ‘This is what we have to deal with. Given these circumstances that are before us, what are you willing to do?’ ” he says. “And very quickly, they’re coming to the same conclusions that I, as a finance minister, have come to. … They’re saying ‘Alright, we’re saying yes under these time frames and under these conditions.’ It’s not a no, it’s a qualified yes.”
With a report from Grant Robertson