Leading up to this fall's provincial campaign, it's been popular sport around Queen's Park to speculate about which Liberals won't seek re-election on Oct. 6.
For a time, around the end of the legislative session, the chatter started to die down. But it's picked up again in the past few days, following the surprising departure of Economic Development Minister Sandra Pupatello. If one of the most impassioned partisans in Dalton McGuinty's caucus could quit so close to the election, who else might follow her out the door?
There are 71 government MPPs, following the death earlier this month of Bruce Crozier. Eleven of them have announced they won't be returning; 52 others have either been nominated to run again, or are scheduled to be nominated within the next couple of weeks. So while it's always possible for someone to back out of that commitment, most of the remaining uncertainty rests with the eight MPPs who - according to a list provided by the party - have not yet scheduled their nomination meetings.
Some of the members of that group have just not gotten around to it yet - not least Mr. McGuinty himself, who most certainly will be carrying his party's banner in Ottawa South. But at least a few others are the subject of departure rumours that can't be entirely written off.
Perhaps the biggest question mark is David Caplan, the former senior minister who was dumped from cabinet following the eHealth scandal. Mr. Caplan is seen by many to have taken the fall for former health minister George Smitherman, and is not perceived to be a happy camper. This week, he's hosting something called a "Liberal Red Kool-Aid Party," which seems to cheekily compare his party to a death cult - humour that may be somewhat lost on the Premier's office. But his family has a very strong Liberal history and a high profile in Don Valley East, a Toronto riding that swung Conservative in the recent federal election and might do so provincially if he vacates it.
Jim Bradley, the province's Community Safety Minister, is the only member of cabinet who has not officially signalled his commitment to stick around. But Mr. Bradley, who has been in the Legislature since 1977 and is something of an institution within his party, tends to wait until the last minute to schedule his nominations.
Seemingly more up in the air is the status of a pair of MPPs, Shafiq Qaadri and Leeanna Pendergast, who have shown signs of growing tired of life as backbenchers. And then there's Tony Ruprecht, a somewhat eccentric and isolated figure within his party, but one who has long had a stranglehold on the Toronto riding of Davenport.
In the odd case, where the incumbent is believed to be coasting, the Liberals might believe a fresh face would give them a better chance of keeping a close riding. But barring the unveiling of a star candidate, incumbency is generally seen as an advantage - especially when a replacement wouldn't have much time to raise his or her profile before the start of the campaign.
Greg Sorbara, the former finance minister who serves as the Liberals' campaign co-chair, has been tasked with leaning heavily on incumbents who are wavering - and in some cases, it seems to have worked. But here there's a hint of irony, because Mr. Sorbara himself has not yet been nominated.
When he voluntarily left cabinet after the 2007 election, it was widely believed Mr. Sorbara had put his name on the ballot for the last time. More recently, he's been sending strong signals that he plans to run once more, presumably because his riding of Vaughan - held federally by Julian Fantino - would be unlikely to elect a Liberal otherwise.
Still, until Mr. Sorbara has made it official, few people will be completely certain what his plans are. Ms. Pupatello's departure is a reminder to Liberals that they can't take a whole lot for granted these days. For the rest of us, the sport will continue for at least a few weeks longer.