Emerging from a summer in which her Liberals lost three of five ridings they previously held in by-elections, and gearing up for an election widely anticipated to happen next spring, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is shaking up her campaign team.
Government sources confirmed that Pat Sorbara, a backroom veteran who most recently served as chief of staff to former education minister Laurel Broten, – is being brought on board as campaign director – a role that was until now supposed to be filled by Tom Allison, who managed Ms. Wynne’s successful leadership campaign last winter.
Meanwhile, David Herle – who has already been serving as Ms. Wynne’s pollster– is being named a “managing co-chair” of the Liberals’ campaign. Unlike his fellow co-chairs, Health Minister Deb Matthews and former party president Tim Murphy, Mr. Herle will be playing a full-time role and effectively running the campaign alongside Ms. Sorbara.
Liberal insiders say that Mr. Herle, best known for his leading role in the campaigns of former prime minister Paul Martin, will provide big-picture strategy – something that to this point has been associated more with Ms. Wynne’s principal secretary, Andrew Bevan.
Ms. Sorbara’s role, which will also be full time, will be more operational.
Officials for Ms. Wynne insisted that the changes are merely a recognition that their party needs people devoted full time to campaign preparation. They said that having both Mr. Bevan and Mr. Allison, who continues to serve as director of operations in the Premier’s office, do it on top of their day jobs was not feasible.
Other Liberals suggested that it is at least in some measure a reflection of concern stemming from the by-election defeats. In particular, party members were unsettled by their third-place finish in the riding of London West, where former teachers’ union president Ken Coran was recruited as a star candidate but struggled almost from the get-go.
Liberals have also expressed worries about their overall level of preparedness for an election that could conceivably happen before the end of this year. That helps explain the addition of Ms. Sorbara, known as a hard driver who is unafraid to butt heads with fellow Liberals when necessary.
Mr. Allison and Mr. Bevan are expected to maintain senior roles on the Liberals’ campaign, which in the latter’s case will likely include helping steer development of a campaign platform.
Meanwhile, the strategists and organizers who ran former premier Dalton McGuinty’s campaigns remain mostly on the sidelines. That includes long-time campaign director Don Guy, who was tapped for a senior role until last spring, but has essentially been out of the picture since – a development that has coincided with the attention paid to his role in the province’s gas-plants scandal.