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Charles Sousa responds to a reporter's question at a news conference in Winnipeg, Monday January 17, 2011. Mr. Sousa has announced his candidacy in the Ontario Liberal leadership race.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Former labour minister Charles Sousa sees himself as the compromise candidate in the race to become Ontario Liberal leader, the one who can come up the middle and grab the brass ring just as then little-known backbencher Dalton McGuinty did in 1996.

"It's anybody's game" said Mr. Sousa after he placed fifth in delegate selection for the upcoming leadership convention with about 11 per cent support, compared with 27.4 per cent for front-runner Sandra Pupatello and 25.2 for second-place Kathleen Wynne.

"I want to impress upon all the delegates to look at me as a third alternative."

Mr. Sousa, who spent the bulk of his career in the private sector at the Royal Bank, was first elected in Mississauga South in 2007, and fought his own government's plans to build a gas-fired generating station in the suburban city west of Toronto, first as a backbencher and then from the cabinet table.

The Liberals cancelled the Mississauga power plant, which was already partially built, just days before the Oct. 6, 2011 election, at a cost to Ontario taxpayers of at least $230-million. The decision generated a huge controversy that dragged on until Mr. McGuinty resigned and prorogued the legislature a year later.

Mr. Sousa makes no apologies for opposing the power plant, saying it's always better to find communities that are willing to host such energy projects because of the jobs they create.

He wants the government to stay on its deficit reduction schedule, but also find ways to invest heavily in major infrastructure projects, especially public transit and high-speed rail, to ease gridlock, speed up the movement of people and goods, and improve the quality of life for commuters.

"We have to manage the deficit, but that doesn't preclude us from making long-term investments or positioning ourselves to be more competitive in the future," said Mr. Sousa.

"This is where you need courage and need a little bit of innovation in your thinking. The easy answer is to say 'We can't do it,' but then nothing gets done."

The government needs to concentrate on economic growth and job creation while eliminating the $14.4-billion deficit, added Mr. Sousa.

"Every fibre of my body tells me we have to be very diligent at sticking to our economic plan to balance the books by 2017-18, and we need strong leadership to work through these sensitive economic times," he said.

"I'm concerned about ensuring that we concentrate on making decisions around job creation, not about more government but about more opportunity, finding stimulus and programs that enable those jobs to be created."

There's lots of opportunities in northern Ontario if the province would provide transportation links to help convince companies to process and refine minerals found in the huge Ring of Fire deposit, about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, which would create badly needed jobs in the area, said Mr. Sousa.

"We need to establish a rail or transportation system, a spine to the north, providing access to isolated communities," he said.

"The ripple effect that's going to happen will be tremendous providing we harness it and we do the smelting and the processing of the chromite and we produce stainless steel in Ontario."

Like all the leadership candidates, Mr. Sousa said he would recall the legislature quickly if he wins the leadership and would not call an election this year to seek a mandate from voters.

"I want to work closely with the opposition parties," he said.

"We are in a minority situation, I have no appetite for a general election and the public doesn't have an appetite for a general election. They want us to ensure that we work more closely together."

Mr. Sousa, 54, is the son of Portuguese immigrants and grew up in Toronto's Kensington Market area. He is married with three children aged 16 to 23.

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