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Politics Ontario Liberal candidates split into camps as leadership race takes shape

Eric Hoskins is a candidate for the Ontario Liberal leadership.

MOE DOIRON/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The campaign to choose a successor to Premier Dalton McGuinty is expected to split into two camps in the runup to the leadership convention, as the candidates step up their efforts to woo delegates and more clearly articulate how they would govern.

The six contenders will spend the next 10 days talking to delegates one on one as the leadership race enters the final stretch, giving those who will elect a new premier in two weekends an opportunity to "kick the tires," said candidate Gerard Kennedy.

What will become apparent, he said, is that he and the other candidates are not interchangeable. In fact, he sees the contenders separating into two groups – a more adventuresome, risk-taking one that includes him and one more inclined to stick with the status quo.

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"Is this a party that's going to acknowledge where it could do better? I think that is a bit of a dividing line," Mr. Kennedy said in an interview on Monday. "Some people will try to paper it over."

The campaign is shaping up as a two-way race between Sandra Pupatello, the front-runner, and Kathleen Wynne, after party members elected delegates this weekend. Mr. Kennedy ranked in third place. Ms. Pupatello has been courting her rivals' supporters since the start of the leadership race. She will kick that into high gear this week as she deploys volunteers to meet with other candidates' delegates in a bid to persuade them to support her in the event their first choice is eliminated.

"We're just hitting our stride," Ms. Pupatello said in an interview. "Now, it's really trying to turn those first-ballot delegates into second-ballot support."

And, of course, the candidates are courting each other. Ms. Wynne invited Eric Hoskins for dinner a couple of weeks ago. Her spouse, Jane Rounthwaite, cooked risotto. Ms. Pupatello had dinner with Mr. Kennedy at the Lone Star restaurant near Pearson International Airport last Friday.

No one else is talking about dropping out at this point, including Dr. Hoskins, who came in sixth on the weekend with just 6 per cent of delegates. Dr. Hoskins said in an interview on Monday he is disappointed with his poor showing but that he went into the race as the least-known candidate.

He plans to seek the support of 420 "ex officio" delegates – a group that includes current Liberal MPPs, Liberal MPs, defeated party candidates from the 2011 provincial election and past Liberal leaders – by outlining his policy ideas to them.

"This is bigger than any of us," he said. "We have a duty to the party to come out of this process stronger and unified and energetic."

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Harinder Takhar, whose unexpectedly strong showing put him just slightly behind Mr. Kennedy, said he would "absolutely not" drop out before the convention to back a different candidate.

And he said that he hasn't been courted by his fellow contenders, looking to sway his vote with a meal. "Nobody has invited me for dinner yet," Mr. Takhar said, laughing. "Maybe we can have breakfast. It's less expensive."

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