The campaign to choose a successor to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is shaping up as a two-way race between Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne.
The two women solidified their positions as the clear front-runners in a field of six contenders this weekend, after party members elected delegates who will choose a new leader in two weeks.
Ms. Wynne, 59, appeared to have the better-organized campaign. She fielded a slate of 1,646 delegate candidates and had volunteers working on the ground in all 107 ridings. Ms. Pupatello, 50, is seen as the Liberal Party's establishment candidate, with the most Liberal caucus members endorsing her and political staff in several cabinet ministers' offices working as volunteers on her campaign.
A final tally from voting in 54 ridings on Sunday will not be known until Monday, but unofficial results Sunday night showed Ms. Pupatello holding on to a narrow lead over Ms. Wynne. After Saturday's vote in ridings in Northern and Eastern Ontario as well as the 905 region, Ms. Pupatello was just barely leading over Ms. Wynne, who went into the weekend as the perceived front-runner. Sunday's vote involved all ridings in the city of Toronto, where Ms. Wynne is perceived to be strongest, along with Southern and Southwestern Ontario, which includes Ms. Pupatello's hometown of Windsor. But neither of the front-runners seemed likely to achieve a majority of elected delegates over the weekend.
In Mississauga on Saturday, hometown contenders Harinder Takhar and Charles Sousa saw respectable turnouts and even Gerard Kennedy mustered a large group of volunteers to campaign at the polling station in Mississauga-Erindale, in the heart of Mr. Takhar's riding.
The two leading contenders entered the race staking out the political centre but with very different priorities. Ms. Pupatello, who left provincial politics in 2011 to become director of business and global markets at PricewaterhouseCoopers, has said repeatedly that she is focused on employment and the economy.
Ms. Wynne vowed at her campaign launch to rebuild relations with the province's teachers, including strengthening the bargaining process at both the provincial and local school board levels. "I want school boards to have the responsibility to negotiate with their employees at the local level," she said in an interview on Sunday.
Ms. Wynne plans to spend the next two weeks capitalizing on the fact that the legislature, which has been prorogued since mid-October, would be back for business as early as Feb. 19 if she becomes premier.
"I am ready to go back to the legislature," Ms. Wynne said. "There will be no delay."
Ms. Pupatello, by contrast, has said she would not recall the legislature until she has a seat. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has offered to step down, so that Ms. Pupatello can run in a by-election in his riding of Windsor-Tecumseh.
She cast her own ballot on Sunday in Windsor West, the riding she represented as an MPP for 16 years.
Ms. Pupatello said her volunteers paid particular attention to opposition-held ridings, with a view toward identifying Liberal support and laying the groundwork for the next election.
With the leadership likely to be decided on the convention floor, Ms. Pupatello said her team will try to persuade other candidates' delegates to back her after the first ballot.
Ms. Pupatello said she had to play catch-up courting second-ballot support because she entered the race three weeks later than Ms. Wynne.
"I would have loved to have those three weeks back," she said. "I had to come from behind organizationally."
The voting unfolded after a dramatic week in which the province's labour board declared a planned day of protest by elementary teachers, an illegal strike. Ms. Pupatello said teachers came to speak with her Sunday. If she prevails in two weeks, she vowed, she will try to reach a deal.
"They will have an open door. We'll restore collective bargaining," she said, referring to the government's move to impose contracts as an "aberration."
If either Ms. Pupatello or Ms. Wynne wins the leadership, they would follow Christy Clark of British Columbia, Alberta's Alison Redford, and Kathy Dunderdale of Newfoundland and Labrador as recent female premiers who took office between elections.
"I'm standing on Lyn McLeod's shoulders," Ms. Wynne said, referring to the first woman in Ontario to lead the Liberal Party.