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Ontario Liberal runner-up says she was ‘double crossed’

Candidate Sandra Pupatello speaks during the Ontario Liberal Party leadership convention in Toronto, Ont. Saturday, January 26, 2013.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The civility that marked the three-month Liberal leadership race in Ontario came to an abrupt end on Monday, with the runner-up saying she was "double crossed" by one of her rivals.

Sandra Pupatello went into the leadership convention on the weekend as the front-runner, only to lose on the third and final ballot to Kathleen Wynne. Ms. Pupatello said in an interview she was invited to Eric Hoskins's home last Tuesday evening, where he told her over a glass of wine that he planned to cross the convention floor to her side. To her dismay, he backed Ms. Wynne instead.

"I've been double crossed before," said Ms. Pupatello, who had nothing but praise for Ms. Wynne. "It will probably happen again."

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As incoming premier Ms. Wynne gets down to business on Tuesday by holding her first caucus meeting, Liberal insiders were split over whether the bad blood between Ms. Pupatello and Dr. Hoskins would spill over to the new government.

Ms. Pupatello had the support of 23 caucus members – more than any other contender – and many of them are not happy that Dr. Hoskins did not keep his promise, said sources close to her. Ms. Pupatello's campaign team had buttons and other material ready on Saturday to welcome her rival, who came to the convention in last place. "All of the anger is directed at Eric Hoskins," said one.

But sources close to other candidates said Ms. Pupatello's supporters are likely to fall in line with the winner. Since Ms. Pupatello is no longer in caucus, "there won't be any motivation to fight for her," said George Smitherman, a former Liberal MPP and cabinet minister who supported contender Gerard Kennedy.

For his part, Dr. Hoskins denied that he had made any promises to Ms. Pupatello.

"I have the greatest respect for Sandra," he said in an e-mail response to questions. "But as I have said already, there was no deal between us."

Ms. Wynne began making the transition to her new role on Monday by meeting with Premier Dalton McGuinty at his Queen's Park office for 50 minutes.

"Hey, it's you! I thought you'd never show up," Mr. McGuinty joked. "Want to see your new office?"

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Mr. McGuinty will skip Tuesday's caucus meeting, in order not to steal the spotlight from his successor, his office said. Ms. Wynne must also visit Lieutenant-Governor David Onley, who will symbolically ask her to form a new government, but a date has not yet been set.

Ms. Wynne will also have to deal with a fired-up opposition determined to keep up the pressure on her minority administration. Within a day of her victory, the Progressive Conservatives unleashed an attack ad lambasting Ms. Wynne for "reckless overspending."

She has spoken with both opposition leaders by telephone – Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak Saturday night and New Democrat Andrea Horwath Monday afternoon.

Mr. Hudak told reporters he hoped to work with Ms. Wynne on reducing the $11.9-billion deficit. Asked how he could do this while his party was launching attack ads, Mr. Hudak said he is optimistic that she will "change course."

At a separate news conference, Ms. Horwath called for a public inquiry into the cancellation of two gas-plant projects west of Toronto.

Committee hearings into the government's controversial decision to pull the plug on the projects ground to a halt last October when Mr. McGuinty prorogued the legislature.

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Ms. Horwath vowed to maintain pressure on the government to reveal the true cost of cancelling the projects while at the same time sounding conciliatory.

"I've said since day one, I'm ready to make that minority [government] work for them," Ms. Horwath said.

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