The Ontario Liberal leadership race appears likely to get a seventh candidate this week. And while he has little chance of becoming premier, he could play a major role in deciding who does.
Harinder Takhar's musings about seeking Dalton McGuinty's job have been greeted with a degree of skepticism by those outside the Ontario Liberal Party. Even relative to the six declared leadership candidates, few of whom are household names, the Government Services Minister has a low public profile. Although said to play an effective role behind the scenes, especially on cabinet's management board, he has limited public-speaking skills and is not exactly overflowing with charisma.
But the buzz among Liberals is that Mr. Takhar is leaning toward going for it, because of his community's aspirations as much as his own.
For decades, Sikh voters – many of whom are highly engaged and easily mobilized because of strong social networks – have wielded strong influence in leadership campaigns. But it has often been a fairly quiet one, with politicians or community leaders marshalling supporters behind non-Sikh candidates.
Understandably, that's led to some sense of being taken for granted. Sikh organizers in Ontario look at Ujjal Dosanjh's NDP leadership victory in British Columbia more than a decade ago, and question why they're still stuck in the back seat here. So they've been leaning heavily on Mr. Takhar, a prominent businessman before becoming an MPP in 2003, to stand as a candidate at the Liberals' late-January convention. If he couldn't win, he could at least make a show of force, and publicly give voice to policy issues they want to put on the radar.
In advance of making his decision, sources in other leadership camps say, Mr. Takhar has been working to sell party memberships in the Peel Region around his Mississauga riding. The success of those efforts will tell him whether he can win enough delegates to at least have a respectable showing, raising his profile rather than embarrassing himself.
If he opted not to run, the expectation among Liberals is that Mr. Takhar would throw his support behind Sandra Pupatello, one of the perceived front-runners. But he may actually be more valuable to her if he has his name on the ballot.
Mr. Takhar, after all, is hardly the only person capable of mobilizing Sikh support, and other leadership candidates – including Kathleen Wynne, seen as Ms. Pupatello's toughest competition – have enlisted other community organizers.
If Mr. Takhar runs, those organizers probably won't have much luck, and Mr. Takhar will be poised to deliver a bloc of delegates on the convention floor.
At a time when his community is looking for more respect within the provincial party, mind you, nobody can be sure that Mr. Takhar would be a stalking horse for Ms. Pupatello or anyone else. That's why he has a chance to be taken very seriously by his fellow Liberals over the next couple of months, even if few of them believe he has a path to victory himself.