Selecting a new premier for Ontario

 

 January 25-26, 2013, Brenda King, a retired UCDSB high school principal, attended the Ontario Liberal leadership convention held in Toronto, as a delegate.

“I was never political before this, and I have never been involved in any party directly,” King said. “But knowing Kathleen Wynne personally changed this. I felt very strongly about her candidacy for the leadership of the party and about supporting her.”

King applied to the Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry Pro-vincial Liberal Association for standing as a convention delegate. “I was honoured and privileged to be elected by our riding,” she said. She joined other area delegates at the Ryerson Mattamy Athletic Centre (the old Maple Leaf Gardens). 

These are King’s very personal impressions of her experiences at the Leadership convention.

From the outset you were a Wynne supporter?

“I met Kathleen about 10 years ago when she was a Toronto board trustee. At that time, I truly felt that she was brilliant. At many subsequent meetings I have to say that she has absolutely inspired me. I admire her enormously.  

Describe Friday, January 25, at the Athletic Centre.

“Of course, everything was totally new to me. Everyone received a badge with a picture ID, from the excellent volunteers, which you had to show to go anywhere. 

At registration, each delegate also cast a preliminary vote for the candidate of her choice.

Later, I went to Wynne’s campaign headquarters at the Holiday Inn. The atmosphere there was really exciting. Delegates received “Wynne Now” buttons, and caps and scarves. (laughing) Later those scarves turned out to be highly popular with people all over the convention!

That night we all headed back to the Centre for a special tribute to outgoing premier, Dalton McGuinty.” 

There were hundreds of protestors outside the hall during the Tribute.

“I don’t think the Toronto police had expected that many people to turn up on Friday night. Protestors from a lot of organizations were marching on the street with banners and bull horns and generally blocking the entrances. It was a little frightening for some of the delegates to have to get through these crowds into the convention. On Saturday, the police actually closed down Carleton street, and that was better.

How was the tribute?

“I was quite overwhelmed by the whole event, which was projected on giant screens throughout the entire, packed arena. Dalton’s children were the hosts, and they did a wonderful job. Every leadership candidate spoke, but I felt Kathleen really set a deeply warm tone. While she honoured Dalton, many of her remarks were directed at Terri McGuinty, thanking her.

 Later, all the delegates mingled, visiting the low key, very sociable hospitality suites each candidate had set up. It was a real chance to talk, to share ideas, to get to know each candidate better.

Saturday, you really got down to business.

“Harinder Takhar, Gerard Kennedy, Kathleen, Charles Sousa, Sandra Pupatello and Eric Hoskins each made a 30 minute address to the full convention. The delegates for each candidate crowded down to the floor in front of the podium to cheer and shout. 

Kathleen’s younger delegates even put together a kind of hip hop dance that they tried (with limited success!) to teach us before she spoke. I was down there on the floor with my sign and noise maker: incredible experience. 

Kathleen’s speech was breath-taking and powerful. The consensus, even of seasoned media commentators, was that hers was the finest speech given that day. She covered the key issues from health to economics, from education to poverty and there were parts that brought tears to my eyes. She made me feel so proud to live in the best country and the best province in the world. Kathleen Wynne’s presentation was electrifying.”

What about the people around you in the packed stands? 

“People were actively talking about the issues of the day, the concerns of the party, of the province. All these people were passionately sharing ideas across generations, across genders,  among urban and rural delegates.” 

Kathleen Wynne was two points behind on the first ballot. Then the candidate with the fewest votes was dropped from the slate. This was Eric Hoskins.

Eric had 20 minutes to decide whom he and his delegates would support. I saw him literally huddled with his team, arms around each other, talking, while the delegates from all the other candidates crowded around him, chanting. When he finally started down the stairs, to great applause, no one had any idea where he would turn.

Then he came towards Kathleen, who held her arms out to embrace him! Hoskins sat down in her box and put on a Wynne scarf. Pandemonium erupted.

I knew it had to be  a bittersweet moment for his supporters. I gave my Wynne cap to a young Hoskins’ delegate who was fighting back her tears. She immediately put it on and smiled.”

We know that Wynne swept the election, and is now our new premier. Your final impressions of your first convention?

“I never expected to feel as strongly about it all as I do. 

First, it was very clear to me that all these candidates knew and respected each other. They’ve sat in the house together; five have been in caucus together. These were not hostile adversaries, but all comrades, all Liberals and they were enormously supportive of each other, even in defeat.

Here’s a little anecdote. On the first night of the convention, many of Harinder Takhar’s delegates were coming to Toronto by bus from Ottawa. The weather out of Ottawa turned abominable that night, storms closed roads, and his busses didn’t make it. Consequently, his delegate area was going to be very underpopulated when it was time for him to speak: and there was a lot of press gathered. 

Kathleen immediately and very quietly passed the word to her delegates and volunteers to take off all their Wynne gear and to get down to Harinder’s area. When he spoke, we were there to cheer for him. That action of hers, caring for a fellow candidate, spoke to me. When Kathleen talks about being collaborative and reaching out, it isn’t just talk. It’s truly how she thinks and operates.

Secondly, I don’t think I was prepared for how terribly proud I felt to be an Ontarian, how privileged to live in this amazing province. I was deeply proud of getting involved, of being part of the process of choosing a leader, of helping, in some way, to decide the future of this province.

When Kathleen won the leadership, I remember thinking “we are on the right road now. The future feels bright.” My hope is that people will give her the chance to govern.”

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