Inside the Convention
FEB 06, 2013 | BY EMERSON VANDENBERG
A raucous crowd of Liberals filled Maple Leaf Gardens this past weekend. Not only were they bidding farewell to outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty, but also to the convention process that he and countless party leaders before him had used to be ushered into leadership. These thousands of Ontarians had come from across the province to participate in what may very well be the final event of its kind.
Delegated leadership conventions of this nature are dramatic and entertaining. Representatives from across the province, elected through constituency elections on January 12 and 13, descended on Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, now owned and operated as Ryerson’s newest athletic facility. Each delegate, in representing one of the six candidates vying for the top provincial Liberal job, casts a series of ballots, slowly but surely unearthing Ontario’s 25th Premier.
The taxing logistics of bringing delegates from all corners of the province to one location has convinced parties from across the country to opt for a simpler system. The new model, which involves no crowning convention, would give each member of the party one vote. This method would also seek to answer critics who call the delegated convention undemocratic.
The precise manner in which this system would be executed is still under question however. The NDP’s federal party, which installed an online voting system in March 2012 for its campaign to replace Jack Layton was hacked by unknown assailants. These hackers overwhelmed and eventually shut down the site that was handling voting.
The past weekend’s Liberal party convention, despite the criticism and cries for change, progressed effectively. The weekend’s festivities began Friday evening as delegates arrived and candidates set up their base camps in the nearby Holiday Inn hotel. This was also the delegates’ opportunity to cast their first ballot.
A speech by McGuinty marked a moment of renewal for the inspired convention-goers, who joined in thanks to their former leader. McGuinty, in summarizing his efforts as leader stated, “we work hard, we work together, and we put Ontarians first.”
The night moved back to the hotel, where each candidate had set up ‘hospitality suites’ for their respective delegates and volunteers. Complete with open bars and open arms, members of various candidate camps moved freely to mingle with the others. Unhidden were attempts at seducing delegates of non-front-running candidates, so as to persuade them to vote for leading candidates Kathleen Wynne or Sandra Pupatello in subsequent ballots.
Saturday morning opened with final speeches from all of the candidates. Delegates, ex-officios, observers and media crammed the old Maple Leaf Gardens, anxiously awaiting their chance to cast a second ballot. Results for Friday’s initial vote came in with Wynne and Pupatello in a virtual tie. Eric Hoskins’ last-place finish knocked him out of the race. In a dramatic show of support, the exalted candidate crossed the floor beneath the focused lights and cameras to give Wynne a big hug and pledge the support of his delegates (although they are not required to vote for whoever he endorses).
The subsequent ballot saw three more candidates withdraw. Harinder Takhar sided with Pupatello while Gerrard Kennedy and Charles deSousa joined Hoskins in the Wynne camp. Despite the uncertainty of how the defeated candidates’ delegates would vote, estimations sided favourably at this point with Wynne, whose energetic supporters thought as much and showed it with endless cheering.
The weekend was partially marred however by the even more raucous crowds outside the centre, where hundreds of teachers and ETFO workers protested the liberal gathering. The large crowd blocked off Carlton St. for several hours.
As expected, the final ballot results crowned Wynne the new leader of Ontario’s liberal party and Premier of the province, a title she will hold until a general election is called. A new perspective and a restructured cabinet will certainly bring change to Ontario. The principal provincial issue that dominated the campaign was Bill-115 and the teacher’s strike, which, considering the size of the rally going on outside, continues unresolved. It will remain to be seen what course of action the new Premier will take in navigating this current issue.
The change is leadership this past weekend is echoed by the possible end of the convention process. As Wynne ushers herself towards the main stage, one can only wonder how many years will pass before another convention is held and what format it will take.
- Subtitle: A delegate’s perspective