Taking It To The Street

Kennedy's In, And It's A Whole New Ball Game

By Susanna Kelley  

Susanna Kelley

 "Game Changer" 

   -political strategist Rick Anderson reacts to news Gerard Kennedy is running for Ontario Liberal leader.

Rick Anderson is one of the smartest political strategists around. He's been involved in politics in Ontario, Ottawa, Alberta and many other parts of Canada for decades.

A keen observer of all politics - provincial, national, international - he's a straight talker. He comes from a Conservative point of view, but never blindly. His views are uncluttered with the usual transparent talking points written up by 25-year old Conservative pr flaks.

So when Anderson talks, it's worth a listen.  And he's right on the money when it comes to Gerard Kennedy's entrance into the Ontario Liberal leadership race.

At first glance, and if you listen to the party establishment, you'd believe Mr. Kennedy is going to get killed in the delegated convention to elect a new Liberal leader on the weekend of January 25th 2013.

They say he's a lone wolf who has few friend among those who sat at the Ontario cabinet table with him. Some of them remark he is not a team player.

But a careful look at his political history proves those who underrate Mr. Kennedy do so at their peril.

Mr. Kennedy comes from decades of activism, both in and out of politics.

He began by running food banks in Edmonton and Toronto for 13 years.

Considered a sentimental favourite, but an upstart, with no seat and only the shallowest of roots in the Ontario Liberal party, Mr. Kennedy ran against Dalton McGuinty in 1996. 

He very nearly became leader.

Mr. Kennedy ended up losing to Mr. McGuinty only on the fifth ballot at 4:25 in the morning after a bruising convention.

He became education minister in Dalton McGuinty's 2003 government, bringing in  innovative reforms such as credits for on-the-job work. He forced teachers to do province-wide collective bargaining without ever calling it that.

Mr. Kennedy resigned in 2006 to run as a candidate to lead the federal party - again with almost no experience there.

Once again he defied predictions.

He didn't win, but did well enough to become kingmaker, endorsing Stephane  Dion.

When Mr. Dion lost the 2008 election to Stephen Harper, the Liberal backrooms blamed Kennedy.

This time in Ontario, the Liberal establishment has lined up behind Sandra Pupatello, also a former minister in Mr. McGuinty's cabinet. Her war room counts Warren Kinsella and Gordon Ashworth and other heavyweights amongst her star campaign team. (CORRECTION: A previous version of this piece cited Don Guy as one of Ms. Pupatello's supporters. In fact, he is not supporting any candidate. Our apologies to Mr. Guy.)

The most recent knock against Mr. Kennedy is, now that everyone knows him better, they realize he'd be less than desirable as a party leader. 

Ms. Pupatello has a reputation amongst the opposition and the media for being a pit-bull.

She can certainly give better than she gets, but she's much more than that.

Ms. Pupatello is experienced, and, as she pointed out at her leadership campaign launches in Toronto and Windsor last week, she's held tough portfolios in both the social and economic realms.

As evidence of her political smarts, and with the province running an 8.3 per cent jobless rate higher, than the US national average, she's branded herself as the "jobs" candidate:



Until Mr. Kennedy entered the race, the two candidates thought to have the best chance of attracting delegate support were Ms. Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne.

Ms. Wynne has held the Transportation, Municipal Affairs and Aboriginal Affairs portfolios under Mr. McGuinty.

As one of two openly gay candidates (Glen Murray being the other) she is positioning  herself as a consensus leader. She says she knows how to bring people together:


One of the marks of a good minister is that they know when to keep their heads down and don't get into trouble in public.  That is something Mr. Kennedy, Ms. Pupatello and Ms. Wynne all have in common.

Charles Sousa is also running. Mr Sousa is also calling himself the "jobs candidate". He's pushing a high-speed train from Windsor to Quebec, with the first steps being  Hamilton to Toronto an Toronto to Oshawa runs.

However, he carries with him the baggage of fighting to move the controversial gas fired plant in Mississauga that has the Liberals on the brink of being held in contempt of the Legislature.

Former minister for Youth, Eric Hoskins, is also expected to announce his candidacy this week.

But as for Gerard Kennedy, his candidacy is about to shake things up in the campaign. Those who count him out might want to look at his political history.

"Game-changer" indeed.

You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley

Posted date : November 12, 2012
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