St. Marys Journal Argus editorial
The first debate of the Ontario Liberal Party leadership race took place during an event in Ingersoll last weekend. Mainstream media reports identified a distinctive rural focus to the debate — with leadership hopeful Kathleen Wynne even pledging to appoint herself as Agriculture Minister for a year to provide extra emphasis on the rural portfolio.
Upcoming is a debate in Thunder Bay this weekend, followed by events in Ottawa, Ajax and Toronto.
The leadership convention to replace the recently resigned Dalton McGuinty is scheduled for Jan. 25 at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Given the circumstances of McGuinty’s departure, and the troubles faced by his minority government since taking power in October, 2011, it seems likely the rural Ontario public will categorize the hopefuls into two groups of candidates: those who are part of the most recent Liberal government, and those who aren’t. Certainly, the protesters who greeted the debaters prior to the Ingersoll event, calling for a moratorium on wind turbine developments, would have targetted the incumbent Liberals for their most enthusiastic scorn.
Those who are with the government — such as Cabinet ministers (actually, former Cabinet ministers, since they all resigned their posts in order to run) Wynne, Charles Sousa, Harinder Takhar, Glen Murray and Eric Hoskins — will be called to task for a perceived abandonment of rural concerns by a minority government that lost all its rural representatives (including Perth-Wellington’s John Wilkinson) when it claimed its third consecutive (albeit significantly reduced) mandate.
Those that are left are few. Sandra Pupatello stepped down during the previous mandate, not seeking re-election in 2011. But does that really qualify her as not being part of a Liberal legacy that included wind turbine development?
Gerard Kennedy, who’s starting to look like a perennial leadership hopeful of both the provincial and federal variety, stands alone as a legitimate candidate who can distance himself from recent Liberal struggles. He lost to McGuinty last time he sought the top provincial party job, and seems eager to regain the significant level of support he enjoyed at the time. Given his past as Education Minister in a time of much less teacher/government strife than we’re experiencing now, perhaps he’ll succeed.
But the real challenge for the Liberals, no matter who they choose, will be the manner in which McGuinty resigned.
The Ingersoll venue was a particularly interesting — and perhaps ill-advised — choice for the party’s first leadership debate. It was home turf, of sorts, to former St. Marys Lincoln Richard Hawkins, who perished with his family back in 2008 due to carbon monoxide poisoning in their home.
Hawkins’ wife was an OPP officer who served the Ingersoll community and surrounding areas.
A Private Members’ Bill to require carbon monoxide detectors in all new homes, which Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman championed through the Legislature and at one time seemed sure to reach Third Reading, was one of the items lost when McGuinty broke with tradition and pulled the plug on the Legislature. This, and other initiatives lost by what seemed like a Liberal ploy to escape scrutiny over its Green Energy and air ambulance files, may not be forgotten by voters — both rural and urban.
And the voter disdain could quite possibly extend to any leadership candidate, whether or not they can distance themselves from the current government.