News / Ottawa

Race to replace Dalton McGuinty has tripled Liberal ranks

The race to succeed Premier Dalton McGuinty has tripled the number of members in the Ontario Liberal Party.

If membership sales are a barometer for the contest, MPP Kathleen Wynne (Don Valley West) is emerging as the front-runner.

About 45,000 Liberals are eligible to vote for the 1,712 delegates who will directly cast ballots for McGuinty’s replacement at the Jan. 25-27 leadership convention at Maple Leaf Gardens.

As of the midnight Friday cut-off for new memberships, the party reported the seven leadership candidates turned in 27,206 forms — 23,718 on paper and 3,488 online.

That boosted the party roll call from 17,794 existing members as of Friday morning to exactly 45,000 members by the end of the day.

The Liberals had between 13,000 and 15,000 members on Oct. 15, when McGuinty announced his surprise resignation after nine years as premier. The large jump in new memberships suggests his departure has been a bonanza for a party behind in the polls.

While not all camps would divulge their tallies Saturday, Wynne appeared to have sold the most: more than 8,000 new memberships at $10 apiece.

“I’m humbled by the support shown by my friends, colleagues and so many outstanding new members,” she said in a statement.

Wynne, 59, a Liberal campaign co-chair in the 2007 and 2011 elections, touted her use of social media, like Twitter and Facebook, in boosting her membership drive.

She and former Windsor West MPP Sandra Pupatello, 50, who did not run in the 2011 vote, are widely seen as the candidates to beat.

Pupatello’s campaign would not immediately disclose its sales. Insiders believe she sold the second most memberships but that is difficult to confirm.

“I am encouraged by the number of new members that have signed up to become part of the Ontario Liberal Party renewal process,” Pupatello said in a statement.

She said she enjoys “strong support among the existing membership” and believes “many of the party’s new members will see (her) as the best choice to lead us into the next election.”

Indeed, she is viewed at the party establishment’s first choice, in part because some Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats privately confide she would be the most formidable candidate in the next provincial election, expected as early as next spring.

MPP Harinder Takhar (Mississauga-Erindale), who formally launched his candidacy on Saturday, turned in between 4,000 and 5,000 membership forms.

If elected, Takhar, 61, a self-made millionaire businessman, promised to take measures within his first 100 days in office to improve the prosperity of Ontario families.

MPP Charles Sousa (Mississauga South) fired a shot across the bow just after midnight by being the first candidate to announce his total of memberships sold: more than 4,000.

“I’m delighted that thousands have joined the Ontario Liberal Party to support my bid to become premier,” said Sousa, 54, noting he has “strong support” in the 905 region as well as Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Kingston, and Windsor.

Officials in the campaigns of former Parkdale-High Park MPP Gerard Kennedy, 52, and MPPs Glen Murray, 55, (Toronto Centre) and Eric Hoskins, 51, (St. Paul’s) were still tabulating their totals on Saturday afternoon.

Beyond the elected delegates who will be chosen at meetings in all 107 ridings across Ontario on Jan. 12-13, about 800 ex-officio members, such as MPPs, party brass, and Liberal candidates in the last election, will select the next premier.

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