Burlington Liberals take part in making Kathleen Wynne Premier: Matthew Powell tells the story.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.   January 27, 2013 It is the democratic process at its very, very best.  When a group of people with competing differences and different approaches meet together to choose who will lead them we become a society “at its noble best”.  “I loved it” said Matthew Powell one of the Burlington delegation that chose the new Premier at a convention in Toronto on the weekend..

Everyone had the opportunity to be one of the 2000+ delegates that came from the 107 ridings in Ontario.  All you had to do was join the provincial Liberal association  – pay a membership fee of $5 a year and you had the right to convince your peers that you should be the one to go to the convention and take part in an event that was exciting, tiring, lasted all day long but at the end of the day – had chosen the Premier of the province.

We all listen to the news and hear how the leader of Syria bombs the daylights out of his people while he clings to office.  We read of huge rallies in Egypt where competing interest vie for power.  They hack each other to bits with machetes in some African countries fighting for power and in Haiti, a country we Canadians send millions in foreign aid, they still cannot choose a government that will rebuild that country after a devastating earth quake.

In Ontario we took care of that business on a Saturday afternoon.

Matthew Powell, who confesses to being a “political junkie” made the trip to the old Maple Leaf Gardens as a delegate from Burlington.

Leadership conventions are all hoopla and noise with people running around waving flags and hand-held signs.  At times the noise is deafening.  The Ontario Liberals use a process where a delegate is committed to a specific candidate for the first ballot – after that they are free to go wherever they wish.

Liberals in Burlington were visited by most of the candidates – the front-runners were certainly in the city with some visiting more than once.

Burlington had a total of 18 delegates at the convention, initially backing 5 candidates, 8 Wynne, 4 Pupatello, 2 Hoskins, 2 Kennedy, 1 Takhar, plus two ex-officio (president and past candidate Karmel Sakran).

Matthew Powell, Roland Tanner (president of the association), Marilyn Heintz, and Michele Schwenger (past president of the association).

During the selection of delegates in Burlington some were told that the Hoskins delegates would move to Pupatello after the first ballot .  If you add up the numbers on that assumption Pupatello wold have had 7 votes; didn’t work out that way which is all part of the delegated convention process.

Of the 16 delegates from Burlington the majority were committed to Kathleen Wynne with Sandra Pupatello the second choice for most.

Friday night they trooped into Toronto to listen to speeches and a tribute to Dalton McGuinty, the outgoing Premier who advised the party several months ago that he was resigning.

Saturday morning they get down to the business of choosing the next Premier.  The media (Our Burlington was one of them and we will eat crow soon) had decided that Pupatello is the one to beat.  Two weeks before the balloting the public begins to realize that Wynne is going to be a formidable challenger which made the results of that first ballot really exciting.

“When you get to the convention centre you are put in an area where all the other Wynne supports are located and given a T-shirt and a sign to wave” said Matthew, one of the Burlington delegates.  “Your papers are checked and all the administrative stuff gets done” and then you wait and talk to your fellow Wynne supporters.

Someone goes to the lectern and tells you the polls are now open and explains the procedures.

We get in line and vote and then wait for the results.

The numbers from the first ballot get announced – Pupatello was just two votes ahead of Wynne – not quite the lead the Pupatello supporters needed but it was still very much a race.  Gerard Kennedy was third with 281; Takhar was fourth with 235 and Sousa with 222 was fifth.  Eric Hoskins garnered 150 votes and was automatically off the ballot.  He almost immediately turned to Kathleen Wynne and announced his support  – shortly after that Takhar said he was dropping off the ballot and supporting Pupatello.

While Pupatello was winning – the numbers really said she was in the process of moving when Kennedy, Takhar and Sousa moved to the Wynne camp.

So now it was going to be the two leading woman and Kennedy and Sousa – this would tell which woman was going to take this race.  “The suspense was immense” said Powell.

The second ballot results had Pupatello in the lead with 816, Wynne behind her with 750, Kennedy with 285 and Sousa with 203.

Now the horse trading.  Sousa would be off the ballot; Kennedy was so far behind he didn’t have a hope.

The process is now one where a conceding candidate walks over to the other and joins their ranks.  But it is seldom a direct walk – “they tend to meander and one is never really certain until one candidate shakes the hand of the other and is given a T-shirt or a scarf or a sign and a pin” said Powell who was convinced by this time that this was a Wynne win. “There was no suspense at this point for me”, he said

What there was however, was all kinds of ‘tweeting’.  “Everyone was tweeting everyone with messages all over the map” said Powell. ” There was the information that was flashed up on the huge screens, there was the buzz within the group and the passing along of all the rumours with the ‘spin doctors’ for each candidate spreading their stories and then there was all the tweeting” explained Powell.

It didn’t take long for the direction to become clear.   Sousa was the first to make a move.  While he didn’t go directly to Wynne, many thought he wold support Pupatello, he took his time getting to where the Wynne camp was located. “There was a lot of suspense” said Powell.  “Was Sousa coming to the Wynne camp”, no one was sure. He eventually did join Wynne.

Kennedy took his people out into a corridor  and talked to them about his options and his feelings and then the trooped back into what  was once called centre ice – now on an upper level of what we all used to know as Maple Leaf Gardens.

Wynne, Hoskins, Kennedy and Sousa then appeared in a balcony all wearing the symbols that indicated they had moved to the Wynne camp.  It was a defining moment – but the race wasn’t over.

Matthew Powell didn’t see a Pupatello win as an “inevitability.  “It was going to Wynne victory and I never for a moment wavered.

Leadership conventions are all about waiting, talking to colleagues and making new friends, hearing new ideas – and waiting, interrupted by those moments of intense anticipation while voting results are announced.

” said Powell.

Powell had done all his thinking well before the actual convention.  An admitted “policy wonk” and a “political junkie” Powell was looking at a bigger picture.  “The convention was part of the process but the thinking a delegate does before the convention was the really essential part” said Powell.

Now it was a direct race.  While Wynne had all the support she didn’t yet have the votes.  What she did have was momentum and a speech that made a lot of Liberals think about what they wanted to be as a political party.

Pupatello, who is one of the strongest speakers in the Liberal party didn’t seem as “on-fire” as she usually is; there was a sense of lackluster in her speech.

Fresh ballot had to be printed; everyone lines up again and the results are announced.

2020 votes cast; four spoiled  The winner needs 1009 votes.

And then the numbers.

Pupatello 866 – not enough – this was a Wynne win – she got 1105 votes.  Ontario had a new Premier with just a swearing-in ceremony to make it legal.

Matthew Powell “loved it” There is something noble about how people can choose their leaders in an open democratic manner.  His job as a delegate was to analyze what each candidate had to offer and get a sense of how they would lead.  Once Powell had made up his mind who he wanted – his job was done – all he had to do was make a mark on a piece of paper and go back into a space crowded with people and wait for the results.

Powell returns to Burlington looking forward to the next provincial Liberal party event where Liberals will gather to talk about what took place and how it all panned out.

History was made in Toronto on Saturday.  Two women were on the final ballot. “We had the guys on the run,” said Pupatello.  The Liberal’s also took a huge leap and chose an openly gay woman to lead then as Premier.  Has Ontario grown up this much?

If this is something you think might interest you – join other Liberals at Artisano’s on Brant – 10:00 am, February 2nd.  All you have to do is buy your own coffee.

If you’re there you can take in the mea culpa; I told Burlington that Sandra Pupatello would be the Premier when they got back to their desks Monday morning.  It was a tough week for me; I also predicted that Montreal would beat the Maple Leafs in the opening game of the season.  The wager lost will require me to wear a Maple Leaf scarf for what I hope is a very short period of time.

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1 comment to Burlington Liberals take part in making Kathleen Wynne Premier: Matthew Powell tells the story.

  • Gertrude Gottfredsen

    Who, better than a “political junkie”, “policy wonk” could be a part of all this highly charged history-making Leadership Convention drama, than Matthew Powell. While Matthew waited to see if, in deed, there will be a Wynne Win…..Wynne Won!
    Matthew watched while Ontario’s first female Premier, Kathleen Wynne, was sworn in, becoming one of the the four most powerful provinces British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and Ontario with females at the helm.

    Thank you Matt, for all you have shared and all you are going to share.

    Looking forward to the February 2nd coffee session where we can share in your excitement