The people attending the Ontario Liberal leadership convention in Toronto this weekend seem clear about one thing — it is the start of the race, not the finish.
Whoever leaves the former Maple Leaf Gardens as Liberal leader and Ontario premier will return to a Queen’s Park where Progressive Conservative Party Leader Tim Hudak has had free reign, storming along a campaign trail making a series of significant announcements, including changes to education and welfare.
The Ontario NDP has been less vocal but no less critical since legislature was prorogued in October. In short, this weekend’s winner will jump out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Sandra Pupatello is aware of this. The former Liberal MPP who, with MPP Kathleen Wynne, stands a shoulder above the field, addressed the issue on Friday, telling reporters that she is ready to take on the Conservative opposition leader.
“[Hudak] will probably realize that he has got his work cut out for him, because I am going to call him on a number of things. He is the guy who wants right-to-work legislation,” she said, referring to the concept of allowing new workers to opt out of unions.
“We want jobs. Our right to work means people talking about jobs and the economy.”
So who is best-set to take on Liberal opposition, specifically Tim Hudak?
Both of the two frontrunners have points in their favour. Wynne, a former education minister, has said fixing the party’s relationship with the teachers’ unions is a priority. Rebuilding the party’s support base will go a long way toward holding the line against the Conservatives.
The Canadian Press reports that Wynne has also positioned herself as the best leader to take on Hudak and Horwath because she already holds a seat at Queen's Park.
"The fact is that I have a seat and we don't have to go into a byelection, and we don't have to think about going into a general election, but we can actually do what the people of Ontario are asking us to do, which is to work with this opposition and govern," she said, according to the newsgroup.
Pupatello, meantime, built a strong reputation as a partisan bulldog during her 16 years as a Liberal MPP. She has also promoted herself as the only leadership contender to come from outside the Greater Toronto Area, which could stymie some of the "Liberal Toronto elite" attacks favoured by the opposition.
Pupatello also told Yahoo! Canada News that her experience winning elections, and her position on job creation, make her the best option to take on Hudak and Horwath.
... [U]ltimately you can have all the great leaders you want with all the great policies you want but if you can't win an election, it will not matter.
Right now we need to focus on jobs and the economy and when you put me up the other two — and frankly against my other competitors — there's no one that will be able to do the job/economy agenda like I will.
Pupatello and Wynne, as well as the other four candidates in the mix to take over as party leader, know full well that a larger struggle awaits on the other side of this weekend's convention.
Expect them to continue positioning themselves as Tim Hudak’s worst nightmare.