Kathleen Wynne, Ontario's groundbreaking premier-designate

Kathleen Wynne has been a community activist, a school trustee, a cabinet minister and now, Ontario's premier-designate.

Wynne defeated Sandra Pupatello on a third ballot at the Ontario Liberal Party convention in Toronto.

"Realize it or not, this was the easy part," Wynne said as she sought to rally support among the supporters of all six candidates after her victory.

A former school board trustee, Wynne has represented the Toronto riding of Don Valley West since 2003, and held several posts in outgoing premier Dalton McGuinty's cabinets, including education, transportation and aboriginal affairs.

That Ontario would get its first female leader wasn't in doubt when Wynne and Pupatello emerged as the final two candidates in the third round of balloting.

Second after the first ballot by only two votes — possibly a better showing than her team may have been expecting — Wynne picked up the support of Eric Hoskins after the first round. She remained in second place after the second round of voting, but then, in a surprise, won the endorsement of Charles Sousa, who many had expected would go to Pupatello. Gerard Kennedy then threw his support behind Wynne.

"That was a critical moment when [Sousa] moved across the floor to us," Wynne told CBC News's Susana Mas. Sousa and Kennedy were critical, she said, and would determine the winner.

Wynne said when she saw Sousa moving, she didn't know at first where he was going.

"But when he started to move to us we thought, 'OK, this is fantastic momentum. We really are on our way,'" she said.

Wynne secured the win on the third ballot by capturing 1,150 votes to Pupatello's 866.

In her victory speech, Wynne thanked her partner Jane Rounthwaite. "Jane is on the front line," Wynne said. "Raising money, and the keeper of the lists."

That followed her morning speech to the convention, in which Wynne addressed the issue of her sexual orientation head-on.

"Is Ontario ready for a gay premier? You've all heard that question... Not surprisingly, I have an answer to that question," Wynne said to cheers from her supporters.

"I do not believe that the people of Ontario judge their leaders on the basis of race, sexual orientation, colour or religion. I don't believe they hold that prejudice in their hearts," Wynne said. "They judge us on our merits."

While some may have believed her sexual orientation would make her a difficult candidate for voters to accept, some delegates at Saturday's leadership saw it differently.

"In this day and age, it has totally no significance," said one of Gerard Kennedy's supporters, after they followed him across the floor to Wynne's camp.

"To make an issue of it is irrelevant," she said.

Government House Leader John Milloy, in an online chat with CBC News, said: "I think Kathleen herself addressed it quite eloquently in her [morning] speech when she pointed out that it wasn't that long ago that many of the candidates in this race would not be described as 'acceptable'."

Wynne had pointed out that the race to replace Dalton McGuinty included candidates who were Portuguese-Canadian, Indo-Canadian, Italian-Canadian, female, gay and Catholic.

"Most of us could not have hoped to stand on this stage," she said. "But this province has changed."

Amanda Alvaro, the managing director of Narrative PR, called Wynne's handling of the sexuality issue during her morning speech to delegates "brilliant."

"It would not in any way affect her [ability to win], she told delegates, and clearly people agreed," Alvaro said.

Outside of the convention, on Church St., near Toronto's gay village, several people said the issue of sexuality shouldn't matter.

"It should be an equal opportunity for everyone," Jackie Blackett said. "It just shows that society has really progressed. Personally, I don't think anyone's sexual orientation should be a factor."

Said Laura Theunisse: "If she can do the job, she's qualified."

Wynne may be viewed as a conciliatory leader who wants to repair relationships, especially with the province's teachers, and one more willing to reach out to the opposition parties to keep the Liberal minority government in power.

That said, veteran CBC journalist Robert Fisher pointed out he has seen Wynne in action in question period and in interviews. "She is no shrinking violet, and can be very combative," he said.

"She may well be my best friend in cabinet," said Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, who backed Sandra Pupatello.

Owing to that friendship, Duguid said it was tough choice to back Pupatello, who, he said, is closer philosophically to him than Wynne. However, he still described Wynne as "very inspirational."

With Wynne at the helm, Ontario will likely get to see their MPPs back in action next month for the first time since October. Wynne has vowed to recall the Legislature on Feb. 19.

She already faces big challenges on several fronts, including dealing with Ontario's deficit, the state of the province's manufacturing sector, and the fractured relations with the province's teachers — where Wynne's Harvard University mediation training may come in handy.

Wynne won't get much time to enjoy her victory. Within minutes of Wynne's win, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak was stressing the need for the government address the province's finances.

"I just had a conversation with Tim Hudak and it was great, great of him to reach out," Wynne told CBC. "And I will certainly be reaching out to Andrea Horwath."

Eventually, Wynne will also have to test the electorate and see if she can become the province's first elected female and openly gay premier.

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