Make no mistake - the Ontairo Liberal Party is blessed with a bevy of amazing Leadership potentials. Each of the could-be-candidates that have been buzzed about would do an amazing job as Premier; each has the smarts, the vision, the empathy and the decisiveness to lead our province.
They can all muster exceptional teams to develop and communicate policy, to connect with voters, stakeholders and the Opposition Parties alike. Best of all, these are professionals - servants of the people who are liberals of conscience, not convenience. That means that whoever wins will have the full support of the others, presenting a political powerhouse dedicated to serving the best interests of Ontarians.
Of all these amazing potentials, though, it's definitely Sandra Pupatello that gets me the most excited. In addition to being smart, savvy, caring yet tough when she needs to be, Pupatello is also larger than life. You feel her presence; the air crackles when she walks into a room. When she speaks to a constituent, or a stakeholder, or a potential partner, they feel like they are her whole world and get sucked in by her charisma (helped by the fact that she actually listens). Watching her give a barn burner speech would be like attending a rock concert; Pupatello creates a community of experience that resonates, that lasts and, most importantly, that mobilizes.
It's why she was so effective as Minister of Economic Development and International Trade; she put a face on Ontario that enticed the world into investing in our province. Even opponents who have been peeled by her respect her ability to connect with anyone, even political foes, as human beings. This is why she was so effective in leading the Community and Social Services and Education Ministries - she actually cares about people. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I will never forget when she walked over to Marilyn Churley in the Legislature and gave her a hug at the passage of the Adoption Information Disclosure Act. She can be partisan when she needs to, but Pupatello is fundamentally about doing the right thing and will work with anyone to make that happen - and recognize their contributions in doing so, too.
Despite an obvious political crush, I'm not throwing my support, for what it's worth, behind Pupatello quite yet. While ability, savvy and a knack for motivating and mobilizing teams are essential qualities in a winning candidate, this race isn't about the Leadership of the Liberal Party - that's just a conduit for helping to grow Ontario. What will sell me is the plan. I know that Pupatello understands the economics, the social policy, the education policy - and she can certainly pick up what she needs on health care, justice, First Nations and the environment, all of it, through osmosis and carefully-picked teams.
What matters to me is how well she's able to connect the dots and weave a cohesive plan that hits all the right points simultaneously. The pressures facing our economy are impacting families, which in turn impacts children and their education. Equally, our social strains are placing an avoidable burden on health care and additional services and far too many communities of Ontarians are getting short shrift. There are plenty of bright young social innovators out there with great ideas that can make our world a better place, but lack the business skills to build the right networks and sell those ideas to investors. The nature of labour is changing, too - Ontario's businesses need the right knowledge and right tools to ensure our province gets ahead of the economic curve.
Ontario's success is built on a solid foundation:
- Strength through diversity
- An unwavering commitment to overcome difference and share opportunities; economic, cultural, etc.
- Life-long learning, available to everyone and accessible to individual learning requirements
- Universal health care that's there when you need it, but also the tools individuals need to stay healthy
- Responsible use of our natural resources that plans for generations, not just the next election
- A strong Justice system that focuses on remediation, not retribution
- Accessible, transparent, collaborative governance
The stronger our foundation is, the higher we can reach. If Sandra Pupatello can pull a plan like that together, combined with her natural leadership qualities and the backing of a strong Ontario Liberal Party, it's not just my support she'll have earned - it'll be all Ontario's.
“If we took this year out of the Liberal government, who do you think would be the cast? It would be Bentley, it would be Duncan, it would be Matthews,” she said, referring to Energy Minister Chris Bentley, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, and Health Minister Deb Matthews, who all took a pass on running.
This saddens me. When it becomes about winning, not achieving, you've lost. We as Liberals and as Ontarians deserve better.
Pupatello gave one of the humblest, most dedicated concession speeches I have ever heard, that ended right where she began in politics - here's our leader, here's the plan, lets make it happen. It was inspirational really. It's good to have her back.